Millennials: How Are They Doing?

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I’m always interested in seeing how Millennials are doing since my son is that age and their money habits will play a big role in determining the health of the economy over the coming decades.  Most of the financial press likes to focus on them as a group with poor money habits or as victims of the student loan crisis, but I’ve never found either to be true.

Here are a few charts (from Willary Winn LLC) that give a high level view of how they are doing at a high level.  Anyone can find fault in details, but I think the big picture is pretty positive for Millennials:

INCOME

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Wage growth has been on an upward climb for most of the last 20 years for young people.  It continues to grow for both younger and older Millennials today.  This growth in weekly wages doesn’t include the growth in employment benefits (vacation, 401k match, health insurance), which has grown faster than weekly wages.

DEBT

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Adjusted for inflation, the amount of debt carried by Millennials is up a bit after declining in the Recession.  Importantly, this is ‘Total Debt’ held by the entire group – not per capita.  Since Millennials are a pretty big group, this drives the number up.

Here’s a more apples-to-apples comparison (from MarketWatch) …

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While student loan debt is 3.5x what it was for Gen X, the total debt they carry is up only a little more (+$5K /+7%).  Importantly, some of that increased student debt is due to more Millennials going to college and earning degrees (+25% vs Gen X).  That education is a non-financial asset, that one would expect to help them succeed in the future.

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That education, combined with the fact that 50% of Millennials / Gen Z have an active side-hustle (according to GoDaddy.com), this may turn out to be the most entrepreneurial generation ever.  Look at how many ‘Unicorn Companies’ have been started by Millennials already – including Facebook, AirBNB, Spotify, and SnapChat.

HOME OWNERSHIP

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Home ownership has traditionally been viewed as a positive financial driver, but fewer Millennials own homes than Gen X or Baby Boomers did at the same age.  While this is often cited as the ‘American Dream’, it will be interesting to see what impact this has as time goes on.  Perhaps they will pursue homes as they get older/have kids, perhaps not.

If you look at a list of countries by home ownership, the USA isn’t very high on the list, and other economically successful countries – Germany, Switzerland, Hong Kong, etc) – are even lower.  I’ve always wondered how much of an economic driver home ownership is.

OVERALL

Relative to other generations, Millennials seem to be doing well overall when it comes to earning power and keeping debt in check.  Student Loan debt is certainly playing a big role in Millennial’s early finances, but I think the jury is still out whether or not that investment in their future will pay off.  They seem to be delaying home ownership as a result, but that could be a cultural shift equally attributed to lower and later marriage rates.

We’ll all see what this adds up to in time, but I’m guessing that much of the media & political hysteria is unwarranted.  These are smart young people – I’m sure they will make good choices for themselves as time goes on.

What Are Your Thoughts On The Financial Direction Of Millennials?

Image Credit: Pixabay

4 thoughts on “Millennials: How Are They Doing?

  1. Long-time reader here, first time commenter. It seems to me there’s some confusion here between Millenials (who are typically in their 30’s, out of college and in the workforce FT) and Gen Z (who are typically in their 20’s and still in college, like your son). They are very different generations, culturally, demographically, etc. I’m a Gen X myself. I do believe that Millenials are doing mostly well financially, as your post states, thanks to a decade-long booming economy. But both Millenials and Gen Z will face the most dire consequences of global climate change (compared to older generations). And as such they are dealt a unique financial future – everything from whether it’s worth it to have kids to what kinds of transportation systems will we have to what kind of agriculture will survive. Sorry for the somber note on a Monday morning…

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    1. Yes – The definition used of Millennials in these studies was broad. It includes the younger Gen Z group that you mention. As for the potential impact of climate change, we’ll see how catastrophic that may be. They may get rich solving that challenge and others!

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  2. Hmmm, terms that come to mind are ‘Latte Liberals’ or ‘Limousine Liberals’…I know school teachers and doctors who live with their parents due to student debt and lots of people who go to college for a year, work a year, go back to college, etc., etc.

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    1. Living with your folks could be a good idea to get ahead financially. About 15% of 25-35 year olds live with their parents. That’s up from 11% of Gen X in 2000. Still, 85% of Millennials do not.

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