“It is well for the heart to be naive and for the mind not to be.” — French poet Anatole France
At a time when the stock market has jumped the guard rails and begun petting bears, the optimism of youth has a certain refreshing quality to it.
Turns out that when you’re between 18 and 25, the rough boundaries for the adults we call Gen Z, the world, as it has been for the young since time began, is still your oyster.
At least, it appears to be your oyster.
A new survey by MagnifyMoney aims to measure the comparative financial optimism of various age groups in the United States. Gen Z comes across as the winner, by far, with fully 72% believing they will become wealthy some day. Only 59% of millennials feel the same, while the numbers for Gen Xers and baby boomers were 36% and 19%, respectively.
This is hardly surprising. The older you get, the less time you have left to become wealthy. Also, life’s experiences have the tendency to inject a sense of futility in many people — one of humanity’s recurring tragedies.
But the survey is good news, generally. Without the optimism of youth, life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness would lose much of its meaning. And, of course, today’s youth can indeed become wealthy, if they do the right things.
That’s a big “if.” With a nod to Anatole France, the mind may be more naive than the heart.
The real lessons of the survey lies in how Americans apparently define wealth, and how they think it may be acquired. The survey found that the youngest Americans don’t think it has anything to do with owning a home — only 19% of Gen Z respondents thought it did, compared with 39% of baby boomers.
But then, put yourself in the shoes of someone starting out today and looking at the median price of a home. According to realtor.com, that was $405,000 as of April. Add rising interest rates to that and house hunting seems foolish.
Gen Z is the only generation to believe that investing in stocks is a better strategy. So far, so good.
The trouble comes when the conversation turns to debt. Among all age groups combined, only 38% said being wealthy means to be debt-free. Experts agree this may be true, but only if you accumulate good debt. As the U.S. Bank website puts it, “good debt is borrowing that helps you build long-term wealth.”
Credit card debt for everyday, depreciating items doesn’t count.
A new study by WalletHub.com finds that Americans are flashing the plastic again like it’s going out of style. Consumers added $73.1 billion to their tab in the last quarter of 2021 alone. And while Americans tend to pay down their cards in the Christmas hangover period of the year’s first quarter, that paydown this year was 76% less than the year before.
The usdebtclock.org site calculates total credit card debt at $1.1 trillion, or $6,905 for every credit cardholder. Total personal debt is $23.3 trillion. That’s still lower than the national debt, which is $30.5 trillion, but personal debt has a bit more of an immediate bite to it.
This is an uncertain time, which means it’s the wrong time to build unsecured debt. Recent surveys find a majority of CEOs saying a recession is either coming or already is here. A May poll by the Deseret News/Hinckley Institute of Politics found that 87% of Utahns are concerned about a recession in the next 12 months.
Drill down a bit into the poll and you’ll find that the sentiment is even stronger — 94% — among Gen Z respondents.
And yet they remain in good spirits. MagnifyMoney isn’t the only survey to show this. TransUnion’s Consumer Pulse Study finds that 70% of millennials and 66% of Gen Z are optimistic about their household finances in the next 12 months. Baby boomers are relative grinches, in comparison.
Charlie Wise, senior vice president and global head of research and consulting at TransUnion, told Business Insider this could be because young people are seeing pay raises right now as they benefit from a labor shortage — even, apparently, as they get credit cards.
I prefer to think their seemingly contradictory optimism is an innate advantage of youth. Naive or not, they will weather a recession, learn lessons, align their hearts and minds and keep going. Some of them will invent things that help even us curmudgeonly old folks. It’s our best hope for the future.