What Boomers, Millennials, Elderly All Have in Common: Money Fears

Money stress in the USFor the past few years, the media has been saturated with dire economic headlines lamenting, among other horrors, the death of U.S. manufacturing, the nation's exploding unemployment, and our ever-growing deficit. Indeed, at times it has seemed like depressing news may be America's only actual growth industry.

That seemingly endless parade of dire warnings has had a definite impact: Perceptions of the the country's economic future have remained miserable, even when the economy has offered its occasional glimmers of hope.

Discussions of economic worries have often focused on the "Gen X" and "millennial" workers who are struggling to find a place in an ailing economy, often ignoring the opinions of older demographics like the "baby boomers" and "silent generation," who are, presumably, headed towards retirement. Recently, however, a new study has shown that depressed views of the economy afflict people across the age spectrum, from those at the beginning of their careers to retirees.

Last week, Ameriprise, a leading financial services company, released Money Across Generations II, a cross-generational survey of economic perceptions. A follow-up to 2007's Money Across Generations, the new study considers several common economic goals, looking at how highly respondents value these goals, and how likely they think their chances are of achieving them. In every particular, baby boomers, their children, and their parents have become less confident of their chances of achieving their goals.

Taking Care of Business

In 2007, when the first survey was conducted, perceptions were fairly positive. For example, 51% of baby boomers were "very confident" of their ability to assure "a financially secure life" for themselves and their children. Today, however, perceptions are quite a bit darker: only 33% of boomers are confident of their ability to guarantee their own financial security. And, among their millennial children, perceptions have plummeted even more sharply -- in 2007, 58% were very confident of their ability to assure their own financial security; today, 37% are.

Things have gotten even worse when it comes to taking economic responsibility for one's offspring. In 2007, 39% of baby boomers and 28% of silent generation grandparents were very confident that they would be able to "substantially" help their children and grandchildren to pay for their educations. Today, only 24% of boomers and 20% of silents are convinced that they can help their children and grandchildren. As for millennials, the number of them who expect to be able to help pay for their children's education has almost fallen by half, from 49% to 25%.

And when it comes for taking care of aging parents, perceptions are even more bleak. In 2007, 33% of boomers were very confident that they'd be able to assure a financially secure life for their parents. Today, only 19% feel that way. In that regard, things don't look good for the boomers, either: In 2007, 29% of millennials were confident they'd be able to financially take care of their parents. Today, only 21% are.

The Future's So Dim

While the general erosion in economic confidence is disturbing, an even more insidious development may be the way in which respondents have reshaped their goals. In 2007, a large number of respondents were dedicated to what could be described as selfless goals, like taking care of one's parents or paying for a child's education. Between 2007 and 2011, however, the number of millennials who prioritized helping their children to pay for their educations fell by 17% and the number who prioritized preserving wealth to leave to their children dropped by 41%. In fact, the only millennial priority that had significant growth was "assuring a financially secure life for yourself/your family." The number of millennials who put it at the top of their list increased by 25%.

And the millennials are not the only ones who have scaled down their goals. While the number of boomers who prioritize "supporting a charity or cause" doubled from 1% to 2%, the biggest growth by far was among those who were concerned with assuring their own financial security. Meanwhile, among silent generation grandparents, most priorities remained steady or decreased, with the exception of assuring that they had enough money to continue their lifestyle after retirement. In that priority, respondents increased by 15%.

Recently, there have been strong signs of an economic recovery: Unemployment is falling, housing starts are up, and consumers are buying things again. But if Ameriprise's survey is any indication, the hardest problem to shake may not be financial, but rather emotional. For a generation whose economic experience has been defined by the biggest financial crisis in more than 70 years, the biggest thing to fear may, indeed, be fear itself.

Bruce Watson is a senior features writer for DailyFinance. You can reach him by e-mail at bruce.watson@teamaol.com, or follow him on Twitter at @bruce1971.


Increase your money and finance knowledge from home

How Financial Planners go Grocery Shopping

Learn to shop smart and save.

View Course »

Intro to Retirement

Get started early planning for your long term future.

