Wealth by Generation and Age

Kurt Andersen made the following arresting tweet

Fraction of all US wealth owned by Boomers & Gen-Xers when the average member of each was age 35:

Boomers, 1989 21%
GenX, 2008 8%
The average Millennial turns 35 in 2023. Right now they own 3%.

There will surely be political implications.

Definitions: Baby Boomer=born 1946-1964, Gen X=born 1965-1980, and Millennial=born 1981-1996.

You can’t take it with you, so this will change eventually but perhaps too late. Think of this as the Prince Charles effect. Prince Charles hasn’t offed his mother and led a revolution yet but in an earlier age he probably would have and surely he has thought about it. Similarly, perhaps the demand among some Gen-Xers and Millennials for wealth redistribution can be understood as a demand to get their share of the pot before they are old and tired.

The data, which are from the Federal Reserve are here.


He only has to send his mom to the nunnery!

Yeah, but if she is the one paying for the nunnery and still controls all the money, then what's the point?

Part of the gap is due to the fact that the age pyramid did not have the same shape then as now.

Sure. But it does not change the fact of "unequal" distribution. Sure, it is quite humane to support people living as long as possible, but then we remember that it is new generations that have to support the elderly, while still not having the piece of a pie they might want. And the question of how to deal with that remains open.

" it is new generations that have to support the elderly,... "

Alex T: "perhaps the demand among some Gen-Xers and Millennials for wealth redistribution can be understood as a demand to get their share of the pot before they are old and tired."

The millennials are between 23 and 38 and will be between 38 and 53 in 2035 when their aging process will be radically better than boomers who were between 38 and 53 in the 1990s and 2000s.

There won't be any tired millennials.


Not obvious. Life expectancy of whites, especially white women, and especially poor white women, is falling, which we have seen nothing like in upper income nations at all.

Just to add, it’s specifically unmarried white women.


It is obvious when one realizes that the health for a 35 year old millennial at age 60 in 2045 will be far better than the health of a 60 year old today who usually tires pretty easily. We're already seeing this with some middle-aged people who explain what taking 500 mg of NR or 500 mg of NMN a day is like after a few months: more energy, can lift more, have more muscle mass, no longer take naps, etc.

The changing age pyramid, though, means that each young person has to pay more to support the elderly than in previous eras, so smaller generational cohorts compound the problem.

This assumes that the retirement age won't be raised by a lot or that there is even retirement after 2040.

There will still be retirement because A) some people are unable to continue working, and the percentage becomes very high as they age, B) younger generations need a retirement sytstem so the ladders of assent in workplaces are not blocked and C) we're better off clearing out stodgy old people from positions of authority in businesses and getting younger blood in

But aging and health will be very different after 2035 so today's notion of retirement will no longer make sense by the time the first millennial reaches 67 or 70. Companies can figure out how long they want to employ someone.

And yet we see mortality rates increasing, and now across multiple demographic groups.
Beyyer put down the rose tinted glasses and buckle your seatbelt. We're not going to land at Shangri-la.

OR, people need to make provision for their own retirement, rather than throwing themselves on the mercy of their nonexistent children.

Non -working people are "at the mercy" of working people no matter what: people who are not producing depend on the goods and services of those who are.

There are 1.1 Boomers for every Gen Xer

Boomer's wealth share at age 35 was 2.5 times higher

This has very little to do with the age pyramid.

We need a chart that shows generational share of population at average age 35.

Here are the age pyramids of the U.S. in 1990 (they don't have good data for 1989) and in 2023 from gapminder.org:

As we can see, people around age 35 represent a smaller share of total population today.

Btw, I noticed that in Kurt Andersen's post, all slices do not have the same "thickness" (age span):

Definitions: Baby Boomer=born 1946-1964 [the slice spans 19 years], Gen X=born 1965-1980 [the slice spans 16 years], and Millennial=born 1981-1996 [the slice spans 16 years].

Boomers got started in life pre-Reagan under crushing taxes and crushing costly government regulation and blood sucking unions.

The later generations have no need for wealth because post-Reagan freedom from government free markets and cost cutting and tax cutting have made everything free.

Underrated comment.

Under further examination, Mulp's comment has gone from -5 to -3.

The measure year for Boomers at age 35 is .... 1989. So what was your point again?

Sarcasm is poorly appreciated.

I think you meant that sarcastically, but life is obviously better in just about every way today than it was in the 1970s. Why are you not happy about that?

How much of that is due to Boomers living longer than the generations before them, and thus not passing on their wealth sooner?

In 1989 the oldest boomer was 43. The youngest 25. I can't imagine their parents died that early.

Though the Boomer years encompass 18 years vs 15 each for the others so thats a few percent right there.

Plus, the Millenials are missing the 3 highest accumulation years frim their data. But...point taken.

Yeah, if anything the typical parent of a 35 year old boomer was younger than the typical parent of a 35 year old millennial.
A lot of people find comfort in the idea that it's all just demographics and life-expectancy and the millennials will get theirs sooner or later (the ones with rich parents, the ones with poorer parents will stay poor forever of course). Hard to imagine that the boomers were just inheriting a lot of wealth in their 30s and that's what explains it.

Yes, but keep in mind that the massive improvements in cancer and cardiovascular mortality would have missed the boomer parents, but aided the boomers. A *lot* of men used to drop dead of heart attacks in their fifties and sixties; now they'd usually live (or not have the heart attack in the first place). Also, the early boomers were the parents of the war generation, who had their fertility interrupted by war, and weren't necessarily that young, and the later Boomers were often third or fourth kids of people who had started in the early fifties. All in all, a Boomer was much more likely to have lost one or both parents by 35 than later generations, even though their parents averaged somewhat younger.

Is this true? Interesting thesis.

But loss of one parent usually doesnt transmit wealth to the kid. The wealth goes to the spouse.

Also many boomer parents’ early earning years were during the great depression. My dad turned 18 in 1934. We boomers are aptly named, having lived through a nearly lifelong economic boom. I remember an early boss celebrating the Dow Industrial average passing 800. I’m also wondering what the generational wealth effect of two working spouses in a household has been.

