Millennials Accumulate Debt Instead of Wealth
Part of this may have to do with the poor job market older Millennials faced upon graduating college. In general, a rising cost of living, and especially rising education costs, have impacted this generation. However, it has also taken cultural roots. Millennials may be the first generation to fully normalize debt as a way of life and not something to eliminate as quickly as possible. This change is evident at the retail level. Loans and buying on credit, actions that used to be reserved for home and car purchases, are now being used to buy furniture and appliances. Even experiential purchases, such as Disney Park Passes, are being sold with monthly payment options. “Buy now and pay later” has become the rule, instead of the exception, with much of the Millennial generation. It is true that the advent of credit cards has deeply affected older generations too. However, on the spectrum of “buy now, pay later” to “living within one’s means” the arrow has definitely shifted to the former among Millennials.
When looking at the raw numbers, the results are staggering. Millennials, which make up roughly 22% of the U.S. population, the majority of which have been in the workforce for more than a decade, only hold 2.9% of the nation’s wealth (www.insiderintelligence.com/insights/millennials/). In fact, when factoring in money owed, the median debt for 40-year old Millennials exceeds their wealth by nearly $40,000 dollars per person (source: Federal Reserve).
While some may attribute this to the normal expenses that all young adults face (marriage, home purchase, baby/child rearing) that will decrease with time, that explanation doesn’t even begin to chip away at the core differences between Millennials and their parents. For example, when Baby Boomers were 40 years old, their median wealth exceeded their median debt by more than $52,000.
That means the average Baby Boomer at 40 was $92,000 richer than the average Millennial at 40 today!
From a marketing perspective, businesses need to be cognizant of this reality. Shops selling higher-priced goods and services will benefit from offering options for financing and monthly installment plans. Sales and other opportunities to save money also catch the attention of Millennials. While value-based engagement is important to this demographic, affordability is an equally potent factor.
Unfortunately, when analyzing current economic trends, it appears debt-based consumption is here to stay, even as millennials mature and increase their earnings. Many businesses will succeed by providing opportunities for customers to save money, and by offering payments spread out over months and even years.
Please see our next blog post for our final installment in this three-part series on current Millennial trends.