Generations: Millennials aren’t so different after all
For years, Millennials have been caricatured as a generation of “hipster brats” who “fritter away our paychecks on avocado toast” instead of buying cars and houses and becoming economically productive citizens, said Catherine Rampell in The Washington Post. Actually, “they’re just broke.” A new research paper from the Federal Reserve examines the cohort born between 1981 and 1997 and smashes the Millennial clichés. The paper’s conclusion: Millennials do have the same economic and consumer aspirations as earlier generations. We simply paid more for our education, have more debt, and entered an economy with fewer employment opportunities and lower pay. “Scarred by the Great Recession,” we don’t easily make major financial commitments. “Millennials don’t spend money all that differently from past generations; they just have less of it,” said Jordan Weissmann in Slate. Their actual spending preferences, on cars, food, and housing, for example, are fairly equivalent to those of Generation X and even of Baby Boomers. Millennials behave differently because they are “less well off than members of earlier generations when they were young, with lower earnings, fewer assets, and less wealth.”
Not exactly, said Kevin Drum in MotherJones.com. By pretty much all measures—“income, spending, debt, net worth—Millennials at age 30 are pretty similar to Gen X at age 30.” They spend a little more on food, and a little less on entertainment than their Gen X counterparts; they spend more on housing and less on transportation. “And they’re not especially poor.” There is one big difference: homeownership. About 34 percent of Millennials own their home, compared with the 50 percent of Gen Xers who did when they were the same age. Those who do have more expensive ones: a median value of $165,000, rather than $135,000 for Gen Xers, adjusted for inflation. We’re not really sure why Millennials are less likely to own homes as they enter their prime working years. It might because housing costs have gone up, but it might be “changing tastes” and lifestyles, too.
Millennials are “serial scapegoats,” said Derek Thompson at The Atlantic. Older generations blame them for “killing grocery stores” by eating out too much, and killing the auto industry by not driving cars. Guess what? Everybody eats out more—especially those over 65—and replaces their cars less often. Older generations might be angry because Millennials have noticeably different politics. “Young people are not only to the left of the country, but also to the left of previous generations of young people.” You don’t need to look very far to guess at some reasons for their cynical view of capitalism. They grew up thinking the economy offered them a fair deal: Go to college, and “everything will work out.” Then their elders reneged on it. If Millennials seem angry, it’s not because they’ve “rejected the American dream,” but because the economy has “not only blocked their path to attaining it, but punished them for trying to.”