Most of the complaints you hear about millennials are bogus, but at least one knock on this generation is accurate - they really are killing everything from golf clubs to breakfast cereal. The reason is simple. This generation is way broker than previous generations were at the same age. 

Thanks to a toxic cocktail of factors, from the timing of the Great Recession to skyrocketing education, housing, and healthcare costs, millennials have accumulated less wealth (and more debt) than previous generations, and therefore are spending considerably less.  

A recent Deloitte study found millennials are "dramatically worse off" than older generations at a similar life stage. Pew has more detailed numbers, showing that the average millennial-headed household had a net worth of $12,500 in 2016, compared to the $20,700 boomers had accumulated at the same age. The figures are far grimmer for millennial households headed by someone without a college degree. 

The case for optimism in the 2020s​

All of which is depressing as hell for those of us under 40 (OK, some of us just barely). But while no one can go back in time and save this generation from starting their careers during the worst downturn in decades, there is still reason for optimism, some experts say. 

Recently, Jason Dorsey, who researches millennials as president of the Center for Generational Kinetics, told Business Insider that the 2020s is set to be the decade when millennial finances finally turn around. 

"The next ten years may finally be the decade where millennials feel a more solid financial foundation, especially after the long economic headwinds and recovery many of them have faced due to the Great Recession, wage stagnation, rising cost of real estate, and student-loan debt," he told BI, before listing reasons for this cheerful prediction, including: 

  • More years out of school means less student loan debt. 

  • A big transfer of wealth as this generation receives inheritances from the relatively wealthy boomers. 

  • Many millennials are reaching an age where they can't really delay buying a home or marriage much longer, which means they'll see the economic benefits of dual income households and home ownership. 

  • They'll also earn more as they reach the middle of their careers. 

Dorsey is hopeful that cumulatively these developments will lift many millennials out of the financial hole they've been struggling in, though of course their total wealth will always be dented by the time they spent battling economic forces beyond their control. 

It probably should also be noted that these relatively rosy predictions are predicated on our political and economic leaders avoiding further disasters (or, better yet, even solving challenges like student loan debt and insane medical bills), but at least there's reason for millennials to go forth into the 2020s with some optimism. 

Millennials, are you feeling more optimistic about your finances in the coming decade? 

Published on: Jan 14, 2020
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.