For millennials it’s mostly gone to paying for rents, in the economic sense.


Warren wrote a book about this before her Coming to 4th wave Feminism moment.

Millennials (broadly speaking, though this depends a bit on exact years with in the cohort) for the most part have been renting rather than buying housing. Some of the worst off are that sliver of Gen X that bought at the top of the housing bubble; the best off of Gen X are the ones who bought before the run up in housing prices.

That by itself demonstrates that "generations" are not always the best way to deal with this. There are enormous differences based on a single year; someone who graduates during a boom like 1999 tends to be permanently better off than someone who graduates just when the recession hits two years later.

Completely valid point about generation analysis, it’s arbitrary and a simplification.

But millennials graduating college during the worst financial crisis in decades combined with the need for $300,000 cash for a down payment on a home (500% median household income) within a 45 minute commute of the major job markets is...

Completely alien to the historical American experience.

And people won’t say “the local/federal governments overwhelmingly supported by anonymous/mouse/bill restricted supply and subsidized demand”

They’ll say “Bezos and Gates did this” and tear apart the one growth engine of our economy by voting for Warren/Sanders 2020.

So once again.

OK, Boomer. From Vietnam to $2.4 million dollar 1200 square foot homes, you really nailed it.

Grandparents are a thing, and they sometimes have wealth


"Though the Boomer years encompass 18 years vs 15 each"

The years are inclusive, so it's 19 vs 16 years each.

These numbers are staggering.

How much of that is due to Boomers buying homes in big cities when they were cheap, and then creating scarcity so the value of their houses go up and up?

And how much of that is due to Boomers having unions who fought for higher salaries, while Gen Xs and Millenials have to fight for themselves?

Unions aren’t the issue.

Palo Alto median home price 1980: $148,000

Palo Aalto median home price 2019: $2.4 million

Inb4 inflation: Okay with chained CPI maybe it went from $260,000 to $2.4M

Thanks, Boomers

Do that for Detroit, Cleveland, Akron, Buffalo...etc. St Louis. Cincinnati. Cities with millions more ppl than Palo Alto.

Why? The geography of well paying jobs is completely different from the Boomer generation. We have to live where we can find employment...

Highest concentration of millennials moving to where the jobs are:

Los Angeles
New York
Washington DC
San Francisco

Boomers set up incredibly restrictive zoning in the most effective rent seeking scheme since the Gilded Age.

If construction costs are over $700,000 per housing unit, unrestricted zoning doesn't help much.



Public housing projects != private.

It should surprise no one that a thoroughly corrupt local government “spreads the tax wealth around” so to speak. Also see California’s aborted high speed rail project.

Palo Alto and every area like it is sure hell bent on not eliminating restricting zoning. And the reasons are obvious.

Private construction is also $700,000 an apartment. Even if you can blame corrupt San Francisco government for $200,000 of "tax and hire my local friends" costs you think Palo Alto's government is less likely to take the same opportunity for taxes as any other California government.

Sure, I’ll concede a large issue in raising housing supply in California is caused by corruption, onerous regulation, and incompetent government.

But it’s not the proximate cause of $2.4 million median price 2 bedroom homes. Come on.

That’s Boomers zoning out any and all development in areas like Palo Alto, or Contra Costa County, or Berkeley with single family homes on what should be skyscraper lots.

They have population hard caps and height restrictions so population density rivals Denver or Indianapolis suburbs. Wtf?

Remove the distortions, let the market settle and find an equilibrium. Let the first movers cash in and build build build.

You're naming cities where "Boomers buying homes in big cities when they were cheap, and then creating scarcity so the value of their houses go up and up" did not happen

Detroit Metro in 1980 the average house was $47,200, and now it is $170,000. Ohio has also increased some. Louisiana, West Virginia and Wyoming are the ones where prices have gone down.

What does that mean? Has government revenue fallen?

One can read the data to reach very different conclusions. I read the data as a reflection of reliance on rising asset prices for prosperity: those fortunate enough to have owned assets for the past 40 years have greatly increased their wealth, while those who weren't haven't. Millennials haven't earned sufficient income to accumulate assets (even a house) and share in the rise. In any case, the distribution of wealth by generation doesn't really tell us much about whether millennials will demand wealth redistribution. If the wealth owned by Boomers is distributed among Boomers in relatively equal shares, then the wealth will pass to millennials in relatively equal shares. But it isn't, and it won't: today's high level of inequality among the Boomer generation will be inherited by the millennial generation. Don't blame the millennials for policies adopted by an earlier generation that facilitated the high level of wealth inequality today (it even exceeds the level in 1929). Of course, this all assumes tomorrow will be just like today. I don't doubt that the wealthy in 1929 believed that tomorrow would be just like today, but it wasn't. I am optimistically pessimistic.

" I read the data as a reflection of reliance on rising asset prices for prosperity: those fortunate enough to have owned assets for the past 40 years have greatly increased their wealth, while those who weren't haven't."

You apparently did not read or comprehend the summary: 1989 was 40 years ago and the wealth of boomers was measured as of 1989! Thus, due to how the study was set up, it could only have been the Gen X'ers and Millennials who profited from the "rising asset prices" over the past 40 years!

The rising asset prices impacted the denominator, total wealth, and those assets weren't owned by Millenials.

I'm guessing a lot of this is a lot more people are going to college, taking on debt, and delaying their earnings years. Even if this is a positive NPV decision, the payback may take until well after 32.

Yes, of course. But, as far as having the most to gain ("benefit") *before age 35*, the latter cohorts have had it much easier as far as "rising asset prices" are concerned over the last 40 years.

If you look at levels, you will see that Millennials have nearly as much wealth as Gen X at the same age ($3.4 trillion currently, vs. $3.9 trillion for Gen X in 2004).

Furthermore, for young people wealth is going to be determined by savings; for older generations it's going to be determined by what the rate of compounding has been over time. Older people have gotten some pretty high rates of return over the past ~40 years, while the considerably larger share of Millennials going to college results in (a) accumulating student debt; (b) reduced savings because, well, they're not working and earning income for a large portion of pre-age 35 adult life.

