It’s probably safe to say that how we see the world financially is partly due to our age, but also a product of how we see the world itself, including our prospects for the future.
Perspectives drive financial decisions just as much as the math – and may perhaps have an even greater effect than we realize.
Here’s a quick breakdown on how recent generations are grouped by birth year:
Boomers: 1946 to 1964
Generation X: 1965 to 1976
Millennials: 1977 to 1995
Generation Z: 1996 or later
With Boomers leading other generations by up to 50 years – or even longer – it’s not surprising that there are some stark differences in financial statistics – including net worth, savings rates, home ownership, and household debt.
When it comes to savings, nobody does it better than Boomers. A 2017 survey found that Boomers had more stashed away in savings than younger generations, with people age 65 and over having the highest amounts saved.[i] Nearly 40% of seniors surveyed had over $10,000 saved. Older GenXers followed, with nearly 25% having over $10,000 saved. By contrast, only 13% of young Millennials had over $10,000 in savings, with 67% having less than $1,000 saved, and nearly half having nothing saved at all. (It should be noted that older generations have had more time to save, which may give some insight into the weaker stats for younger generations.)
It’s early in the game, but GenZ, the youngest generation, may end up showing everyone else how it’s done when it comes to savings. Over 20% of this tech-savvy and financially prudent generation has had a savings account since age 10.[ii]
Renting versus home ownership is another area of wide divergence. Millennials outpace older generations when it comes to the nation’s population of renters. Of the nearly 46 million households that rent, 40% are headed by Millennials.[iii] However, 93% of Millennials state that they’d like to own a home – someday. Evidence suggests that some Millennials who have been biding their time are starting to see opportunity in real estate. In recent years, Millennials have been the largest group of home buyers, representing 40% of the buyers. This has been fueled in part by investment real estate purchases.[iv]
Younger generations have the benefit of seeing the household effects of debt in a financial downturn. They have witnessed that debt doesn’t go away when unemployment goes up or family members lose jobs. Although credit utilization is up, credit card debt for Millennials is only about half of the amount carried by Boomers and GenXers, and GenZ is even lower at just over a quarter of the credit card debt carried by Boomers and GenXers, both of which have similar credit card debt burdens.
Conventional wisdom tells us we learn from our elders. But perhaps the truth is that we can learn from every generation, each with its own perspectives driving their financial decisions.