For better or for worse, people love talking about millennials in 2019, and rightfully so.
They have eclipsed the baby boomers as the largest living generation and have amassed record levels of student loan debt, while simultaneously navigating a rapidly changing economy and society due in large part to never-before-seen technological advances.
Millennials, aged 23-38, are approaching a generational window where the decisions they make and lives they lead will catalyze politics, culture, and perhaps most importantly, the economy.
Considering that last point, LendEDU conducted a survey of 1,000 American millennials to better understand how the generation feels about their personal finances and the concept of wealth, in general.
The 1,000 respondents were split evenly between three income brackets, allowing us to analyze where millennials from each economic class are similar and different in their views on finance.
Some key findings included:
- The average millennial spends $1,476 on housing expenses each month and an additional $1,832 on non-housing expenses
- The plurality of millennials, 31 percent, believe one must make between $101,000 and $250,000 annually to be considered “wealthy”
- 60 percent of millennials that do live at home with their parents or guardians do so due to financial constraints
- Nearly a quarter of millennials believe they will be less wealthy than their parents in their lifetime
- When asked which person they most strongly associate with wealth, 31 percent of millennials said Bill Gates, 20 percent said Bezos, 17 percent stated Oprah, & 16 percent pointed towards Warren Buffett
Full Survey Results (Income Breakdowns Included)
Observations & Analysis
Millennial Monthly Spending Follows Fairly Consistent Pattern
On average, we found that millennials have monthly expenses that add up to $3,308, which includes housing and non-housing expenses. Specifically, an average of $1,476 is spent per month on housing expenses like a mortgage or rent payment, while $1,832 is dispensed on all other expenses.
In pattern that is reassuring because it displays prudent spending, millennials in the high income bracket ($100,000 in yearly income or more) are spending the most per month, while those in the low income bracket ($49,999 or lower) are spending the least. Further, middle bracket millennials ($50,000 – $99,999) are exactly where they should be relative to their income.
It’d be worrisome if the results were more jumbled, which might suggest that members of the generation are spending above their means, a common narrative in research. One study found that 40 percent of millennials spend money they don’t have to keep up with friends.
Todd Kunsman, a 31-year-old millennial that rents an apartment with his girlfriend, broke down his monthly expenses and how they fit into his budget:
Our rent is $1,300 per month and we split it about 60/40. I also have two student loans left (around $4,000 total remaining) and of course other utilities. In total, my monthly expenses are around $1,600 to $1,700 pending grocery and gas costs fluctuations. This equals to about one-third of my monthly income, so it provides plenty to save.Todd Kunsman, 31-year-old millennial, Owner of InvestedWallet.com
Since we did not have access to the specific yearly incomes of the survey participants, we were unable to truly quantify if they were overspending. So instead, we simply asked millennial respondents if they were spending within their means.
Overall, a combined 72 percent of millennials indicated that they are spending within their means, while 15 percent are spending more than they should, and 13 percent are on par with expenses.
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How did the results change when broken down by income brackets?
For millennial respondents in the high income bracket, 76 percent of them are spending within their means. Specifically, 48 percent stated they are well within their budget, while the remaining 28 percent are just barely spending within their means.
On the contrary, 67 percent of millennials in the low income bracket indicated they are spending within their means, with only 25 percent stating it was comfortably within and 42 percent barely within their expenses.
Moreover, only a combined 12 percent of upper income millennials admitted they are spending above their means. In comparison, 18 percent of respondents in the lowest brackets answered the same.
One would think that millennial consumers in the low income bracket would be the most watchful of their spending as they have little to no leeway for outpacing their bank account. Conversely, wealthier millennials can better afford breaking the bank every once in a while. However, the data from this survey displayed the opposite.
Nevertheless, the vast majority of millennial survey participants, in all income brackets, are spending within their means which should be applauded. Responsible spending leads to more robust savings, which usually equates to a healthier financial future.
How Do Millennials Perceive Wealth?
The team at LendEDU thought it would be interesting to get a better understanding of how the millennial generation perceives wealth. In 2019, there are more mediums than ever before to show off luxury; Instagram posts and reality tv shows featuring celebrities allow for a window into the world of the wealthy that never really existed at such scale before.