If by "wealth" you mean trickle down QE, then sure.

Are you comparing nominal wealth from 15 years ago against nominal wealth today?

And do you realize that $3.9T/$3.4T is a 15% gap, spread across a generation that is 10% larger?

Rough back of the envelop:
Boomer percentage of US population in 1989: 31%
GenX percentage of US population in 2008: 21%
Projected Millennial percentage of US population in 2023: 21%

This puts them all near 20%


The missing e threw his math off.

That’s 2018. The Boomers were a much higher percentage of the population in 1989 when the statistic in the original tweet applies to them.

Really? Born in '46 had a life expectancy of 72.7, and coincidentally that's how far we are from '46.

Losing a third of the cohort, dropping from your 30% to 22% just seems high.

Ha, the internet knows everything:


So maaaybe

Anecdotal: I was born in 1950 - still breathing. Two younger brothers, born in 1951 and 1953 ("Irish triplets"), died in 2008 and 2018, respectively. Also, a close friend, born in 1951, died in 2008.

Additionally, the denominator increased from 1989.

bUt ThE pIe Is BigGeR nOw

Boomers were a mistake.

ok millenial. Gas all boomers.

OK Boomer.

You reinvented the Gilded Age but solely aimed at your own offspring via zoning and Prop 13, lost your generation’s war in a humiliating and disgusting fashion (I’m sure you avoided it though, with “bone spurs and white son of famous prof”), fought against gay marriage, locked up African Americans for smoking the same weed you smoked literally every day, dismantled nuclear power aka our best bet against climate change due to antiscientific bullshit, created the financial crisis with the CRA and political/financial insanity, and then stacked every local government with enough corruption that we are now unable to build subways, build housing, build rail, teach children, police the streets, maintain order, the list goes on...

Over half the LAUSD budget goes to pensions and “special ed.”

Subways cost literal billions per 200 meters.

Boomers gave us a completely failed societal contract, only propped up by the one area they’re too stupid to understand: tech.

Oi, mate. They (boomers) created the area of tech as well. All the early tech things of 80s and 90s were propped up by some weird geek boomers.

OK, Skeptic. Funny how you go from attacks on individuals to on an entire generation. Anyway, as for me, I got out of the Vietnam War (which I opposed) due to a high draft number, #346. I always supported gay rights, opposed locking up African Americans for smoking weed (indeed thought it should be legal all along), and supported nuclear power all along. You are idiotically wrong that CRA caused the financial instability, and I was not responsible for that policy in any case. I also am not responsible for local government corruption, which has been around forever, in many places worse than it is now. I just checked, and pensions are 13 percent of the LA budget, with, I am sure it not true that special ed is over 37 percent.

Sorry, Skeptic, but you are hysterical and simply wrong on nearly everything you say. OK, whatever generation you are, "Skeptic"?

Perhaps there's an argument to be made that younger generations have the freedom to perform less productive, though more spiritually or personally fulfilling, work. That and the fact that many don't enter the full-time workforce until later than previous generations.

Boomer delusions right here. You honestly think millennials have more "spiritually fulfilling" jobs? Are you nuts? Boomers turned this country into their service industry playground.

lol, so manufacturing jobs are spiritually fulfilling now?

A better cause for young people would be to fight against the growing age segregation in American society

If you look at the dataset, Millennials are way ahead of GenX in percentage of wealth at given age. Average GenX was hit with 3 recessions between age 18 and 35. Millennials only had the 1 and have been riding the boom since.

I wish that I could go do my doctoral thesis on the question of: what will happen to the accumulated wealth once the bulk of baby boomers die? So many questions, like since they have had fewer children, and therefor fewer people to pass wealth onto, will this just exacerbate inequality? Conversely, will this sort of "uncork" the economy and spur massive waves of newly freed capital? Interesting stuff!

The same effect holds across the board, not just with money. Boomers hold disproportionate power, authority and influence generally as well. They are the gatekeepers. It often happens in a family that when the old Matriarch goes all holy hell comes unleashed.

Why can't you?

Because I live in the U.S. and I've already taken out loans for an undergrad and graduate degree.

What about WWII? What about the complete destruction of the industrial capacity of the developed world, ex-US? The world the boomers inherited is NOT the world the Millennials are facing.

There are factors beyond taxes and social welfare at play. We can all sit around, point fingers, fight each other. Use force to seize wealth and value from our neighbors who have more than us. Sow division.

But the reality is my organization tries hard every day to outsource jobs overseas. Facing crushing costs here in the US and an absolutely insane judiciary system that allow people to sue you for literally nothing with no repercussions, I want nothing to do with employing Americans. The costs are very high and the benefits only exist to the extent I cannot systematize your job. And no before *har har you want to employ children in slave mines in the US* I'm not talking lawsuits related to injuries, child labor, dangerous work environments.

So yes: when the world globalizes, technology reduces barriers, and you create an increasingly non-competitive low- to mid- labor market, you can see the paradox we see today: America is a rich as ever as the top of the pyramid has worked out how to get rich on *other countries' labor*. Yet there are fewer and fewer, worse paying opportunities for those at the bottom, where people start their careers.

But yes, obviously if we just take their money and hand it out via helicopter drops our problems will be solved!

You realize that other countries have Boomers / Gen X / Millenials too, and are experiencing similar trends in wealth accumulation, right?

If companies like your weren't offshoring jobs maybe there's be less pressure for socialized benefits. This isn't rocket science!

Why wouldnt taking their money and handing it out via helicopter drops (or perhaps a less costly option, like crop dusters, or a negative income tax) work?

The wealthy pay huge amounts to insure their assets.
A redistributive wealth tax is just revolt insurance for getting rich off of other countries.

It appears America has passed into the "Give us what we want now or we'll burn this fucker to the ground" stage of inequality (eg, Donald Trump). Insurance against that sounds quite practical.

There was no "complete destruction of the industrial capital". Partial, yes. Complete, no.

This assumes that wealth == money.

