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Generation Z Has Problems Compared to Past Generations, but Money Isn’t One

Washington Examiner

May 6, 2024

If you ask why these privileged college students are bringing their campuses to a halt over an issue that has almost nothing to do with their universities, the answer is likely to expand beyond Gaza into a story of a broader struggle and trauma this generation has endured.

This contention, that Generation Z has grown up in a uniquely difficult time, is widespread. Walking hand in hand with this claim is the assertion that Gen Z has been especially impoverished by capitalism. Most importantly, we are constantly told that Gen Z isn’t having babies “because we can’t afford it.”

But there’s plenty of evidence this story is wrong. The Economist has a story up now presenting evidence that Gen Z is rich beyond any prior generation.

“In financial terms,” the writer states, “Gen Z is doing extraordinarily well….”

“Millennials were somewhat better off than Gen X — those born between 1965 and 1980 — when they were the same age. Zoomers, however, are much better off than millennials were at the same age. The typical 25-year-old Gen Z-er has an annual household income of over $40,000, more than 50% above baby-boomers at the same age.”

Then here’s a telling detail that deflates the claim that Gen Z has a couple of extra-large nondiscretionary costs: “In 2022 Americans under 25 spent 43% of their post-tax income on housing and education, including interest on debt from college — slightly below the average for under-25s from 1989 to 2019.”

That is, the folks whose life is all trauma and who cannot afford children turn out to have more disposable income.

This all echoes the findings of my AEI colleague Kevin Corinth, who published research earlier this year comparing generations’ wealth.

The Economist piece points out that Gen Z does seem to suffer extraordinarily in some ways:

“Young people today are less likely to form relationships than those of yesteryear. They are more likely to be depressed or say they were assigned the wrong sex at birth. They are less likely to drink, have sex, be in a relationship — indeed to do anything exciting. Americans aged between 15 and 24 spend just 38 minutes a day socialising in person on average, down from almost an hour in the 2000s, according to official data.”

That is, the young people today do have problems their predecessors didn’t. They think they suffer from an excess of capitalism or something, but the real cause of their woe is a lack of meaning and belonging, which has caused them to look in the wrong places for salvation.