The Millennial Shift

Key Takeaways

  • With each succeeding generation, the educational and career expectations increase. This delays the start of marriage, family and home ownership.
  • Nearly half of 20- to 29-year-olds have debt today, compared to just 17 percent of 20-somethings who had debt in the 1980s.
  • Long-term coddling by parents, colleges and society isn’t helping young adults move faster to financial independence.
  • Achieving financial independence isn’t only about money and careers; it’s a shift in one’s mind-set.

One of the things I’ve become more aware of with age is how I think. When I say I’ve been “thinking about my thinking,” it means I want to be in a mind-set in which I’m clear about my thinking, which can allow good things to happen and make life a lot simpler.

A recent New York Times article highlighted statistics showing how much longer it takes today’s new college graduates to get on track financially and otherwise than it took earlier generations. According to the Federal Reserve survey of consumer finance, nearly half (42%) of 20- to 29-year-olds have debt today, compared to just 17 percent of 20-somethings in 1989. What’s more, Georgetown University Center on Education reported that the median age of achieving financial independence is 30 today, up from 26 in the 1980s. Finally, Yale economist Lisa Kahn said that anyone graduating during the 2008-09 financial crisis earned one-third less than students who graduated just a few years earlier. That’s on top of the normal pressure young people have always felt to be settled in life upon turning 30.

The Times article really looks at today’s delayed adulthood, which is not being helped by boomer parents trying to be friends with their kids and colleges making it easy to graduate. This kind of hand-holding doesn’t get young people prepared for the real world, where they will encounter lots of unpredictability, fear, risk and rapid change.

That’s a far cry from the 1800s, when children entered the workforce at age 12 or 13 or started working full time on the farm at about that age. Fast-forward to my grandparents’ generation. They went into the workforce at age 15 or 16 and never graduated from high school. For my parents’ generation, the goal was to graduate from high school. For my generation, the goal was to graduate from a four-year college. Now we’re in the next generation and a master’s degree is becoming the new bachelor’s degree in terms of “must haves” right after college. Unfortunately that’s delaying the start of independent adult life by approximately five years.

Young people are getting married later, starting families later and buying their first homes later. If early adult milestones are shifting, we also need a mind-set shift. When we get our minds shifted properly, we get more confidence, we get clearer about our direction and we start taking on new capabilities. But until we get our minds shifted forward, it’s hard to be successful on a daily, weekly, monthly or yearly basis.

Until next time, enjoy.

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