When Boomers were young there were all the requisite stories about how Boomers would not be like their parents. They wouldn't live in suburban ranch homes, they wouldn't join country clubs, etc. Then guess what? suburbs spread and in the 1990's more country clubs opened.

There were two news stories, one on "Nightline" the other on NPR, in the 1980's about how boomers would be the first generation to have less wealth than their parents (See Nightline: Baby Boomers Gone Bust aired 12/25/1985). What followed? by the 1990's people were watching what was labeled the greatest generational wealth transfer as the Silent Generation began leaving estates to their children. Then in the early aughts the stories repeated. Millennials are now the first generation to be less wealthy than their parents. And Millenials won't do the same things as their parents. Please explain what is different than last time.

Loss of American hegemony.

And the older generation living much longer in retirement than previous generations, allowing them to blow through much of their estate on before leaving it to their now soon-to-be-elderly-themselves children.

What changed? 100 million additional foreigners in the USA, globalization, the near total collapse in religious faith among whites, and the lack of any meaningful common culture in the US. That’s a pretty big difference if we’re being honest.

Wealth = Assets - Liabilities.

What liabilities did the Boomers not have but the other succeeding generations did have?

Student debt.

And housing costs.

The average student holds under $17,000 in student loans. I think you're overstating a problem.

See comment below. Cite your sources and show what the college debt for student in the 60s and 70s was then and what it is today.

I think you are understating a problem.

Do you know how much an average Boomer college student had for college debt?

Look at the difference between 2005 and today:

US leaders have acknowledged the rise in student loan debt as a crisis. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos has noted that Federal Student Aid's portfolio "is nearly 10 percent of our nation's debt."[4] Approximately 45 million people have student loan debt.[5] In 2018, the average borrower owed $37,172 at the time of graduation, an increase of $20,000 from 2005.[6] Student loan debt is unevenly distributed, and race and social class are significant factors in the distribution of student loans. Approximately 30 percent of all college students do not incur debt.[7] The schools with the highest amount of student loan debt are University of Phoenix, Walden University, Nova Southeastern University, Capella University, and Strayer University.[8] Except for Nova Southeastern, they are all proprietary (profit-making) universities." https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Student_loans_in_the_United_States

The comment was directed at Austin as a reply.

Who are the people charging high tuition and earning high salaries working for Universities and what can be done to stop them?

OK, Boomer.

You should get it back with new high wealth estate taxes and eliminating stepped up basis.

Go for it.

I suspect there are a number of confounding factors going on here:
1. Boomers are numerically a larger percentage of the population than previous generations were at the same age. So naturally, as a bigger percentage of the population, they're going to be sitting on a bigger percentage of the wealth at any given age. The numbers are skewed by the changing age distribution as the boomer "hump" moves in time.
2. Wealth inequality has generally been increasing in recent decades, so the decline by generation is just a reflection of more wealth inequality, not a generational-unfairness thing. The weathiest individuals tend to be older, but the age distribution of tech billionaire is pretty even, Bill Gates is a boomer, Elon Musk is Generation X, Mark Zuckerberg is a millenial.

If you can extrapolate inter-generational resentment from a chart of "percentage of wealth controlled by an age group" then doesn't that imply we will always have a cycle of strife? There is no mathematical way to have an economically successful 20 year period (which will inescapably benefit the generation best poised by age, retirement, to accrue wealth from it) without, at some point afterwards, another 20 year period where a subsequent generation will have a smaller (percentage-wise) piece of the pie.

You can argue that it is too low (though by running the numbers today you're excluding, by definition, the average millennial's 4 most productive years), but that case needs to actually be made - the question implied by putting those numbers next to "There will surely be political implications" is whether or not the political system we've had between those 2 generations has 1) increased the size of the pie, 2) whether due to quality/or other perfectly reasonable decisions by millennials, having 3% of the wealth in 2019 is better or worse, objectively, than 21% of the wealth in 1989, and finally, and most importantly, 3) whether that differential in wealth is a result of unjust transfers from millennials TO boomers.

But good lord, stating the numbers, then saying "There will surely be political implications" while people are debating wealth taxes is just shockingly callous incitement on behalf of the original author. If a 65 year old, a 35 year old, and a gun with a label on it saying "For Use In Expropriating Money" are all in a room and you walk in and go "boy that old guy has a lot of money, and you don't seem to have any! It'd be a shame if someone used some kind of method to take all his money that I'm strongly implying he stole from you!" And then walked out the door. ** muffled gunshots ** "Oh, sounds like some political implications are happening!"

By 35 a boomer would have already worked for 17 years.

A millenial? 8 years maybe?

Just for giggles do the same comparison in a dozen other places in the world.

And married for 15 rather than 6. Getting married does a hell of alot to make you earn more and save.

Not true. About 80% of those between their 25th and 55th birthday are currently employed. It's systemically lower for women (about 73% v. 86%), but hardly varies for men or women over those years. About 67% of those between their 20th and 25th birthday are employed at any one time, and it's about the same for men and women. For those between their 16th and 20th birthday, about 1/3 are employed at any one time.

FTE enrollment in tertiary schooling is roughly 15 million right now, or just shy of 4 cohorts worth. In 1967, it was 5.5 million, or just shy of 2 cohorts worth. The delayed entry is significant, but it's not 10 years.

the art of politics in the next decade will be channeling the electorate's demand for guillotines into support for more moderate measures. until some populist comes and offers actual guillotines.

Ahhh: but what kind of actual guillotine?


Percentages of a whole are hard statistics to interpret. Multiple numerators and denominators change. Eg there are a lot more very hold people alive today who are still holding on to 1/4 of the wealth. They will die soon and their wealth will be moved.

But the breakdowns of the raw data are interesting. In terms of net worth they are close: $4.3T for both Boomers in 1989 and for Xers in 2008; $3.4T for Millennials today (which will rise in 3 years).

Breaking it further into assets and liabilities, Boomers had $6T in assets in 1989 vs $9.1T for Xers in 2008 vs $5.9T for Millennials today (will surely be higher than $6T by 2023).

The real difference though is liabilities. Boomers had $1.8T in 1989, Xers had $4.8T in 2008 and the Millennials have $2.5T today.

