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Want to do well financially? Don’t listen to baby boomers

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Boomers have lots of advice for millennials about money but you probably shouldn't listen to any of it.I’m a little annoyed with the baby boomers these days.

While many younger people are having well-documented trouble finding jobs, there seem to be a lot of boomers making good money writing crotchety op-eds about all the ways that millennials fall short. They’re not career oriented enough, they say. They’re too dependent on their parents, they say. They stay single too long, they don’t think enough about the future, and so on.

Then the evidence is trotted out:

  • The unemployment rate among those 16-24 stands at 15 percent, according to the Boston Globe op-ed linked above. 15 percent!
  • They’re living at home too long, preventing their boomer parents from living the rockin’ lifestyle promised to them in those cool Just for Men commercials. A whopping 36 percent of 18 to 34-year-olds are living at home right now, according to a Pew study.
  • On average, they’re waiting 5 more years to get married than people did in 1970, and waiting until 25 to have their first kid, probably because they’re just loafing around in their parents’ basements. Those monsters!

Now, I should preface this by saying that many of the people I love and respect the most in this world are boomers, and their generation has made some monumental contributions to American culture. But beyond the irony of the generation that urged everyone to “turn on, tune in and drop out” lecturing younger generations about being insufficiently oriented toward material success, the last place millennials should turn to for advice on anything money-related is the boomer generation.

Let’s run down exactly why that is.

  • Boomers didn’t exactly have the most stellar employment record themselves as young people. While they, along with the rest of the population, benefited from the postwar economic boom and 18 to 24-year-olds saw annual unemployment rates as low as 8.4 percent, by 1975, the unemployment rate among those loafing baby boomers had risen to 16.1 percent, according to BLS statistics. That’s a lot of turning on, tuning in and dropping out that was happening!
  • Boomers were way better than millennials at getting married early, but were even better at getting divorced. In fact, the divorce rate rose to 5 per every 1,000 Americans in 1976, eventually peaking from 1979 to 1981 at 5.3 per 1,000 Americans. Today, the rate stands at 3.6 per 1,000 Americans, a lot lower than it was in boomers’ heyday. And since divorce is one of the most financially devastating things that can happen to you, maybe avoiding a rush into marriage isn’t so dumb after all.
  • Boomers have saved a pathetically small sum for retirement and will be desperately depending on millennials to come across with their Social Security checks in order to maintain anything close to their current standard of living. A 2011 study by the Wall Street Journal and the Center for Retirement Security found that the median retiring boomer’s 401(k) held just $149,400 in 2010.
  • While they often criticize millennials for their dependence on their parents, you’d be hard-pressed to find a generation in history better at leaching off the previous generation than the boomers. According to a 2010 study by Metlife, they’ve received over $2.4 trillion in inheritance from the prewar generation, and stand to inherit a total of $8.4 trillion from their parents, or a median of about $57,932 per household. Not bad!
  • Many of the key figures in the financial crisis which has contributed to high unemployment among all demographics were boomers — former Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson, former SEC chairman Christopher Cox, former CEO of Lehman Brothers Dick Fuld, former CEO of Bear Stearns Alan Schwartz, former Bank of America CEO Ken Lewis and former Washington Mutual CEO Kerry Killinger, to name a few. But the list goes on!

I’m not a believer in making excuses for people, and it’s true that millennials have some work to do establish their careers and a solid financial foundation. But boomers shouldn’t assume today’s young adults are going to do it the same way they did, or that they even want the same things.

In fact, if history is any indication, listening to boomers will probably just leave millenials overextended with two new cars, a house in the ‘burbs and zero savings, spending every spare dollar on cosmetic surgery and vacations to recapture long-lost vestiges of youthful glory, much of which is probably imagined anyway.

So before boomers take to the pages of another publication to criticize millennials for the way they manage their money, their careers and their lives in general, it may be good to take some time to look in the mirror — oh wait, they do plenty of that already — and examine their own choices and the role they’ve played in getting us all where we are today.

{ 14 comments, please add your thoughts now! }

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14 Responses to “Want to do well financially? Don’t listen to baby boomers”

  1. Hah. It is funny when you put it that way. I love how people make generalizations about generations or how old people are. You have to look at the individuals within the groups to realize that there are slackers and success stories in every generation. Naturally, though, no one is as good as the person who has the opinion of others, so if a Boomer writes the piece, of course millenials are slackers!

