7 ways life is harder for millennials than it was for their parents

  • Millennials are generally defined as people born between 1981 and 1996.
  • In some ways, their life is harder than it was for their parents at the same age.
  • Many millennials are struggling financially and emotionally. Even online dating isn’t as easy as it might seem.

Everyone likes to think their life is hard – that their problems are bigger and less solvable than anyone else’s.

But for millennials, generally defined as people born between 1981 and 1996, that might be true.

Many of these 20- and 30-somethings are struggling financially, emotionally, and even in the love department in ways that their forebears weren’t.

Here are some of the most significant ways in which life is harder for millennials than it was for their parents.


Millennials are less financially stable than previous generations were.

Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Business Insider’s Linette Lopez reported on some disappointing data from Young Invincibles, a think tank based in Washington, DC.

Among white Americans aged 25 to 34, median income decreased by 21% between 1989 and 2013 – though it increased among Latinos, who started at a disadvantage.

What’s more, as Steven Rattner described in a 2015 New York Times op-ed article, millennials also have a lower net worth ($US10,400 in 2013) than Gen X had ($US18,200 in 1995).

Perhaps the most startling finding comes from a 2017 paper by social scientists at Harvard, Stanford, and the University of California, Berkeley: Economic mobility has decreased significantly since the 1940s.

Specifically, about 90% of Americans born in the 1940s outearned their parents by the time they hit 30. That figure dropped to 50% among Americans born in the 1980s.

The authors largely attribute the change to growing income inequality.


Millennials are saddled with student debt — but a college education is more necessary than ever.

Rattner also says that “college is becoming less affordable even as it has become increasingly necessary.” (According to the Young Invincibles data, even college grads with debt earn more than people without a degree.)

Between 1993 and 2015, average tuition increased by 234% – when the inflation rate was just 63%. According to data from the Bureau of Labour Statistics, 46% of grads left college with debt in 1995, compared with 71% in 2015.

That makes it harder for millennials to hit those traditional “adult” milestones, like having kids or buying a house.


Millennial men are more likely to live at home with their parents than previous generations were.

Filipe Frazao/Shutterstock.com

Pew Research Center data shows that among men ages 18 to 34, living at home with parents has been the most common living arrangement since 2009. (Women in this age group are more likely to be living with a spouse or a romantic partner than they are to be living with their parents.)

The main culprit seems to be unemployment. Pew says research suggests that employed young men are less likely to live at home than unemployed young men, and employment among young men has decreased significantly in the past few decades.

Living at home isn’t a bad thing per se, but it can make it harder for millennials to feel independent.


Millennials are overwhelmed by the dating pool.

Drew Angerer/Getty Images

In some cases, the more options we have, the less likely we are to make a decision at all – social scientists call it the “paradox of choice.”

Online dating is a prime example of the paradox in action. With thousands of potential dates just a swipe away, how can you choose just one? And if you do, how do you know you’ve picked the right one?

Sometimes that can lead to unhealthy relationship behaviour.INSIDER’s Kristin Salaky spoke to experts who said that instead of trying to work on a relationship when it gets rough, millennials may look to see what else is out there – something that’s easier than ever to do.


Millennials feel as if they have to be “always on” at work.

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Technology has transformed the way we think about work.

Instead of clocking out at 5 p.m., it’s now possible to physically leave the office, then sign back on at home. And a lot of young employees building their careers are doing just that.

Randstad’s 2014 Employee Engagement Study found that 45% of employees felt pressured to respond to email after work hours. Millennials, the study found, are most likely to stay “on” during off hours.


Millennials’ self-image erodes in the face of ever-present social media.

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People have always compared themselves with their peers – and typically, we think everyone else is happy while we’re struggling.

Social media, which wasn’t available to Gen X and baby boomers as young adults, has exacerbated this phenomenon.

For example, one 2015 study, found that “passive” Facebook use – think scrolling through your News Feed without posting any comments – seems to make us feel worse about ourselves. The researchers say that’s largely because of the envy we feel seeing everyone else’s fancy vacation photos or adorable kids.


Millennials are shelling out more on childcare than previous generations were.

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Another report from Young Invincibles highlighted in The Washington Post shows how the cost of raising a child has skyrocketed in the past 50 years.

The Post’s Jonnelle Marte reports that in 2013, childcare and pre-college education made up 18% of the total cost of raising a kid, compared with just 2% in 1960.

The fact that millennials are on average earning less and more burdened by student debt only makes the situation more untenable.

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