Gen Z, millennials have a harder time adulting than their parents

Young woman talking to parents.

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Gen Z and millennial adults are having a hard time achieving the same milestones their parents did when they first ventured out into the workforce.

For instance, 55% of young adult respondents find it is “much harder” to purchase a home, 44% said it is harder to find a job and 55% said it is harder to get promoted, according to a Youth & Money in the USA poll by CNBC and Generation Lab.

The survey polled 1,039 people between ages 18 and 34 across the U.S. from Oct. 25 to Oct. 30.

“This is purely a snapshot of what young people perceive their lives to be like compared to their parents,” said Cyrus Beschloss, founder of Generation Lab, an organization that built the largest respondent database of young people in America.

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On the plus side, the poll found that 40% of Gen Zers and millennials say it’s easier for them to find economic opportunities outside of traditional employment.

The nature of work was changing even before the Covid-19 pandemic, said certified financial planner Blair duQuesnay, lead advisor at Ritholtz Wealth Management in New Orleans.

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“The baby-boom generation went to work for a corporation and, for a lot [of] cases, stayed in one job for their entire career and retired with a pension — that doesn’t exist anymore,” said duQuesnay, who is also a CNBC Financial Advisor Council member.

While those opportunities may not lead to the type of stability that will allow young adults to buy a house, certain “glimmers of optimism” stand out, “in spite of pessimism about the nation and the world,” added Beschloss.

‘Glimmers of optimism’

About 50% believe inflation will affect their future financial well-being very negatively, according to the Youth & Money in the USA poll. However, this could be a response to the current economic landscape.

“Inflation has been the biggest narrative in the media over the past year or so,” said CFP Douglas A. Boneparth, president and founder of Bone Fide Wealth in New York. “We are bombarded with headlines about inflation, and we see inflation when we check out at the grocery store.”

On the positive side, Beschloss at Generation Lab said there is “hope in this data.”

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For instance, student loan debt is not causing 65% of Gen Zers and millennials to delay major life decisions such as getting married, starting a family or buying a home, the report found.

To that point, 68% of respondents believe they have less than $20,000 in outstanding debt, including credit cards and student loans, which is “promising to hear,” said duQuesnay.

Additionally, contrary to popular belief, a majority, 43%, of younger workers feel quite loyal to their employers.

“We have this perception of the Gen Z worker sort of cynically trudging into work, cashing the paycheck so they can have a good quality of life and ‘quiet quit’ and do all these other things,” Beschloss said.

While such loyalty among younger workers may be “shocking,” it goes to show that employers “have gone out of their way to increase employee morale,” said duQuesnay.

Gen Z, millennials and the stock market

The majority of polled young people, or 63%, believe the stock market is a good place to build wealth and invest. However, since Gen Zers and millennials have seen wealth and financial stability “get rocked by some sort of macroeconomic earthquake,” according to Beschloss — 37% of them believe otherwise.

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The distrust in the stock market can be linked to younger adults’ upbringing, which may have “blazed a huge crater in their brain when it comes to their confidence in the stock market,” he added.

“Experiencing the financial crisis in 2008 as a child is probably a very formative experience,” said duQuesnay. “I’ve spoken to Gen Z investors who remember their parents losing their job or losing their house.”

Additionally, the birth and rise of cryptocurrency pose as an “opt-out of traditional financial systems,” added Boneparth, who is also a CNBC FA Council member.

It will take time for younger investors to see compounded returns in the stock market, especially as those who joined in 2021 may have quickly saw those gains erased by a bear market in 2022, added duQuesnay.

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