Millennials Really Do Have It Tougher — Compared With 1977

By Erin Arvedlund

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) In 1977 a four-year public college cost $8,000 vs. $20,000 today, while median incomes have stayed flat at $34,000 over the same time period.

Is life more expensive for America’s millennials? We may hate to admit it, but yes.

New data reveal millennials don’t earn as much, pay more for higher education and put off home purchases longer than Gen Xers and baby boomers did.

Note a stunning report from the news site Axios, which shows just how the cost of living has risen for Americans aged 25 to 34 today, vs. Americans of the same ages in the year 1977 when adjusted for inflation.

For instance, a four-year public college in 1977 cost $8,000 vs. $20,000 today, while median incomes have stayed flat at $34,000 over the same time period.

Median debt has risen from $10,000 to $33,000, while the percent of those 30-year-olds who own homes has dropped from 48 percent to 39 percent since 1977.

How does this affect millennials’ investment, purchasing, and life decisions? We classify millennials as those born between 1980 and 2000. (I’m a Gen Xer, but I feel their pain.)

In new research, Vanguard found that most millennials maintain high allocations to equities given their age and financial goals despite having experienced two severe bear markets during their lifetimes.

Risk-taking across generations, which analyzes investor behavior and risk-taking across the 22-to-37 age group, revealed that the typical millennial investor allocates 90 percent of their portfolio to equities, which is consistent with portfolio allocations, or the “glide path,” of what are called target-date retirement funds.

As an investor ages, target-date funds increase the amount of bonds and decrease the amount of equities. As you approach 65, your bond allocation grows and equity allocation shrinks.

Today, many company retirement plans now auto-enroll employees and direct savings to target-date funds, which are often the default option. Target-date funds automatically adjust your stock exposure based on age and a targeted retirement date. One benefit: they may help investors avoid the impulse to time the market.

That may explain why target-date funds are one of the fastest growing segments on Wall Street, with a set-it-and-forget-it investing program. According to Morningstar, these funds held nearly $1.2 trillion in assets as of Jan. 31, compared to roughly $150 billion in 2009.

Millennials are also increasingly turning to robo-advisers or financial planning software (and yes, that means they don’t have to talk to anyone on the phone.)

“We’re seeing the rise of what we call the flex-gen adviser,” said Ed O’Brien, CEO of eMoney in Radnor. The company is owned by Fidelity and serves mainly financial planners.

“Flex-Gen adviser is a term we coined here as someone who serves both millennials and boomers,” he said.

Younger generations prioritize giving back and social change in both their personal and professional lives, including in investing.

A Fidelity Charitable report reveals more than 70 percent of millennials and Gen-Xers have made an impact investment, those that help achieve social and environmental goals, compared to just 30 percent of baby boomers and older investors.

However, millennials are also more likely to withdraw money from their retirement accounts in a pinch. They’re so used to clicking in and out of their bank accounts by phone that they’re likely to do the same with retirement accounts.

Specifically, 37 percent of millennial mobile payment users reported having made some form of withdrawal from their retirement account within the past year, compared to only 9 percent of those who don’t use mobile payments, according to a George Washington University study, Millennial Mobile Payment Users: A Look into their Personal Finances and Financial Behaviors.

As for potential investment trends, millennials want to be homeowners, but haven’t yet switched en masse from renting to buying homes, or baby strollers.

As framed at last week’s Ned Davis Research Investment Conference, millennials are in household formation mode, and boomers in retirement mode. And yet, millennial household formation has not yet translated into more home purchases or births: the fertility rate in America continues to fall, according to a presentation by Pat Tschosik, U.S. sector strategist at Ned Davis Research.

When and if millennials finally buy and/or remodel a home, the implications are bullish for companies like Home Depot and Lowe’s, Walmart and other discount and online retailers, while demand should remain strong for boomer-centered entertainment, software, and social media.

Millennials are also adopting crypto-currencies and other blockchain-related investments, although many remain unconvinced.

“Blockchain will help many companies and many industries. But I can’t explain how yet,” said Hank Smith, chief investment officer at Haverford Trust. “Warren Buffett said at his latest annual meeting, ‘Let me know when you can pay your taxes with bitcoin, and I’ll tell you it’s a legitimate currency.’ ”

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