A big part of this is houses. Boomers owned 3x as much real estate as either Millennials or Xers ($900B vs $300B). Boomers owned 40% of their homes in 89, Xers owned only 7% of theirs in 2008 and Millennials own only 17% of a much lower number today.

Millennials also have 1/3 as many assets in private businesses as the previous generations ($250B vs $750B). And they also have 3x as much consumer credit as Boomers.

So as much as we want to find villains here, the biggest issues seem to be longevity of the Silent generation relative to their parents and grandparents, and the well worn housing story.

WSJ had an interesting take on the housing story: https://www.wsj.com/articles/ok-boomer-whos-going-to-buy-your-21-million-homes-11574485201?mod=searchresults&page=1&pos=3

A "generation" is not a real thing. But population shifts can be counted:
1. In this assessment the "Baby Boomer" gen is 19 years while "Gen X" and "Millennial" gens are 16 years.
2a. The absolute change in population from the "Baby Boomer" years is 52 million, a total population increase of 37% beginning (1964/1945).
2b. Gen X (as defined) adds 35.3M and increases pop by 18%
2c. Millennial adds 42.2M and 19%
3a. Given the above, I might have hazarded a naive guess that this count of "Gen X" should represent 1/2 to 2/3 of the Baby Boomer wealth. So 40% is low but not as surprising as first blush.
3b. Similar naive logic would have put me at equal or slightly millennial weighted in Millennial vs Gen X comp.
3c. But as other posts have noted, we haven't gotten to average millennial at 35 y.o. yet. Looking at the original source data and subtracting back to average age of 31 (this is lazy - I'm just averaging "generation" start and end year) makes the Millennial vs GenX comparison 3.2% vs 5.6%. The data doesn't go back far enough for a similar Baby Boomer comparison.
(Note, my population change figures are US Census total annual population not live births or other.)

+1 Not lazy, helpful.


I imagine some of us are busily computing the circumstances of our forebears at age 35. My maternal grandfather was 35 in 1937.

On trips to her Midwestern hometown, Mother would occasionally wish to drive past her 1940s childhood home. I would look at the drab little house, unsoftened by tree (I seem to recall a permanent stump) or bush, some years featuring a snarling chained dog out front, and wonder at this unprepossessing place being the center of her uniformly warm and happy childhood memories, which sometimes starred her beloved only sibling, her brother and hero, exactly ten years her senior.

At some point it occurred to me to ask where this small family's previous home had been, prior to her birth. She was a little vague on this, having missed it, only knew they had had no fixed address. Some of the time they returned to my grandmother's family farm and stayed with her mother. Mostly they just traveled around following my grandfather's work stringing up the telephone lines. Theirs was not a bad Depression, by any means, but I expect their contribution to the wealth of their cohort was zero.

"Fraction of all US wealth owned by ..." How does anyone know?

They don't, but hey, they have a narrative to sell... and plenty of buyers, starting with Tyler.

This post was by Alex, not Tyler, numbskull IPA.

Figures on asset distribution (much less asset distribution between cohorts) are soft data.

I'm not questioning whether there is some pattern, but those numbers look suspicious. 1989 was at a local peak of the stock market. 2008 was at a trough. 2023 hasn't even happened yet. And the categories are 18 years, 15 years, and 15 years. And the baby boom was, well, a boom, so there are a lot of them.

I don't see the data in the Fed link, but what would it look like if you compared the median individual fraction of wealth of a 30-year old averaged over 1980–1985, 2000–2005 and 2013–2018. That would be a fair comparison, and it has the advantage of not requiring data on events that haven't happened yet.

If Prince Charles offed QE2, then Wills would off his dad and the populace would be much happier.

Besides the current older generation living longer and holding on to their assets, many of the older people of 1989 (people working during the Great Depression and World War II, Boomers' grandparents or somewhat older parents) never had much wealth to hold on to in the first place.

Correct; it's not clear to me that percent of wealth is a good measure to use here.

Is the statistics controlled for sheer numbers? If not, the whole statistic makes no sense and cannot be compared. There are so much more Boomers than Millenials and so on. It's called Baby Boomers for a reason.

There are NOT so many more Millennial than Boomers if you keep "generation" lengths constant. The population delta 1964 vs 1945 (end of generation period vs year before generation start) is 52M over 19 years. The original post defines (as many do) Millennial generation as the 16 year period 1981-1996. That period delta is 42M. But what if we extended the Millennial period to 19 years? The total "Generation" size is roughly the same as Boomer regardless of which way you extend. 1981-1999 is a 52M add. 1978- 1996 is a 49M add. (Using the same US Census annual pops as my post below. But I think if you are a nativist and count only live births you get to a similar story.)

Yep. This numbers are useless unless they are per-capita.

And Jeff, it doesn't matter how many people are in each generation. It matters what percentage of the population they take up. It's not just that there are "more" boomers born; it's that they are taking a long time to die.

The numbers are useless for many reasons. The younger generation likes to spend their money rather than save it. You do NOT have wealth if you spend all your income. Becoming wealthy in America is easy, anyone can do it. But it means you must save your income not spend it on short term gratification. The reason past generations saved more is that the experienced bad times and learned from that. Today's generation thinks that waiting in line to pay $1000 for the latest I-phone is "bad times". Because life is so easy and so much comes to us for little effort this generation expects everything to be handed to them.

The Boomers experienced bad times? The millennials did not? Would love to visit your timeline and see how your history diverges from ours.

Over the last 200 years every generation in the west has had it better than the previous.

Clearly this is not the case for millennials. Compare to boomers on:
Marriage rates;
Childbearing rates;
Hours worked per person per year;
Hours of work needed to pay off each square foot of house purchased.

Some of the less fortunate boomers were drafted and sent to walk point in Vietnam, I'll give you that

Boomers went through Vietnam (mainly a big deal for the older cohort) and through the 70s energy crisis, recession and stagflation
Millennials have been through the War on Terror, the Housing Bubble, and the Great Recession.

Boomers have gone through those last events too.

