Move over Boomers. Generation X, too. The biggest group in the United States is now millennials, those born between 1981 and 1996. According to the Brookings Institution, they’re now 22% of the U.S. population—roughly 74 million people—slightly more than boomers (born 1946-1964) and everyone else. The economic, electoral and cultural implications are enormous and will be for decades to come.
Naturally, this has attracted the attention of investment firms, who want to market to, and manage the assets of, this vast group. After all—and it seems hard to believe, but millennials could begin retiring in the early 2040s, just two decades from now. What will their retirement look like, and will they have enough?
This is all the subject of a big new study—“Retirement Reimagined”—by the investment giant Charles Schwab, which claims that millennials are doing well in terms of preparing for retirement, because they began saving in their mid-20s, earlier than other groups. This means their money will have more time to grow. Of course, the rate of future market returns, inflation and other variables will also be determinants.
Schwab’s study—a 19-minute survey of 5,000 people—says there will be four kinds of millennials retirees. I’ll offer a brief comment at the end of each description.
Relaxed minimalists. This will be the biggest group, Schwab’s study says, comprised of millennials who are “equally satisfied by the company of their close-knit inner circle and the simple pleasures of their day-to-day routines.” They’ll also “value deep relationships more than other personas. They will place less focus on finances and devote more time to hobbies, relaxation and me-time.”
That sounds nice, more time with friends and hobbies. It’s the “less focus on finances part” that sounds problematic to me.
High-tech jet-setters. This will be the second-largest group. Schwab’s description: “Nomadic and fast-paced in nature, high-tech jet-setters will prioritize travel and be more open to long-term travel than their peers, trusting technology to keep up with friends and family as they move about retirement. Their curious nature, tenacity and commitment to the latest gadgets will carry through into retirement.”
The work from home—or tropical island—is where you’ll find these digital nomads, for whom working 9-to-5 in an office like their parents is a bygone notion. They’re committed to the “latest gadgets,” Schwab says, but what about being committed to, say, stashing 10% of their income away each month?
Practical achievers. This group will be just that—practical—and emphasize steady saving and investment. But don’t think this means investing in old-fashioned mutual funds, or even exchange-traded funds. Practical achievers will invest evenly in cryptocurrencies and stocks and stay on top of macroeconomic trends.
We’re talking about the generational divide here. Millennials see cryptocurrencies as the wave of the future, and they could be right. But it’s also worth noting that investing luminaries like Berkshire Hathaway CEO Warren Buffett and J.P. Morgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon are among those who are skeptical of crypto.
On-trend Friends. This group “will prioritize keeping up with the latest consumer trends and spend more time and money on shopping than their peers.” Schwab says they’ll work to maintain a “healthy spending and entertainment budget.”
Keeping up with the latest trends, spending more on shopping. Sounds like fun, but suggests this group of millennials is more interested in living for the moment than saving for retirement.
There’s clearly a different mind-set at work here, says Jonathan Craig, a Schwab managing director and head of investor services and marketing.
“Millennials think of retirement less as a target savings number and date and more like a state of mind or target lifestyle,” he says. “We recognize that millennials are approaching preparing for retirement—and living in retirement—differently and want to help them achieve financial success.”
Here’s another way in which the millennial mind-set differs. While three-quarters of boomers (born between 1946-1964) and Generation X (1965-1980) have emphasized homeownership, less than half of millennials share this view. More, Schwab’s study says, place a greater priority on the ability to travel more—again, live as digital nomads.
Despite the fact that Millennials generally began saving earlier—a very smart thing to do—it hasn’t exactly been smooth sailing for this group. The first two decades of the 21st century have seen recessions, terror attacks, a housing bust, and a pandemic that is now in its third year. All of these have caused economic disruption and uncertainty, just as most millennials were coming of age. To this we can add current problems like inflation and rising interest rates—new things for millennials, given that rates have been low for years. These macro trends will impact decisions on everything from whether to buy a house, get married, have kids and more. And downstream, all of this will impact when, how—and how well—millennials will be able to retire.
Something else that will impact their ability to retire is Social Security, and here millennials appear to be making a major misjudgment. A 2021 study by the insurance and investment firm Nationwide, said that most Millennials think the full retirement eligibility age is 52. It’s currently 67, and likely to rise in the near future—suggesting that perhaps, just perhaps, millennials are also misjudging their ability to have the easy life of gadgets and travel that they dream of.