View Course »

Add a Comment

*0 / 3000 Character Maximum


Filter by:


April 03 2012 at 4:56 PM Report abuse +4 rate up rate down Reply

For most, it's..work you fingers to the bone and what do you get..boney fingers ..boney fingers..

April 03 2012 at 2:14 PM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply

just curious; it was nice to read by how many % the changes were from last survey; however it would be better to know what number of folks participated. One problem with all surveys is they take a snapshot and then tell you it applies across the board.Yes the economy is tough,but to make broad statements that everyone is in dire financial conditons is just not accurate. Lastly,dont look to the gov to help you; remeber they only can give back to you what they take from you;not a great system.

April 03 2012 at 11:10 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to jimmcpd's comment

you left two important words out...they can only back a "small part" to you......

April 05 2012 at 12:09 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

40 years ago when I started working I was told that there would be no social security for me when I retire. The "replacement program" was buying E series US savings bonds tax free ont the payrol deduction plan. A few years later I used the bond money as a downpayment on a house. Over the years I bought and sold a few more houses, bought a couple of rentals and even a few comerical properties. No I am ready to retire, everthing is leased and paid for so I have to cover in my "golden years" is the property taxes.

Sccrew people that din't work, save and plan for their own retiement. If the drank, took drugs and made stupid decisions I don't feel one bit sorry for them. It is not the governments responibility to take care of you when you get old. That is just plain stupid!!

April 03 2012 at 10:27 AM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply

If you own a home or are still paying for it you will need lots of money to retire. The stats are still the same; 76 for men and 78 for women. If you retire at age 65 + or - you will need about 700K to make it to age 75 to 80. if you live to 90 then you will need a lot more. The big problem as I see it is that you can't make any money in conservative investments, say a CD. I have read some stats that say retirees, in general, live on 20+K per year which I don't believe. In response to this article I do believe that 50% are in great shape. They have a real pension and have good jobs. The other 50% are going to be crying when they retire.
" but a middle-aged or elderly couple making $ 350k are not rich, " Tha makes no sense at all

April 03 2012 at 10:22 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

The Bady boomers Spend in stead of Saving..... they bought not only their needs, but also their Wants.... Know they have no money for retirement.

April 03 2012 at 9:13 AM Report abuse -3 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to bchrist751's comment

trade wind, you'd be surprised at how many of us did without and saved our money. but the way the fed is printing money, maybe we'd have been better off just blowing it on ourselves. it seems like obama wants to bankrupt the united states by bailing out all the people who make terrible decisions.

April 03 2012 at 12:55 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

Most of the problem is caused by the Baby boomers themselves... The spent instead of saving......

April 03 2012 at 9:11 AM Report abuse -2 rate up rate down Reply

Keep buying foreign and we will all be out of a job. For once America think for yourselves...........StillmadeinUSA.com

April 03 2012 at 4:43 AM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to toosmart4u's comment

Amen! We ought to look on the bottom of everything and make sure 'made in the USA' is there. I saw one recently that had merely stamped POC .Sneaky! So it's a few dollars more. Congratualte yourself for saving a fellow countryman's job.

April 03 2012 at 6:22 AM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply

The deterioration to the economy caused by Obama and the Dems is stunning!

Hey - AOL/HuffPuff Obama-propagandist Watson:

How's that "hopey-changy" thing workin' out for ya?


April 03 2012 at 12:30 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to ha6ai's comment

Are you one of those who thought the recession started on Jan.20,2009 at 12:01P.M.???

April 03 2012 at 11:13 AM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply

The economy isn't coming back. The growth will be 1.5 at best. That is due to population growth, and not economic prosperity. The U.S. has a 39.2% corporate tax rate. It is the highest in the world. Any company that does business globally will consider leaving the U.S. To make matters worse, the government has kept quiet the fact that a record number of very wealthy people have left the U.S. and renounced their citizenship. That leaves fewer and fewer wealthy tax payers to pick up the tab for the rest of the government moochers. It is time to look at immigrating out of the U.S. The only people left will be the handout crowd!

April 02 2012 at 10:45 PM Report abuse +4 rate up rate down Reply