Are millennials really doing financially worse than past generations? It turns out many of the myths aren’t true. We’ve separated the facts from the fiction.
No matter which generation you’re a part of, you’ve likely heard the common refrains against millennials. After all, this young generation is notorious for more than avocado toast and selfies: they’re poor savers, carry around tons of debt, and think that the world owes them something.
As we are learning, though, these claims may not be as true as they seem… at least not when looking at the generation as a whole. In fact, millennials might actually be doing better and taking a more active approach than their generational neighbors, according to a few recent studies. This is especially true when it comes to their finances.
Millennials and the Financial Myths
The generational group known as “millennials” is defined as those young adults who were born between 1981 and 1996, which puts them somewhere around 23-38 years of age. This generation is a unique one for many reasons, but perhaps one of the most interesting is the way they seem to catch a lot of flack from other generational groups.
Yes, millennials are the first to grow up with cell phones, iPads, personal computers, and conveniences like Uber. Few of them know what a Blockbuster is, many consider Wikipedia a trusted source, and they seem to thrive off of reality television. (For the sake of full disclosure, I am technically a millennial, though I loathe reality TV and have a full set of Encylopedia Britannica in my living room).
But these young adults are also a unique generation in some not-so-enviable ways. For example, a larger percentage of them are saddled with crippling student loan debt, compared to their older counterparts. Many came of age in a time of economic instability, having watched their parents face the housing crisis and Great Recession before entering a weak job market for themselves.
While there are many things you could say about millennials, there are also quite a few false narratives floating around. Say what you will about selfie deaths and Tide pod challenges … but let us at least clear the air on some of the financial myths surrounding this generation.
Thanks to some wonderful recent studies by both the CFA Institute and Investopedia, we have a comprehensive look into the minds of millennials and their financial habits. And if you’ve heard (and believed) the narratives floating around, you might be surprised to separate myth from fact.
Here are six to get you started:
1. They Want It All
We’ve all heard it: millennials are spoiled, accustomed to getting whatever they want and fast. They’re the Amazon Prime generation, the text message generation, and the generation that turns to Google or Siri when they have a question. They want to travel the world, work part-time from home, and retire at 30 with millions in the bank.
Well, I do believe that millennials have grown up believing that nothing is out of reach (and this isn’t necessarily a bad thing). However, the study conducted for the CFA Institute shows that millennials actually don’t expect that much when it comes to their finances.
They have some pretty reasonable demands, in fact. Of those included in the study, 40% of them simply want to avoid living paycheck to paycheck. A notable 37% are happy with being able to successfully cover their monthly bills and living expenses, and 33% of them have a simple goal of saving for an emergency.
Sure, early retirement and world travel are probably on many wish-lists (I mean, they’re on mine!), but these don’t make the cut when it comes to millennials’ most important financial goals.
2. They Think They Know Everything
I’m fairly certain that each and every generation has been accused of “thinking they know it all” by the generations before them. This might simply be part of growing up and the typical generational gap–after all, my 7-year-old believes that he knows way more than I do–and it’s just millennials’ turn.
However, most young adults in this generation know that they have plenty to learn when it comes to investing. Fewer than half of them (a notable 46%) feel confident in making investment decisions when it comes to their taxable investment accounts.
This seems to be true across the board, too: in the Investopedia study, only 37% of respondents said that they felt comfortable and knowledgable when it came to making investment decisions. And 65% said that they trust financial advisors’ advice, rather than relying on their own knowledge.
3. They’re Risky, Especially with Investments
I can’t speak to whether or not millennials are jumping out of airplanes at higher rates than other generations (though, that aforementioned Tide Pod challenge does make me believe it could be true). However, I can say that based on the studies, millennials are actually pretty conservative with their investments.
Compared to gen xers, millennials are less likely to hold stocks in their portfolios (47% versus 37%). Their approach to conservative investments almost mirrors the preceding generation, too.
Why? More than 40% of millennial respondents said that they found investing to be risky, and nearly one-quarter of them felt overwhelmed by the whole process.
Related: 8 Reasons Why You Are Not Wealthy
4. They Automate Everything … Including Investing
I’ll agree with you on the first half: millennials are big fans of automation and making life easier. We use auto-pay for bills, appreciate automatic reminders on our phones, and enjoy recurring deliveries of meals and household goods.
The numbers tell a different story when it comes to investing, though. According to the FINRA data, only 16% of millennials are even interested in using a robo-advisor to automate their investments. Of those, a mere 3% are actually using them.
In fact, millennials seem to really trust financial professionals for guidance and help with their investment portfolio. A whopping 58% said that they would prefer to work face-to-face with a professional when it comes to managing and planning their finances, rather than opting for an automated or digital system. And of those working with a financial advisor, 72% of millennials said that they are very or extremely satisfied with the experience.
5. They Put Everything on Credit Cards
This one is somewhat true: this generation does carry more plastic than those above and below them. In fact, 87% of millennials have a rewards credit card, which is significantly more than baby boomers and gen xers. However, millennials actually have less credit card debt than the others, changing the narrative a bit.
Between the generations, 68% of gen xers have credit card debt along with 66% of baby boomers. In the millennial generation, though, only 57% are walking around with high-interest revolving balances.
Additionally, the balances carried by millennials are also lower: only $5,453 compared with a debt of $6,800 among baby boomers and $6,627 among gen xers.
6. They’re All the Same
Few of us would ever say that an entire generation behaves and thinks the same. However, millennials tend to be broadly lumped into these largely-negative stereotypes more than generations prior.
Of course, there are plenty of disparities within this generational group, especially as it pertains to finances. Not only do different millennial sub-groups behave, save, and invest differently, but they are also prone to different hurdles.
For example, urban millennials are 50% more likely to own and contribute to taxable investment and retirement accounts, compared to rural millennials. When comparing confident investors, we find that only 23% of women identify with this category, compared to 33% of men. And when you look at racial divides, you find that African-American and Hispanic millennials are 29% less likely to own taxable investment accounts, compared to white millennials.
What This All Means
The first lesson that many readers can take from this is that the truth and the narrative aren’t always the same (apply that lesson broadly). The second is that when we dig below the surface, we learn that millennials might actually have more to them than meets the eye… especially when it comes to their financial situations.
While many of these myths are oft-repeated and believed, studies are finding more and more that the younger generations are learning… and fast. They’re picking up money lessons from their parents, economic shifts, and the political space in which they are growing up, and using them to improve their financial situation.
In many cases, millennials are even out-performing their generational peers, leaving some to wonder how these myths even took hold. So while every adult–no matter the generation–could probably do more to improve their finances, I think it’s safe to say that millennials are doing pretty well overall.