Sorry!! The article you are trying to read is not available now.
Thank you very much;
you're only a step away from
downloading your reports.

Boomers Are Bummed and Millennials Are Not: The Optimism Gap in America


Minyanville gets and exclusive on Active Consumer Confidence Survey shows that young people are optimistic despite the awful economy they have experienced.

MINYANVILLE ORIGINAL A joke that made the rounds on Twitter after Steve Jobs' death really underscores the generational differences between baby boomers and young people today:

"Thirty years ago, we had Steve Jobs, Johnny Cash, and Bob Hope. Now we have no jobs, no cash, and no hope."

Is this really completely true? Especially after the harrowing economic data that came out in recent weeks, it is obvious that the younger generation is short on jobs and cash. But do they really have less hope than the parents that they are increasingly moving back in with?

Data from Active's first Consumer Confidence Survey suggests otherwise. [Editor's Note: Active International created and managed the survey and actually conducted the survey. Minyanville gets the results exclusively.] What's striking about this early June data, and seemingly every other survey of confidence, is the persistent optimism gap between baby boomers and the younger Millennial generation. Millennials, as has been reported many places, are full of optimism despite coming of age in a difficult economy.

Even though young people are suffering greatly in this economy, Millennials (18-34) are less sour than over-55s. Only 55% of people between 16 and 29 are employed and people between 18 and 29 as a group have an employment rate of 12%, but as many as 1.7 million people are not included in that figure because they have dropped out of the labor force, according to Generation Opportunity.

In the Minyanville survey (see below), we found that 10.86% of 18-34 year olds say that this is a bad time to make a major purchase, compared to 15.1% of over-55 year olds.

It seems like the iPod generation might be less interested in the really big purchases, however. Between 2001 and 2009, 16-34 year olds cut down their driving by 23%. Even those that can afford cars are increasing their use of car alternatives such as bicycling and public transport. In the same period, 16-34 year olds with at least $70,000 in household income increased their bicycling and and transport use by over 100%. People between the ages of 21 and 34 buy only 27% of new vehicles in America, down from 38% in 1985, according to CNW research. When it comes to buying a home, even rock-bottom home prices aren't much help when student loan debt ruins one's chance of getting a mortgage approved. (For more information on Millennials and student loan debt, see More Than Academics: Are Graduates Getting Value for Their Money?)

A question that hasn't been asked often enough is: Why are boomers so negative? Maybe we shouldn't assume that boomers had it so great. Despite spending their prime years in a booming economy, fear has followed this generation ever since childhood.
  • As children in the 1960s, they had the threat of the Bay of Pigs, the tragedy of a multitude of assassinations, the worry of being drafted and dying in Vietnam, and uproar on their college campuses.
  • As young adults entering the working world in the 1970s, there was the oil embargoes, high inflation, a stagnant economy, and environmental concerns.
  • As they were settling down and raising families in the 1980s, there remained the Soviet threat, the attack on President Reagan, the worries brought about by the stock market crash of 1987, and fears that their kids could fall prey to drugs or other dangers.
  • Even in the booming 1990s, the boomers had reasons to be afraid. There was the hangover from the S&L crisis as well as the Iraq War. There was "it could happen here" domestic terrorism in Oklahoma City and the school shootings in Arkansas and Colorado. And don't forget Y2K fears. All of this news was brought to the home through cable television.
  • And of course, in the 2000s, there was the dot com crash, 9/11, another Iraq War, and the financial crisis.
So when you see baby boomers, the dominant generation in the political, financial, and media worlds today, negative about everything, you can see the accumulation of all of these fears. Inflationary concerns because of their experience in the 1970's. Financial collapse concerns because of 1987, 2000, and 2008. China fears harkening back to the days of the Cold War. Climate change worries because of how bad the environment was in the 1970s.

With most of their lives ahead of them, young people today are more optimistic that their financial position will improve in a year (25.12%) and less likely to think that it will get worse (12.86%). By contrast, respondents over 55 are nearly twice as likely (23.06%) to say that they expect their financial conditions to deteriorate over the next year.

Society will grow more optimistic in the years to come, not because necessarily everyone will feel a lot better individually, but because as Millennials vote and spend more, the political, financial, and media worlds will increasingly cater to their interests, and boomer negativity will increasingly occur in an echo chamber.

Here is the raw data and charts for our Consumer Confidence survey. The comments at the end are an interesting look into the troubled American psyche and our divided political landscape.

Twitter: @conorsen

Twitter: @vincent_trivett
No positions in stocks mentioned.
Featured Videos