The headlines about shipwrecked retirement plans have led some to speculate that investors might start bleeding money out of their qualified retirement plans, but that's not the case, according to a study by the Investment Company Institute.

In an ICI study of 22 million DC plan participants, 96% continued contributing, while only 3% had stopped squirreling money into their plans through October 2008 and less than 4% had removed money, according to ICI senior economist Peter Brady, who spoke about the findings at an April 21 forum sponsored by AXA Equitable in New York, "Retirement Crisis: Now What?"

Of those in the study, "only 3.9% made any withdrawals, including 1.3% that made hardship withdrawals, and those are both in line with that we've seen through history," Brady said. He added that the percentage of people taking out loans--about 15.3%--were also in line with historical averages, as were the number of people changing asset allocation.

"So again ... [retirees] don't appear to be panicking, although an alternative view is that people are just deer stuck in the headlights," he said.

Meanwhile, there's a giant jingling sound you might soon be hearing, and that's the sound of more Americans hitting their piggy-banks. With the decline in net worth, said the economists at the forum, will come less consumption and more saving.

The pressing topic of the forum was to find out how prepared people are for retirement following the stock market shocks in 2008. Another panelist at the forum, Dallas Salisbury, president and CEO of the Employee Benefit Research Institute, said the crash has forced everybody to rethink what retirement is and how it's paid for.

The unsung hero in most people's future is still Social Security, he said, as the government program represents the single source of income for almost 35% of today's retirees, and the primary source for 60% of them. The Social Security Administration reports that in 2006-when the bull raged on Wall Street-Social Security was the unheralded major source of income for 52% of aged beneficiary couples (providing them with at least 50% of their income) as it was for 72% of nonmarried beneficiaries. For 20% of aged couples, that number zoomed to 90% or more of income generated mostly by Social Security (while 41% of non-married beneficiaries required that much help). Brady added that this isn't due to market implosion but rather the fact that Social Security is playing the same role in people's futures that it was in the 1970s. Any talk, he said, that it is going away or will be sucked dry is irresponsible, as the political will and hefty payroll taxes will make sure it stays put.

As investors reel about looking for confidence about their retirement plans, the panelists suggested that the main thing was not so much to focus on what was lost in the markets, but to look at how personal savings, company pensions and government security all work together in a stew of plan-making. Keeping this in mind, retirees and their planners have to figure out the proper calculus of saving, investing and risk-taking. And after 2008, the stock market might be too risky for some.

"I've had a defined contribution plan for 30 years and I'm not embarrassed to have never invested any money in that plan in the equity market," Salisbury said. "They've been in Treasury inflation protected securities. They got hit a little bit last year but they've done quite nicely and given me 3.5% to 4% real rate of return over time on top of inflation."

Meanwhile, he says, he and his wife have saved 20% to 25% of their income every month and every year.

"And that can get you a 100% income replacement combined with Social Security without any difficulty."

Timing is everything if you're going to roll in the stock market. He says that someone who retired in 1999 with a DC plan, had contributed 4% and stayed at 100% in equities for 40 years, then purchased a lifetime income annuity afterward, would have produced a 97% income replacement when Social Security gets factored in.

A person who did the same thing retired in 2008 got the shaft: earning only 27% in income replacement, he says.

Speaker Eric Chaney, AXA Group's chief economist, weighed in that the decline of the personal savings rate in the U.S. up until now was due largely to the rise in net worth, at least until the middle of 2007. While net worth has risen since 1974, the personal savings rate has dropped from 8% to practically zero, he says. The Wall Street carnage, while undoubtedly painful, will likely right the ship and raise savings rates again, he says.

"The outlook for the next 10 years is that the personal savings rate will rise because there is a very strong incentive to gain some worth by saving the hard way," he says.

-Eric Rasmussen