Folks ages 29 to 37 have watched their net worth plummet over the past few decades, and there are several reasons.
Even after a damaging economic crisis and recession, some American households are recovering nicely. If you’re 47 years old or older, you’ve actually done pretty well in the past few decades.
But younger generations are just getting poorer, according to a new study from the Urban Institute. People younger than 47 just haven’t been able to accumulate much money or build up their net worth through homebuying or other investments.
The authors looked at how Americans’ average net worth has changed from 1983 through 2010 and found a dramatic difference between older and younger generations.
Those 56 to 64 and those older than 74 more than doubled their net worth, with gains of 120% and 149%, respectively. The picture was still rosy for those 47 to 55 and 65 to 73, with a rise in net worth of 76% and 79%.
But all that progress comes to a halt with younger generations. Those 38 to 46 saw their net worth rise by just 26%, and those 29 to 37 saw their net worth drop by 21%.
Why are young people getting left behind? One of the study’s authors, Gene Steuerle, says there are several factors:
The housing bubble. Younger homeowners were more likely to have the steepest mortgage balances and the least home equity built up. Consider a home that fell in value by 20%, Steuerle writes. A younger owner with only 20% equity would see a 100% drop in housing net worth, but an older owner with the mortgage paid off would see only a 20% drop.
The stock market. Older investors were more likely to invest in bonds and other assets that have recovered or gone up in value since the Great Recession.
Lower employment. Younger Americans are seeing higher unemployment rates. They’re also seeing lower relative minimum wages.
Less savings. Younger people are seeing a bigger cut of their pay taken out to pay for Social Security and health care.
“Maybe, more than just maybe, it’s time to think about investing in the young,” Steuerle writes.