The financial struggles of Generation Y

Y is for “Young” and “You’re in trouble”.

Because a study out this week says so.

But we don’t need a study to tell us this. It’s obvious from the emails filling my inbox, the water cooler conversation, and that an old article I wrote about expats being priced out of the UAE is again doing the social media rounds.

And I’m very worried. Because people who should be at their prime and full of joy at the thought of building – a life, family, career – are stuck. They’re living with their parents and are stressed about money. Very stressed if we’re to read some of their stories.

The study (details later) looks at how Gen Y is faring economically compared to their parents and their parents’ parents. Gen Ys, also known as millennials, are those born between 1980 and the mid-90s. They’re in their twenties and early thirties. They’re the folk that radio ads, clubs, events, shops, want a piece of. Especially in a place like the UAE, where they make up the majority of the expat age group.

This age range covers a vast number of pivotal life phases, including graduating, living independently, buying a house, getting married, becoming a parent. That’s a lot of life. You might think what could possibly unify this divergent group? Personal finance. The lack of it.

Instead of thinking: self-indulgent, lazy with a sense of entitlement and narcissistic, think: broke, unemployed and in debt.

Their incomes and their prospects are depressed.

In a nutshell, the young are paying for the old(er) – they’re footing pension bills. Their fut­ure does not look bright.

This generation is growing up certain that it will be poorer than that of its parents.

The study missed out this part of the world – the reasons are many, including the lack of data over a 30-year period that the study covered – it was carried out by the UK newspaper The Guardian, using information from the largest database of incomes in the world – the Luxembourg Income Study Cross-Nat­ional Data Centre. It examined the disposable incomes and wages of young families in eight of the 15 largest developed economies in the world. Together these countries made up 43 per cent of the world’s GDP in 2014. So what happens with them has ripple effects elsewhere.

What all this means is that the young, the Gen Ys, and our children, I fear, are at a huge risk of being bankrupt.

My question today is: what can we do to help?

One costly issue is their education: is it really worth paying for expensive schooling and tertiary college?

I was debating the merits – or otherwise – of spending ever-increasing fortunes on children’s further education. The usual things were discussed: the ac­tual cost of education, living, any debt that is accumulated (by the person paying if not the student or both).

The big question is: does it make financial sense? Would it be more lucrative to take the money that would have been spent and allocate it towards something totally different? Towards the child’s betterment, just not paying for tertiary degrees. It could be investing it in a fund of sorts, or property.

When you know that 40 million people in the US have student debt – averaging out at US$29,000 each, and making up more than $1 trillion collec­tively, you can see how the glo­bal system isn’t working for our young. As for university, it’s just not worth it. Financially that is.

Of course I am generalising. And how wonderful that young Betty wants to be a vet, or pilot. I’m just saying that she won’t be able to have a life for a long time, unless someone else pays her way, for years after she graduates.

And it’s not just the young who are affected. If you think through what less consumer power over the next couple of decades means for the bigger picture, you quickly see that whole economies will be in for an even tougher time than now.

One of my siblings is a Gen Y. He messaged me saying his generation is in trouble. He is an Ivy League graduate, with a vocational skill base that can lead to one of the highest degree-based incomes. He says he will never be able to own a property (disclaimer: most likely where he wants to live).

Gen Y doesn’t have to be “wealthy”, but doesn’t deserve to suffer financially because others ahead of them are enjoying more than they need. The payout to pensioners aged 65 to 79 in the countries looked at by the study showed a double-digit real terms growth over the study’s 30-year period, ranging from 26 per cent in Germany to 146 per cent in the UK.

This is the other thing that can be done: let us all live with a culture of “enough” so that the next in line are not a generation defined by debt, or worse, deprivation.

Nima Abu Wardeh is the founder of the personal finance website You can reach her at and find her on Twitter at @nimaabuwardeh.

Follow us on Twitter @TheNationalPF


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