Just Saying: I shouldn't have to point this out. Sure, Boomers went through the War on Terror and Bubble Collapses, too, but there's a big difference between going through financial crises when you're just starting out and saddled with education debt or low wages, and going through them when you've paid your student debt, are making a decent wage, and have some reserve resources at your disposal.

International pant: True enough that the rolling cross section of each generation's share of total pop at each year is what would best describe outcomes. But only if the "generations" are normalized for length.

And more generally, the contextual prior that -the Boomer generation is a huge anomaly in size- is simply wrong. Wrong and very common. Boomers were importantly larger than previous "generations" but not true of more recent ones. The 1990-2009 boom (20 yrs inclusive) is 9% bigger than the 1947-1966 boom. (Though the former added 40% to the total pop and the latter added 24%.)

TL;DR: Using the incredibly silly convention of cultural defined generations of varying time spans to sum wealth without normalizing for the length of your "generations" is like counting 2 of one thing and then 3 of another and exclaiming "But look this one is bigger!"

Literally every one of these objections is directly addressed in the linked Twitter thread. And you're wrong.

Picador - maybe you hit respond in the wrong spot. Otherwise, your post doesn't make sense as far as I can see. What are the objections you are referring to and where do you see them being addressed?
Specifically, the primary objection is: 19 is not equal to 16. (Also the intuition that the boomer generation is an anomaly in absolute terms is flat wrong with reference to any 19 year period starting in any year from 1981 to 1996.)

The drop from the Boomers to Gen X must reflect the drop in the labor share, smaller chunk of national income available for younger people to pick up assets. The Millennials get hammered by an even lower labor share, graduation into a massively depressed post-2009 economy, and debt needed to fund the college education rituals.

The solution is to limit labor in-flow to the truly elite: CalTech and MIT types, not State U and not high-school-only. There's a Malthusian dynamic to middle class and working class jobs, spamming more and more of this sort of labor into the system seems to batter the labor share and increasing living costs in the major employment metros.

Isn't this, to a large extent, a natural byproduct of a society becoming wealthier? 100 years ago, 99% of the population had basically zero wealth. When Boomers were young, the US was a much less wealthy society. Rising incomes meant that people earning an income were the source of wealth creation.

Now those people are older and have grown their wealth, which they need to do because they can no longer generate income and they didn't have a bunch of kids to take care of them in their dotage.

A century ago, if you lived long enough, poverty was close to a certainty. Old age was perceived as a risk, just like disability.

We fixed that now. Gen Xers, and especially Millennial and younger, likely to stand to inherit lots of this wealth at some point. That was never a thing for Boomers or earlier generations. As you say, you can't take it with you.

I suspect the story is similar in other developed countries, for similar reasons.

"Gen Xers, and especially Millennial and younger, likely to stand to inherit lots of this wealth at some point. That was never a thing for Boomers or earlier generations."

Yes. It only makes sense to look at this on a per capita basis. The Boomer generation of course inherited something from their parents. However, in addition to the increase in overall wealth, the birth rate has dramatically decreased since the Boomers were born. Not only do the Gen X'ers and the Millennials have much more to inherit on an absolute basis, they are much better positioned to inherit on a per capita basis. Since family sizes are smaller, there a fewer siblings with whom to share the inheritance.

It will be interesting to see how this plays out in the politics of tax policy. Will the Gen X'ers protest a steep increase in the estate tax that bites into their foreseeable inheritances?

Another possible factor is immigration---what percentage of the Gen X and Millennial population at age 35 represent authorized and unauthorized immigrants compared with the Baby Boomers at the same age? The increased immigration has probably driven down the average wealth of the latter 2 cohorts. It usually takes more than one generation to accumulate as much wealth as the cohort that has been resident for longer periods (generations).

For example:


Because even if we go back to charging estate taxes on estates over $5 million, only a tiny fraction of Gen Xers will inherit estates that large.

There are obvious factors at play:

First, 1989 was during the booming Reagan years and assets prices were rising rapidly. Whereas 2008 was an awful recessionary year.

Second, the sample size is 19 years of Boomers vs 16 years of Gen-X'rs and Millennials.

Third, Not nearly as many Boomers went to college and the one's that did, didn't acquire as much debt. So the payback on college was substantially positive by age 35.

Fourth, Housing was generally affordable and the value was rising steadily. So Boomers could get afford to buy in and make modest gains without large mortgages eating up their disposable income.

Fifth, 1989 was at a much lower total global trade, so well paying jobs in manufacturing were plentiful in the 1980's for young non-college graduates.

Sixth, immigration wasn't nearly as prevalent so there was less wage stagnation at the lower income percentiles.

"Second, the sample size is 19 years of Boomers vs 16 years of Gen-X'rs and Millennials."

As John pointed out above:

"Boomer percentage of US population in 1989: 31%
GenX percentage of US population in 2008: 21%
Projected Millennial percentage of US population in 2023: 21%"

Frankly, without normalized Data, this whole tweet is just crappy click bait.

7th: people living longer — a boomer at age 35 would typically have 2 dead parents; a 35y.o. now would expect at least one parent to live another 20 years or so. So they don’t get their inheritance until their 50s

7th: people living longer — a boomer at age 35 would typically have 2 dead parents;

In 1983, there were in this country just north of 19 million people between their 60th and 70th birthday, or a mean of 1.9 million or so per cohort. According to the 1940 Census, there were in this country 2.5 million people estimated to have been born in 1918. That would suggest that roughly 3/4 of them were still alive in 1983, moderately elderly parents of that 35 year old 'boomer' born in 1948.

"a boomer at age 35 would typically have 2 dead parents;"

Both my parents (Boomers) had all of their parents alive. Most of my friends had grandparents. Most parents of Boomers at age 35 would have been between 53-65, right?

I guess I extrapolated too quickly from my own (early boomer) parents, who had both had two dead parents by 35!

