A lot of the bad things you hear said about Millennials are straight-up myths. Young people are self-centered, disloyal, and lazy, older folks moan. Well, data shows that while that may be true, today's young adults are no less self-centered and flexibility-obsessed than other generations were at the same age. The problem, generally, isn't the current zeitgeist. It's the foibles of youth in general.
But there is one clear exception. Millennials really are way broker than the last generation was at the same age.
When the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis compared Millennials in 2016 to Gen Xers 15 years earlier, Quartz reports, they found "Millennials today are worse off than Gen Xers were in 2001." In fact, Millennials' net worth averages around $40,000 less than Gen Xers at the same life stage.
No, it's not all down to the Great Recession and avocado toasts.
Why is that? There are two obvious answers some of you are no doubt shouting out. Yes, the Great Recession is certainly a factor. Millennials started in their working lives in one of the worst economic environments in generations. But no, it's not true that they're also avocado toast-gobbing financial illiterates. The same Federal Reserve research found Millennials had no more credit card debt than the last generation, and actually had more retirement savings (though they did have more student debt).
The real causes of this hefty wealth gap seem to be two-fold. First, as Yili Chien and Paul Morris, the authors of the Fed research, point out, for various sociological Millennials just aren't chasing wealth as early as previous generations. "Society is in a state of transition as the life cycle continues to extend," Chien and Morris note. Or, to say the same thing in everyday language, young people are taking longer to launch into adulthood these days.
And why might that be? Certainly changing narratives about what your 20s should look like play a role. But as a fascinating if depressing recent Business Insider article makes clear, underlying economic realities are also likely playing an outsized role.
Life is just way more expensive for young people these days.
If Millennials are taking longer to leave the nest, that's quite possibly because it's wildly more expensive to do so, BI's Hillary Hoffower carefully documents. She lays out in detail several ways life is just way more expensive for Millennials than it was for previous generations:
Buying a home is more expensive. "The value of homes has increased by 73% since the 1960s, when adjusted for inflation. The median price of a home then was $11,900, which is equivalent to $98,681 in today's dollars. In 2000, the median price of a home rose to $119,600, more than $170,000 in today's dollars," Hofflower reports.
Rents are higher too. "Rents increased by 46% from the 1960s to 2000 when adjusted for inflation."
College is wildly more expensive. This stat will be no shock to anyone who has recently had to pay for college: "From the late 1980s to the 2017-18 school year, the cost of an undergraduate degree rose by 213% at public schools, adjusting for inflation." During the same period, the price of attending a private college rose 129 percent, from $15,160 to $34,740 in today's dollars.
Childcare is also super expensive. "Adjusting for inflation, the average weekly childcare costs increased to $143 in 2011 from $84 in 1985, according to the US Census Bureau."
Healthy insurance is a massive burden. "The average annual health insurance cost per person in 1960 was $146, CNBC reports. In 2016, it hit $10,345, nine times as high when adjusted for inflation. Costs are expected to increase to $14,944 in 2023."
You can check out the complete article for way more scary numbers, but the bottom line here isn't hard to spot -- even if Millennials work just as hard and just as much as previous generations, they're going to have a much harder time putting together a nest egg. Next time you hear someone Millennial bashing, feel free to show them these numbers.