Financial Services Blog

boomers and millennials

Millennials vs. Boomers: How Wide Is the Gap?

Texting versus email (or even snail mail). Angry Birds versus Monopoly. “The Theory of Everything” versus “The Sound of Music.” “Dancing with the Stars” versus “American Bandstand.”

It’s no secret that there are a lot of differences between baby boomers, born between 1946-1964, and millennials, who were generally born after 1980 (though there is disagreement over the precise time frame for millennials). But when it comes to finances, there may not be as much difference in some areas as you might expect. See if you can guess which generation is more likely to have made the following statements.

Boomer or millennial?

  1. I have enough money to lead the life I want, or believe I will in the future.
  2. My high school degree has increased my potential earning power.
  3. I rely on my checking account to pay for my day-to-day purchases.
  4. I consider myself a conservative investor.
  5. Generally speaking, most people can be trusted.
  6. I’m worried that I won’t be able to pay off the debts that I owe.

The answers:

1. Millennials. According to a 2014 survey by the Pew Research Center, millennials were more optimistic about their finances than any other generational cohort, including baby boomers. Roughly 85% of millennials said they either currently had enough to meet their financial needs or expected to be able to live the lives they want in the future; that’s substantially higher than the 60% of boomers who said the same thing. Although a higher percentage of boomers–45%–said they currently have enough to meet their needs, only 32% of millennials felt they had enough money right now, though another 53% were hopeful about their financial futures.

Source: “Millennials in Adulthood,” Pew Research Center, 2014

2. Boomers. The ability of a high school education to provide an income has dropped since the boomers’ last senior prom, while a college education has never been more valuable. In 1979, the typical high school graduate’s earnings were 77% of a college graduate’s; in 2013, millennials with a high school diploma earned only 62% of what a college graduate did. And 22% of millennials with only a high school degree were living in poverty in 2013; back in 1979, the figure for boomers at that age was 7%.

Source: “The Rising Cost of Not Going to College,” Pew Research Center, 2014

3. Boomers. Not surprisingly, millennials are far more likely than boomers to use alternative payment methods for day-to-day expenses. A study by the FINRA Investor Education Foundation found that millennials are almost twice as likely as boomers to use prepaid debit cards (31% compared to 16% of boomers). They’re also more than six times as likely to use mobile payment methods such as Apple Pay or Google Wallet; 13% of milliennials reported using mobile methods, while only 2% of boomers had done so.

Source: “The Financial Capability of Young Adults–A Generational View,” FINRA Foundation Financial Capability Insights, FINRA Investor Education Foundation, 2014

4. Millennials. You might think that with thousands of baby boomers retiring every day, the boomers might be the cautious ones. But in one survey of U.S. investors, only 31% of boomers identified themselves as conservative investors. By contrast, 43% of millennials described themselves as conservative when it came to investing. The survey also found that millennials outscored boomers on whether they wanted to leave money to their children (40% vs. 25%) and in wanting to improve their understanding of investing (44% vs. 38%).

Source: Accenture, “Generation D: An Emerging and Important Investor Segment,” 2013

5. Boomers. Millennials may have been around the track fewer times than boomers have, but their experiences seem to have given them a more jaundiced view of human nature. In the Pew Research “Millennials in Adulthood” survey, only 19% of millennials said most people can be trusted; with boomers, that percentage was 31%. However, millennials were slightly more upbeat about the future of the country; 49% of millennials said the country’s best years lie ahead, while only 44% of boomers agreed.

6. Millennials. However, the difference between the generations might not be as significant as you might think. In the FINRA Foundation financial capability study, 55% of millennials with student loans said they were concerned about being able to pay off their debt. That’s not much higher than the 50% of boomers who were worried about debt repayment.

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