Conventional wisdom says Americans born before the end of World War Two attained wealth and financial security the old-fashioned way—by working hard and pinching pennies.
But new research by economists at the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis finds what might be an even simpler explanation—today's seniors were just born at the right time.
They entered the job market during the booming post-war economy and advanced in their careers as wages, stocks and houses all grew steadily in value, said William R. Emmons, senior economic adviser at the Center for Househod Financial Stability at the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis and one of the study's authors. Today's seniors grew up before financial deregulation made access to revolving credit easy, and they were the first to benefit from safety net programs like Social Security and Medicare. Most worked for companies that offered healthcare and defined-benefit pensions as standard benefits.
(Read more: Retirement roulette is the new American normal)