Surely, this had to have an impact on how millennials define what it means to be rich, right?
Survey participants were first asked how much money one needs to make per year to be considered “wealthy?”
As depicted by the visual above, millennials in the low income bracket have a considerably different view of what it means to be wealthy when compared to their counterparts in the upper bracket. For example, 45 percent of low income millennials believe an annual income between $75,000 and $100,000 is considered wealthy, while only 10 percent of high income individuals think the same.
Further, 16 percent of millennial respondents in the high income bracket believed being wealthy means earning between $501,000 and $999,999 per year, while only 4 percent of lower bracket millennials answered similarly.
Antoinette D’Addario, a 23-year-old millennial, provided her thoughts on what it means to be wealthy:
Both of my parents are pharmacists and make a decent living. That said, based on the cost of living in America, my family is what I would consider middle class. In my opinion, a single person would need to make at least $150,000 annually before taxes to live comfortably. To be considered wealthy, in my opinion, a single person would need to make at least $500,000 per year, before taxes. Those who make in excess of $1 million are exceptionally wealthy.Antoinette D’Addario, 23-year-old millennial
Interestingly, respondents that were part of the lower income bracket might have the best grasp of how much an individual needs to make to be considered wealthy. According to Pew, a single person needs to make at least $78,281 to be classified as a wealthy individual.
Has the over saturation of elite lifestyles on social media and television led an entire generation to overthink what it means to be rich?
Millennials, especially those in the upper income bracket, may still think they have work to do to earn the “wealthy” tag, but they may have already hit or even surpassed that milestone. This, of course, might not necessarily be a bad thing if it encourages younger Americans to spend wisely and exert maximum effort to increase their earnings.
On the topic of what it means to be wealthy, we asked our 1,000 millennial respondents what famous individual they most strongly associate with wealth.
Across the board, millennials most strongly correlate wealth to Bill Gates, which is interesting. Not long ago, Gates was the richest man in the world, but has since been supplanted by Jeff Bezos of Amazon. In fact, the latter’s net worth is estimated around $134.4 billion, whereas the former’s hovers near $97.4 billion. Perhaps because the millennial generation grew up in the midst of Gates’ dominance is why they immediately think of him; a similar question proposed to Generation Z might yield results more in favor of Bezos.
There was one notable trend that developed between income brackets. As the income brackets moved lower, millennials were more likely to perceive celebrities like Oprah Winfrey, LeBron James, and Dr. Dre as wealthy. Contrarily, as the income brackets moved up, respondents more strongly associated tycoons like Bezos and Warren Buffett with wealth, and the votes were taken away from Oprah, LeBron, and Dr. Dre.
It was also interesting to see Kylie Jenner’s voting share remain constant throughout. The youngest self-made billionaire garnered 5 percent throughout, except for the highest income millennials, where she received 6 percent. Conversely, Mark Zuckerberg, with a net worth of $63.1 billion, never got more than 8 percent of the vote. Perhaps his notoriously modest lifestyle and that video of him walking around his casual office barefooted have had their impact.
Future Impact of Millennial Finances
A few of the questions in this survey were posed to respondents to gauge how their personal finances can have serious, real-world implications.
First, we wanted to find out more about the living situation for millennials. Overall, 40 percent of millennials are currently renting an apartment or house, while 49 percent own an apartment or house, which includes paying a mortgage. Four percent of all respondents lived at home with their parents or guardians and also pay rent, while five percent live at home without paying rent.
When the results were separated by income brackets, low income millennials were far more likely to rent an apartment or house, whereas high income millennials more frequently owned an apartment or house. Specifically, 60 percent of millennials in the lower bracket rented, while 25 percent in the upper bracket rented. Meanwhile, 27 percent of millennials in the low income bracket owned an apartment or house, while 63 percent of respondents in the highest bracket owned a property.
We took this portion of the survey a step further by asking those millennials that live at home if they are doing it by choice or due to financial limitations; 35 percent pointed to the former, while 60 percent indicated the latter.
