What do you picture when you think of a millennial? A recent college grad who loves iced coffee, athleisure wear, and avocado toast? Well, that picture isn’t entirely accurate. Millennials are now aged between 25 and 40. That’s right: Some members of this generation are officially reaching middle-aged. Strapped with debt, facing yet another financial crisis, and wages that have not kept up with the cost of living, this group is dealing with a lot of challenges. That being said, they are in a unique position with many strengths. (1)
The Older Millennial Has Got It Tough
The older millennial, who is now reaching their forties, is an interesting group with many challenges. First of all, they don’t quite feel like they fit with the narrative of their generation. They are old enough to remember the analog days and don’t match the picture that the older generations have of them having grown up with technology in their hands.
The older millennial was hit the hardest by the Great Recession in 2007, having just graduated college into a dismal job market. Not only were they making less money at that age than the generation before them, but they had more debt.
A typical 40-year-old millennial in the United States earns around $73,000 per year. Boomers at that age made $72,000, and Gen X made $68,000. This shows how wages haven’t really changed since 1989, and yet the cost of living has skyrocketed. That, in combination with the Great Recession and now the Coronavirus Recession, has got this group feeling the squeeze. The typical older millennial is only about 80% as wealthy as their parents were at the same age.
The average older millennial has an average of $128,000 of debt. Some of this is student debt, however, much is related to other expenses as well. Still, their debt is about $16,000 to $34,000 more than the previous two generations at that age.
Part of their debt can be attributed to student loans for college tuition, which has more than doubled since the ’80s. Still, the cost of post-secondary education hasn’t been nearly as crippling as for the younger half of their generation. (2) Much of their debt comes from a mortgage, because yes – they can and do own homes. Still, the number of 40-year-old millennials who own homes is still lower than the previous generations.
They Have Families
That’s right: Not all millennials are slugging back beers with the boys every weekend or spending their Sundays at a boozy brunch with the girls. Many of the older millennials have children. This shows that they have recuperated somewhat from the massive blow which was the Great Recession.
“The oldest millennials delayed many of the traditional markers of adulthood, such as marriage, kids, and buying homes, as they went through the eye of the Great Recession and the long and uneven recovery afterward,” said consultant and president of the Center for Generational Kinetics Jason Dorsey.
Though they delayed these life stages originally due to financial instability, many have now found that security and are therefore making these choices.
Technology Sets Them Apart
The older millennials, also known as cuspers, xennials, or geriatric millennials have one thing that sets them apart from the rest of their generations, as well as those before and after them: Technology. This part of the generation remembers dial-up, PCs, Napster, and flip phones. They didn’t grow up with a smartphone in their hand. They used to have a MySpace account, but now they are familiar with and use TikTok and other more recent apps. (3)
“They were the first generation to grow up with a PC in their homes. They joined the first social media communities on Facebook and MySpace. They remember dial-up connections, collect calls, and punch cards,” said author and leadership expert Erica Dhawan. “This is a unique cohort that straddles digital natives and digital adapters,”
This means they are actually quite the asset in the workspace. They were raised in a world without instant communication and therefore can teach the younger employees about effective communication. On the other side, they can assist the older employees who are struggling to adapt to new technology and the increasingly digitized world.
- “But straddling a digital divide means the typical 40-year-old millennial is an asset in the workforce.” Business Insider. Hillary Hoffower. July 14, 2021.
- “College is more expensive than it’s ever been, and the 5 reasons why suggest it’s only going to get worse.” Business Insider. Hillary Hoffower June 26, 2019.
- “What It’s Like Being the Oldest Millennial.” Shondaland. Alisha Tillery. March 17, 2020.