Still I think there’s something in this — according to this average of mother for all births was 30 in 1944 https://www.theguardian.com/uk/2013/jan/24/half-births-mothers-over-30
So the average 35 y.o. in 1980 would have had a 65 yo mother. And based on what this chart of marriage ages, a father of about 70 http://www.genealogyintime.com/NewsStories/2010/May/marriage-and-age-differences.html

And 70 was life expectancy for males in 1980. So while the typical boomer would still have had to wait quite a while for the second parent to die, it must have been fairly common to have received inheritance by 35. whereas nowadays that is extremely rare.

Yes, this is very skewed because it doesn’t account for the present value of human capital. An appropriate comparison would be wealth at age 65, if there are large generational changes in the amount of post secondary education. But we can’t do that now.

Would anyone be surprised if an electrician has a higher “measured net worth” at age 35 than a doctor or lawyer? But the actual relevant question is: who will be better off by the end of their career?

This isn't scaled for population size and compounded returns (time advantage). So, no big deal.

A worldwide rebellion is taking place over this issue. The answer is the same that FDR has, Nixon had,. And in the past:

The Federal Reserve System is the third central banking system in United States history. The First Bank of the United States (1791–1811) and the Second Bank of the United States (1817–1836) each had a 20-year charter. Both banks issued currency, made commercial loans, accepted deposits, purchased securities, maintained multiple branches and acted as fiscal agents for the U.S. Treasury.

And there is an example for each set of 'millennials' and each set of 'boomers' in our history; this time will not be different. We be doing a Trump shock. And they work. We get to dump a shitload of government debt, upgrade banking systems and usually come out even or slightly ahead.

I can tell you one fact, uncertain. when AOC finds out she is voting to pay a hundred billion in interest chagres on the Texas S/L bailout from 35 years ago, she and her entire generation will say WTF. It is now a world wide phenomena, Hong Kong, Lebanon, Iraq, Iran, most of South America. Global debt repudiation.

I can tell you one fact, uncertain. when AOC finds out she is voting to pay a hundred billion in interest chagres on the Texas S/L bailout from 35 years ago, she and her entire generation will say WTF.

She's not going to 'find that out' because it isn't true. The notional assets of the S & Ls closed over that six year period amounted to $400 bn. Even had the Resolution Trust Corporation gotten nothing in liquidating the assets and paid off all creditors with appropriations from the Treasury, the service charges would amount to roughly $16 bn were the coupon on federal debt historically normal.

"Wealth by age 35" seemes meaningless in a world where a lot of my millenial friends stayed in grad school until age 30. How many baby boomers didn't have 10 years work experience already by age 30?

The percentage of millennials who stayed in grad school until 30 or even until 28 is extremely small.

You've popped my ivory tower bubble.

The more accomplished ones, the ones who became doctors, lawyers, etc., stayed in school to age 25+ and didn't move directly to high-income positions after that either. It takes a while to build up a practice or a reputation in business.

What is happening now is that working life starts *much* later than ever before, with most millennials following the accomplished-boomer path of starting work at 25 or even 30. This is due to both necessary and unnecessary prolongation of the educational process.

This explains a good bit of the wealth difference.

Prince Charles hasn’t offed his mother and led a revolution yet but in an earlier age he probably would have and surely he has thought about it

Which 'earlier age', where? You run down the list of the occasions on which a British monarch was forcibly ejected, you hardly see a single instance of a child displacing a parent. You see disputes between cousins, uncle-nephew battles, battles between brothers, and battles between noble factions using members of the royal family as decoys. There was a late 15th Scots king implicated in the overthrow of his father (but not the initiator) and a 12th c. rebellion against Henry II by his four sons. That's it.

Richard I was trying to overthrow his father when the latter (Henry II) died of natural causes. Edward II was overthrown and replaced by his 15 year old son, but that was mama's doing.

His wife, his wife's paramour, his brothers, at least one foreign prince, and a cast of thousands.

"Mama" was in reference to Edward III.

Mary & William replaced James VII & II.

Though I don't argue with your general point.

True. I figured that in 1688, you had legislation in dispute, competing parliamentary factions, inter-confessional rioting, and mutinies in the army. The entire line was eventually displaced in favor of some German cousins. Qualitatively different from Plantagenet cousins warring over property and status.

James II also didn't end up six feet under as a prompt result of being deposed, unlike earlier kings. (Ok, Henry VI survived for some years in the Tower until his second installation as king. And Edward IV managed a quick comeback after a brief deposition)

In a certain way, I think it is a feature of America's ossified system. Brazil's Congress, under Brazil's President Captain Bolsonaro's guidance, implemented a radican pensions reform. Why can't America's do-nothing Congress do likewise?!

Assuming wealth at age 35 = 1, Gen X wealth grows at about same rate as Boom -https://i.imgur.com/kZW9ppA.png

The difference is that starting wealth is much lower for X. Also more spiky in X - as X share of of total wealth rises during recession (likely as total wealth of others falls in absolute value).

Clearly wealth transfers to Boom by 1989 had represented quite a lot of US total wealth, while to X much less. Then compound growth over time similar?

Due to low levels of total wealth in US economy relative to surplus income, during early-mid 20th century growth?

Now, the link on the Fed also has absolute levels (click levels) , so we can use that with the inflation rate to work out relative wealth in absolute terms (https://www.in2013dollars.com/us/inflation/1989?amount=1)

See: https://i.imgur.com/YUkYHYE.png

You can then adjust that per capita using generation cohort size.

Estimating Gen X at 49 million: https://i.imgur.com/GssNVSx.png
Estimating Gen X at 65 million: https://i.imgur.com/jSoN1xS.png

(Pop size for X seems to vary on source, depending on the cutoff ages used, so depending on where the Fed drew the line...)

Overall Gen X are fairly comparable to Boom in absolute, inflation adjusted per capita terms.

If we "low count" X pop, then they did better and were wealthier earlier, while if we "high count" X pop, then they were comparable at 40, but X have had a worse mid-late 40s.

So suggests changes is more driven by wealthier and relatively large older generations today, from smaller and poorer older populations then, rather than X being much less wealthy at the same age than Boomer.

As a further comment on that, the Fed actually give the age boundaries for generations - "Generation are defined by birth year as follows: Silent and Earlier=born before 1946, Baby Boomer=born 1946-1964, Gen X=born 1965-1980".