When broken down by income level, 70 percent of low income millennials were at home due to financial constraints, while 21 percent were doing it by choice. On the contrary, 50 percent of high income millennials were living at home due to their finances, while 47 percent were doing it because they wanted to.
Overall, the results of these two questions bode decently well for millennials and homeownership. According to the Urban Institute, when Gen Xers were between the ages of 25 and 34, 45 percent owned homes, while 45 percent of Baby Boomers at that age owned property. Our figure pegs millennial homeownership at 49 percent, a positive indicator for the future financial health of not only the generation, but the entire U.S. economy.
The next two questions involved both the past and future of millennial families. Respondents were asked if they believed they will be more or less wealthy then their parents in their lifetime.
When compared to the data from the homeownership questions, this question produced a bit more of a gloomy result. Only 57 percent of millennials thought that they would be wealthier than their parents, compared to 23 percent that believed the opposite, and 20 percent that thought they’d be just as wealthy.
In an even more bleak stat, only 47 percent of low income millennials believed they would accumulate more wealth than their parents, while 27 percent indicated the opposite.
It should usually work out that parents’ children end up becoming more financially stable than themselves. Working in a steady progression from one generation to the next, parents strive to give their children every opportunity that they had and then some. For example, maybe the grandparents did not go to college, but they were able to put their kids through higher education, who in turn put the next generation through maybe an advanced degree program.
Though nearly every single segment produced net positive results to this question, financial confidence should be a lot stronger than just 57 percent of respondents believing their children would be wealthier than themselves. In one bright spot, 69 percent of high income millennials thought that they would become wealthier than their parents, while only 17 percent answered the opposite.
Ms. D’Addario believes that while she may earn more dollars than her parents, she may not have as much financial security as her parents have had:
I believe that, in terms of dollars earned, I will be wealthier than my parents due to inflation. That said, I feel I am more poor than my parents were at my age since they graduated college with almost no student loan debt and were able to pay their college bills by working while also going to school. I worked close to full-time while I was in college, yet I graduated with six figures in student loan debt.Antoinette D’Addario, 23-year-old millennial
The results from that question could be classified as a negative outlook on the economy. Another good economic indicator is to see if a generation of consumers are having children; the prevailing thought being that financial security leads to confidence in being able to raise and afford kids.
For example, after the recession Americans started having fewer babies. One university study found that 4 million fewer babies were born between 2008 and 2016 than would have been born if pre-recession trends held.
We had two questions that looked to address this notion. The results from question 12 found that 12 percent of millennials do not plan on having children. We then asked this 12 percent if the reason for not having children was due to financial hardships.
Overall, 30 percent of these millennial respondents pointed towards financial challenges as the reason for not having children, while 66 percent did not. In terms of differing income brackets, the results remained stable and never deviated by more than four percent.
Ms. D’Addario indicated that she likely will not have children due to finances:
I do not intend to have children, and finances are a large part of that decision. I know that the cost of higher education continues to rise and I do not believe it would be fair for me to have children knowing that I would put them in a situation where they could end up paying half a million dollars for their education.Antoinette D’Addario, 23-year-old millennial
So, personal finances are certainly having a considerable impact on millennials not having children, but it could be a lot worse. It is also important to remember that this a very specific sub-section of millennial respondents, and really, only 12 percent of 1,000 millennials said they had no plans to have children.
For what its worth, 61 percent of all millennials believed their children would have a better financial future than they currently have.
All data that can be found within this report derives from an online survey commissioned by LendEDU and conducted online by polling company Pollfish.
In total, 1,000 American millennials were surveyed for this particular poll. All respondents fell within the ages of 23 and 38, the millennial age range according to Pew. Additionally, a quota was used to ensure we received a near even split of millennials between three income brackets. 340 millennials in the high income bracket, which is an individual annual income of $100,000 or more were surveyed. 330 millennials in the middle income bracket, which is an individual annual income between $50,000 and $99,999, were surveyed. Finally, 330 millennials in the lower income bracket, which is an individual annual income of $49,999 or less, were surveyed. The income brackets are pre-established parameters set by Pollfish.
This survey was conducted over a two-day span, starting on March 1, 2019 and ending on March 2, 2019. All respondents were asked to answer all questions truthfully and to the best of their abilities.