Life Course Trajectories and Wealth Accumulation in the United States: Comparing Baby Boomers and Millennials

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This paper empirically assesses the widespread belief that Millennials are economically worse off than their parents’ generation, the Baby Boomers.

The research used US data from the 1979 and 1997 National Longitudinal Surveys of Youth to analyse the work and family life courses of Millennials and Baby Boomers from age 18 to 35, and then looked at how wealthy they were at the end of this period.

The researchers conclude that wealth is much more unequally distributed among Millennials than among Baby Boomers: although most Millennials have less wealth than Baby Boomers at the same age, the richest Millennials have more.

They showed that Millennials are less likely than their Baby Boomer counterparts to enter the high-status, well-paid jobs that are associated with wealth accumulation, and are more likely to work in low-skilled service jobs. There was also a marked decline between the cohorts in the traditional pattern of early marriage and parenthood.

The researchers say the work reveals a vicious cycle of polarisation in employment and family life and increasing economic inequality. This suggests that societal concerns about the economic well-being of Millennials are generally well-founded.

They recommend that policymakers consider interventions such as tax-reform, access to housing and health insurance, and the strengthening of workers’ rights, thereby enabling young American families to build assets and lead a more secure life.