    • Kostas says:

      Generalizations always happen no matter what we are talking about, generations, race, sex, even geographical location. Truth is, in every group, there are those that are good, honest hardworking people, and there are the slackers. The holier though people who claim their generation is the best tends to frustrate me.

  2. Your post reminded me of Community’s song about Baby Boomer Santa…

  3. Claes Bell says:

    Thanks! Definitely agree this is standard operating procedure for intergenerational conflict. Definitely know lots of really sharp, financially adept boomers who are great people, and don’t mean to trash them. Just getting sick of the constant parade of dumb op-eds attacking young people coming from a generation that in many ways embodied the critiques they have of millennials.

    • matt says:

      So you decided to cherry pick stats on the other side and do the same thing as those dumb op-ed writers?

  4. Claes Bell says:

    Done by Forty: LOL that is amazing

  5. Boomers (I am one) have pretty much left the world in a wreck for millennials to clean up. They’ve sucked up (and largely wasted) all the cheap energy resources (jamming the atmosphere full of carbon in the process); they’ve demanded government services they’re unwilling to pay for, thus running up the US national debt 60-fold in the past 60 years; they’ve built a totally car-dependent society and infrastructure instead of planning for long-term environmental and social sustainability; and they’ve repeatedly elected politicians with a proven record of failure. Fortunately, from what I’ve seen, I think the millennials will easily, even cheerfully, clean up the mess.

  6. Anonymous says:

    I never thought of it that way… but you’re right… We haven’t been the best financial advisers have we… Makes sense when my daughter says, Mom you really don’t need that, you have one… My daughter, telling me I shouldn’t spend on stupid stuff… I’m glad they get it… Smart cookies those millennial… Boomers are on guilt trips with their kids… They’ve spent a lot of money trying to makeup… “Leave it to Beaver” style is gone, when Mother were encouraged to stay at home and settle… Maybe we’re heading that direction again but better…”Balance” is what all societies need…

  7. fabclimber says:

    I notice Kurt refers to “they ” did this and “they” did that. Not “we”. I doubt he’s a boomer to phrase it that way.

  8. freeby50 says:

    Every generation complains about the next one. “kids these days”

  9. Shirley says:

    I’m just a couple of years too old to qualify as a baby-boomer and I feel that Freeby50 is right… every generation complains about the next ones. I have watched three generations of young and newly productive (or not) people grow up in our world, many who have had every good fortune possible and many who have had none.

    Those who can eventually claim their own personal success are the ones who deliberately set a goal, sought knowledge about how to achieve it, and worked hard to reach that goal regardless of their age. The best of those share what they have learned and try to help others.

  10. Matt says:

    Blamestorming makes for bad articles. All the people who are in bad situations need to just look in the mirror and see who is to blame. This goes for everyone from millinea to boomers

  11. Rose says:

    Place blame where it belongs. In 1995, when the Newt Gingrich gangstas shutdown the gov’t -we depended on “earmarked funds” so rec’d no “back pay”. Unemployment stold our investments and 401ks to pay bills and in retrospect, we should have declared bankruptcy as it took nearly 2 yrs to find jobs that paid far below previous earnings. We never recovered! Again, the Feds help to steal monies from hardworking Americans. So, yes, many baby boomers only live on social security that was taken from every paycheck throughout our working yrs; now we are unemployable – unless you bag grocies. All age groups need jobs; so, do not shift blame to boomers or millenias. We all have been ripped off. Historically, it is called feudalism. Today’s reality is not what we expected from our “democractic” gov’t. Congress has let moneymongers steal our future 🙁

  12. Va says:

    If I ask “what’s a URL” I guess you will figure out that I’m ancient (three months from 90) and you are thinking I can’t think. Oh well, I’ll try. Please try stopping your criticism of the generations before you. You can’t imagine what it was like. We were nearly all poor. a few weren’t put you seem to put them on pedestals (Rockefeller”s etc.). True, they were definitely exceptional men. (Women had only gotten the vote about 5 or 6 years before I was born – so naturally they had nothing to do with these outstanding men. Shall I blame them for being unscrupulous? They helped make America (but they were the generation before me.) Try to love the generation before you. Think of the difference in life structure they lived. fYou can’t even imagine – no radio, television, rare phones, no cars and certainly no real planes or communication.Try imagining you in their place. How successful would you have been? Each generation improved but you have it made. VA

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