US Economy About to Get Hit by Largest Generation in History

Tue, Jun 23, 2015 - 2:38pm

Every man takes the limits of his own field of vision for the limits of the world.
—Arthur Schopenhauer

As we all know, the baby boomer generation is heading into retirement and expected to add further strain to a costly healthcare industry and underfunded public pension system. But, just as the sun sets on one generation, it rises on another. This time it rises on the Millennial Economy, home to the largest generation in US history.

As Goldman Sachs recently noted, "The Millennial generation is the largest in US history and as they reach their prime working and spending years, their impact on the economy is going to be huge."

I take special interest in this group because, well, I am the oldest of this pack of 92 million individuals born during the age of personal computers, which are now entering that time of our lives when we start buying homes, getting married, reproducing, and generally preparing for the future.

Why is the Millennial generation the largest in US history you ask? According to a report by the Council of Economic Advisers, part of the reason has to do with immigration. “Many Millennials are immigrants or the children of immigrants who arrived in the United States as part of an upsurge in immigration that began in the 1940s,” the report stated.

In fact, the only other time we’ve seen this large of an upsurge in immigrants as a percent of the US population was the great wave between the late 1800s and early 1900s, which is why the census has appropriately called this the “second great wave” of immigration.

Aside from being the largest and one of the most diverse generations in US history, here are some other interesting factoids gleaned from the report above (including some of my own thoughts):

  • Current average age is around 23-24 (technically, the largest age cohort). I am the oldest around 35 and the youngest is around 11-15 (cut-off dates vary).
  • We were born and raised in the "age of the personal computer" and see technological innovation, computation, and networking as an essential part of human life.
  • Millennials report a higher concern over quality of life, including family, friends, creativity, social impact, and, most notably, health. Think FitBit and health tracking technology on the last part, which, yes, I use daily.
  • More Millennials have a college degree and are more likely to attend graduate school than prior generations.
  • We are more likely to study social sciences and less likely to study education, health, business. I broke the mold with math, but sometimes wish I minored in sociology.
  • They are more likely to rely on loans to pay for college (hence the massive increase in student loan debt).
  • They are more likely to put off work in favor of their education (partially due to a more competitive job market and lack of opportunities of course).
  • Millennials are more likely to remain with their employer longer than the prior generation (contrary to popular opinion about attachment problems).
  • Millennial women outpace Millennial men in completing degrees and level of education and, hence, will likely comprise a larger percentage of the skilled labor force in future years (this is huge!).
  • We tend to get married and have kids later (since we're all busy trying to get a degree and then pay off our student debt loans).
  • Millennials are less likely to be homeowners and are more likely to stay at home (see above).
  • They are much more attracted towards living in urban areas and cities (especially San Francisco...though I prefer San Diego).

In summary, Millennials are diverse, highly educated, health-conscious, and part of a monumental shift of women overtaking men in level of education and, by extension, level of earnings (men, don't assume you'll be the breadwinner anymore). They will also have higher debts and put off homeownership until later in life, if ever to own a home at all since they show an increasing trend towards city/urban life and may prefer the mobility that comes with renting. What's more, I'm pretty sure all of the above would still hold true regardless of the 2008 financial crisis and ongoing economic struggles.

Still, Goldman is right: their impact is going to be huge—in many ways we can't even yet foresee.

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