Generation Xers, people born from the early 1960s to the 1980s, are taking home bigger paychecks than their parents did at the same age, but they haven’t saved up nearly as much wealth.
The average Gen Xer has accumulated about $29,100 in wealth, compared to $65,200 that their parents had acquired by the same age, according to a new report from the Pew Economic Mobility Project. Wealth includes savings, retirement funds, homes and other investments. Excluding home equity, the typical Gen Xer holds about $13,000 in wealth, while the typical parent of a Gen Xer had about $18,000 at the same age.
"They are on track to be the first in recent history to fall behind previous generations in terms of wealth accumulation, a key indicator of economic security and particularly retirement preparedness," Diana Elliott, research manager of financial security and mobility at Pew, said in a statement.
Though three-quarters of Gen Xers have higher family incomes than their parents did at the same age, only 36 percent of Gen Xers have higher family wealth than their parents did, Pew said.
Part of the explanation is debt levels. Gen Xers have nearly six times the debt their parents did. Nearly all Gen Xers report holding student loan, medical, credit card or other debt, with a median amount owed of more than $7,000. Gen Xers’ parents held about $1,000 in debt at the same point in their lives.
Student loan debt in particular has increased sharply in the aftermath of the Great Recession, now totaling more than $1 trillion nationwide, according to the Fed. All other types of debt, like credit card debt and mortgages, fell over that period. The burden of monthly student loan payments has delayed many Gen Xers from saving for emergencies and retirement and from buying homes, according to the Urban Insititute.
Another reason for Gen Xers' slow wealth buildup is that the generation was the hardest hit by the 2008-2009 recession and lost nearly half their wealth, according to an earlier Pew study. Also, many entered the workforce in the early 1990s, during a recession, then weathered another recession in the early 2000s just as they began building wealth. Then many Gen Xers bought homes as the housing market picked up in the 2000s, only to see the value of their homes drop in 2008-2009. The median value of mortgages held by 35-to-44-year-olds increased by 54 percent from 1995 to 2007, while home values fell by one-fifth, Bloomberg reported.
The Gen Xers who do exceed their parents’ family wealth have on average three times more wealth than the typical Gen Xer, but about half of Gen Xers remain in the income level they were born into. Typical white Gen Xers have about $17,000 more in family income and hold more than four times as much non-home-equity wealth as black Gen Xers do.
Gen Xers with college degrees are actually less likely to surpass their parents’ wealth than their non-college-educated peers. While 82 percent of college-educated Gen Xers earn more than their parents did, only 30 percent have greater wealth. But 70 percent of Gen Xers without four-year college degrees have higher income than their parents did, and about half also have greater wealth, Pew said. That could be because college-educated Gen Xers are more likely to come from wealthier families and hold more debt than their non-college-educated peers. Still, degree-holding Gen Xers make about $25,000 more a year than their peers without degrees and own $26,000 more in home equity and $9,000 more in wealth, Pew said.