"We should send letters to the parents of the Gen X'ers telling them to tell their kids to join their 401(k) plans,'" Kathy Sharpless, managing director and director of communications of Putnam Investments, remembers a dean from a leading college saying at a 401(k) roundtable that Putnam held a year ago.

Other academics and professors piped in, and the discussion became quite heated over how much easier it would be for people to grasp the rich rewards of saving and investing if only their parents ingrained the idea in them at an early age, Sharpless said.

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