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'Psychologically scarred' millennials are killing dozens of industries -- and it's their parents' fault

ShoppingDavid Goldman/Getty

Millennials are threatening dozens of industries.

They don’t buy napkins.  They won’t play golf. They aren’t buying homes or cars. And, they’re not even eating at Buffalo Wild Wings.

Millennials’ destructive financial decisions have been heavily covered by media organisations — something that has infuriated many of the generation, as news that “millennials are killing” another industry has become a common headline. 

“This is just some more millennial-blaming B.S.,” one reader wrote in response to a recent Business Insider article with the headline “Millennials are killing chains like Buffalo Wild Wings and Applebee’s.”

When millennials decide en masse against purchasing certain items, from hot wings to homes, it has a measurable, negative impact: declining sales, layoffs, and in some cases, bankruptcies. 

Still, naysayers are right about something.

While millennials’ preferences have had a destructive impact on several companies and industries, they had no say in creating the environment that has restricted their income and shaped their financial perspective. Instead, if we’re looking for someone to blame, we can target the generation that created a perfect storm for moulding a uniquely thrifty generation focused on short-term rewards — Baby Boomers. 

During the recession, millennials were in their teens or graduating from college. In other words, as millennials came of age, they saw their parents’ generation plunged into financial distress.

“I think we have got a very significant psychological scar from this great recession,” Morgan Stanley analyst Kimberly Greenberger told Business Insider. “One in every five households at the time were severely negatively impacted by that event. And, if you think about the children in that house and how the length and depth of that recession really impacted people, I think you have an entire generation with permanently changed spending habits.”

As a result, Greenberger says, millennials don’t spend as freely as previous generations.

They will avoid paying full price for clothing, something that’s wreaking havoc on retailers like Macy’s and Sears. They will avoid investing in the stock market, having seen how investments can go wrong. If they’re going to spend on a nice dinner, it is more likely to be at an independent restaurant that can provide a special experience than the predictable Applebee’s or Buffalo Wild Wings. 

Reacting against Boomers’ financial decisions and spending habits is part of the puzzle in understanding why millennials are making choices that could kill companies that based their business on appealing to established trends. However, millennials’ scars are not purely psychological. 

Seven in 10 students graduate college with student loan debt, owing an average of over $US30,000, according to the Institute for College Access and Success — and that’s ignoring the massive debt of students who took out loans but did not graduate. As student-loan debt has skyrocketed, income — both for graduates and millennials who haven’t attended college —  has failed to substantially increase.

With these economic burdens, it is difficult for millennials to save money. Thirty-one per cent of “young millennials,” age 18 to 24, and 33% of “older millennials,” age 25 to 34, don’t have any money in their savings account according to GOBankingRates.

Debt and a lack of money in savings obviously make it harder to make major investments such as buying houses or cars. Couple this with a lack of trust in financial institutions (again, thanks to the recession) and you have a generation that’s more likely to spend on experiences or something they can enjoy now, instead of saving up for an uncertain future. 

As a result, when millennials “splurge,” it will be on something like avocado toast — a $US10 treat instead of a multi-thousand dollar investment that many lack both the money and faith in the economy to make. 

All of this is not to say millennials aren’t killing certain industries. They are, as their preferences force companies to either adapt or perish. 

However, when a headline says millennials are killing another industry, it is worth remembering who and what created a generation that has become an industry-murdering machine. 

Additional reporting by Mary Hanbury.

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