Millennials and Gen X are both stressed, broke, and in debt — but Gen X is more worried about it

Millennials and Gen X alike are stressed about their debt. Tom Merton/Getty Images
  • Insider’s new series, “The State of Our Money,” looks at the financial health among Americans.
  • Insider teamed up with Morning Consult to survey more than 2,000 Americans and found that millennials and Gen X are struggling financially.
  • Gen X has a more negative outlook on their finances, while millennials think they’re doing ok compared to their peers.
  • Both generations are equally stressed about money and aren’t saving for retirement.
  • Read more personal finance coverage.

Finances are looking a bit bleak for some Americans.

Insider recently teamed up with Morning Consult to survey 2,096 Americans about their financial health, debt, and earnings for its new series, “The State of Our Money.” Findings largely didn’t paint a pretty picture, particularly for millennials and Gen X (672 and 566 respondents, respectively). The margin of error overall is about 2%.

For the purposes of this article, we largely focused on these two generations because they’re in their prime working years. While Gen Z and baby boomers were both surveyed, we refrained from analysing both generations as many aren’t in the workforce (either not yet working or retired).

The majority of indebted millennials and Gen X are feeling the burden of their debt loads. Gen X is more downtrodden when it comes to their finances, while millennials think they’re doing ok – at least, compared to their peers. And both aren’t adequately preparing for retirement.

Here are some of the key themes that repeatedly popped up in the survey results.

Millennials and Gen X are equally stressed about money

Millennials are known for being financially behind thanks to the fallout of the Great Recession, high costs of living, and staggering student-loan debt – but Gen X is just as nearly just as stressed about money, especially when it comes to debt.

Of the respondents who answered, more than half of all millennials and Gen X respondents said that they were stressed “some” or “a lot” about their credit card, personal loan, or student loan debts:

  • Of the 51.5% of millennials who have credit card debt, 67.4% are stressed
  • Of the 54.5% of Gen X who have credit card debt, 64.3% are stressed
  • Of the 24.3% of millennials who have personal loans, 62% are stressed
  • Of the 24.6% of Gen X who have personal loans, 62.5% are stressed
  • Of the 28.4% of millennials who have undergraduate student-loan debt, 72.2% are stressed
  • Of the 15.5% of Gen X who have undergraduate student-loan debt, 62.5% are stressed

Gen X is most stressed about credit card debt, while millennials are most stressed about student-loan debt. The latter is a particular problem – it’s so stressful that nearly half of indebted respondents in both generations say taking out those loans for college wasn’t worth it.

Read more: Nearly half of indebted millennials say college wasn’t worth it, and the reason why is obvious

But it’s not just debt that’s stressful – money is also a huge source of stress in a marriage.

Of married millennials, nearly 64% say money causes some or a lot of stress with their partner. Nearly half of Gen X respondents say the same. For baby boomers, that percentage drops down to roughly 36%, highlighting a big generation gap.

Even single people who date said money is a source of stress for them.

Gen X is feeling financially desperate

If Gen X’s level of money stress indicates anything, it’s that they are financially worse for the wear – at least, they think they are.

When asked how they would rate their financial health, slightly more than 41% of Gen X said it’s not very good or not good at all. That’s worse than millennials, 37% of whom said the same. More of Gen X than the millennial generation also think their finances are much worse off somewhat worse off than their peers – about 43% compared to 36%.

Gen X is also less likely than millennials to think they earn more than their peers and more likely to think they earn less. Of Gen X respondents, half think they earn less than their peers – 29% think they earn less and have less debt, while around 21% think they earn less and have more debt.

Read more: Forget millennials – the real financial time bomb in America is Gen X

Millennials are reading their own press

Meanwhile, millennials think they’re doing all right – at least, compared to their peers.

More millennials (around 46%) think their finances are somewhat or much better off than others in their generation than those who think they are somewhat or much worse off (36%). The remaining percentage said they didn’t know or had no opinion.

But only 34% of millennials think they earn more money than their peers, versus the 44% who think they earn less than their peers (again, the remaining percentage said they don’t know). But only 35% of millennials think they have more debt than their peers, while 48% think they have less debt.

These perceptions might be because millennials are reading their own press about their generation’s financial woes – like how they’re suffering from stagnant wages, struggling to afford staples like housing, and dealing with staggering student-loan debt.

If millennials are overall thinking they’re doing better than their peers, the situation on the ground may be better than we believe. Though things may be rough for the generation, the fundamentals may not be as bad as the story they’re told.

Read more: The Great Recession created a domino effect of financial struggles for millennials – here are 5 ways it shaped the generation

No one’s saving anything – and some just aren’t worried about it

Many millennials and Gen X aren’t preparing for retirement.

Only half of Gen X said they had a 401(k) or retirement account – and 13% of Gen X said that they have an account, but aren’t currently contributing to it. And 54% of millennials don’t have a retirement account – but only 11% of millennials who have one aren’t making monthly contributions.

Of Gen X respondents who don’t have a 401(k) or retirement account, about 70% said it was because they didn’t have enough to save, while nearly half said it’s because they’re unemployed (respondents were allowed to select more than one reason). Fewer millennials without retirement accounts cited the same reasons – 63% said it’s because they don’t have enough money, while 45% said it’s because they’re out of the labour force.

And roughly one-third of each generation said they don’t have one because they’re just not worried about it.

Check back on “The State of Our Money” throughout the month for deeper findings and analysis.