So that's a "short X" cutoff.

You can then use the General Social Survey's % or respondents in each "generation" and estimates of US population to get a rough idea of the size of each generation over time (note that old people and young people will fall off of this, so slightly overestimates both populations but probably neither by a disproportionate amount).

Feed that in, and it looks like in inflation adjusted terms, Generation X (so defined by the Fed) would higher absolute wealth than Boom at the same age - https://i.imgur.com/2CIHLkv.png

This could be more accurately checked using absolute census data.

Never in human history have there been so many ROWDies (Rich Old White Dudes). Never has the age of 2nd gen inheritance been pushed back so far. No wonder there is so much economic inequality. First gen ROWDies do not give up wealth easily. Second & third generation wealthy always give up their riches more easily and restore the balance. The longer that is pushed back the larger the inequality will grow. BTW if you are a person of colour and you practice Tax Avoidance then you are guilty of cultural appropriation. ;-)

OK, so we have run through this generational war stuff before. This largely repeats points made by me before.

So millennials have cause to be frustrated with their economic condition, not only especially hurt by the Great Recession, but also facing high housing, education, and health costs, even as costs for some other things are lower, and some things did not even exist in the past (phones with computer games, etc.).

On housing, it is certainly the case that housing costs are much higher than they were in certain growing hi-tech cities, such as SF, LA, Seattle, Washington, NYC, Boston. It is not unreasonably for millennials to complain that these are where the good new jobs are, although there, and low housing prices in Detroit, Cleveland, Baltimore, etc. do not help. But there are some places with expanding hi-tech jobs that have low housing costs, especially the large cities in Texas, but some other places also.

That said, there certainly is a case for lowering the restrictions on building housing in the first set of cities, and indeed in Cal at least there have been some moves at the state level to move against these NIMBYism restrictions. These should be expanded and go elswhere also.

On the generational issue, it is not obvious that this is a "boomers shaft millennials" deal. Other gens have been involved in the accumulation of these restrictions, including the Greatests, Silents, and Gen-Xers, although the more numerous boomers seem to be getting the blame from some. In any case, these restrictions can and should be relaxed.

On education, there clearly is an issue, although again blaming boomers seems a bit narrow, with all of the generations running things over the last half century or so in on the long escalation of tuitions that should not have happened. I think the most important issue is at the front end, getting tuitions and fees under control, but I also think something should be done about student debt. This is important and clearly is a big problem for millennials (and rising Gen-Zers) especially in comparison to what boomers experienced and should be appropriately dealt with in several ways.

On health care, this is more complicated. Rising health care costs mean that indeed at age 35 the average boomer was paying a lower premium for health insurance than did Gen-Xers or now millennials. But in fact the biggest use of health care comes in old age, so boomers are now paying a whole lot more for it than did the Silents or Greatests, and, no, sorry ok millennials, Medicare does not cover it all, far from it.

Clearly high health care costs are a serious problem in the US that something should be done about, and if it is not, the miilennials will in the future face high costs like the boomers are now. But this is also one of those issues where whatever blame can be placed on how we got here, it looks to me to be spread across several gens, so we all need to get together to fix it. This one does not look so much like a "poor millennials/rich boomers" one in comparison with the others.

There is also the broader problem that the economy is growing more slowly than it used to, but is this the fault of any particular generation? I doubt it, although it certainly does make it more difficult for younger gens, who may take out their frustrations on older ones, although indeed, many of them will indeed inherit a lot of wealth from those arguably too-rich boomers, if they do not go and "spend the inheritance."

"in Cal at least there have been some moves at the state level to move against these NIMBYism restrictions"

A few months ago Oregon overrode local zoning restrictions: fourplexes are now permitted even if the neighborhood had been zoned for single family residences, at least in towns with populations greater than 10,000.

I kind of think the definitions of the generations are a bit screwed up.
What does millenial start in 1981 and end in 1996? It seems to me that the key events defining that generation ought to be:
1. Old enough to party, but young enough to still be single, for the millenium.
2. Old enough to be politically aware during 9/11 and the subsequent Iraq war.
3. Young enough to not remember before the internet.

People born in 1996 probably wouldn't meet criteria 1 and 2. That would put the cutoff dates more like 1974-1986

Or are we defining "millenials" as "people who were too young to actually be allowed to drink for the millenium" ? In which case the naming seems kinda stupid, and should probably start in 1990 or something to avoid having any people who don't remember before the internet.


I think you are right that millennialsl start being born before 1981. The oldest are now getting into their 40s. However, I have a daughter born in 1975, the bottom of the baby bust, and she without doubt views herself as a Gen-Xer, but does see a generational shift just a few years after her, nowhere near as far along as 1981. I do think ending millennial births at 1996 is about right. Yes, crucial is being able to remember 9/11, if only as a vague event.

I've never ever understood what the generational label "millenial" was supposed to mean. As you say, this recent (last half of the 20th century) habit of making up labels for generations may create more fog than clarity.

Baby Boomers were a more clearly identifiable group, the birth statistics make them stand out. And if they were a distinctive group, then who were the people who followed them? Might as well give them a name, Generation X ... but that's where things start falling apart, what year should be the ending point of Generation X. I don't think there is or can be a good answer to that, which makes the Millenial group even harder -- or impossible -- to define well.

We're on firmer ground if we label decades instead of generations, although as many observers have pointed out the "60s" arguably started in 1963 (or maybe the late 1950s if you want to include rock and roll and the growth of the civil rights movement) and ended in 1974.

Oops this was meant to be a reply to Hazel's comment about screwed up definitions of generations.

Wow, lots of anger being directed at people who mostly had almost no power to create any of the current conditions. Most of us are just along for the ride. Oh, and I'm not even a Boomer.

What a weird comment. The longevity of the UK crown has everything to do with the stripping of political power from it. When the King or Queen was the ultimate power, something (depending on your definition) like 1/2 of them faced serious political violence, and something like (again depending on your definition) 1/4 of them died from it. It's way out of the ordinary and it doesn't fit in your OK boomer stereotype.

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