It isn’t too surprising that older Americans have more wealth than younger Americans but perhaps the bigger story is that this gap has increased in recent decades:
The wealth gap between younger and older Americans has stretched to the widest on record, worsened by a prolonged economic downturn that has wiped out job opportunities for young adults and saddled them with housing and college debt.
The typical U.S. household headed by a person age 65 or older has a net worth 47 times greater than a household headed by someone under 35, according to an analysis of census data released Monday.
While people typically accumulate assets as they age, this wealth gap is now more than double what it was in 2005 and nearly five times the 10-to-1 disparity a quarter-century ago, after adjusting for inflation.
The median net worth of households headed by someone 65 or older was $170,494. That is 42 percent more than in 1984, when the Census Bureau first began measuring wealth broken down by age. The median net worth for the younger-age households was $3,662, down by 68 percent from a quarter-century ago, according to the analysis by the Pew Research Center.
The analysis in the story suggests that this growing gap is indicative of tougher economic conditions brought about by difficulties in finding a job, the delaying of marriage, growing college debt, and less of an ability to purchase a home when younger.
I wonder how this gap might translate into social or political action. Older Americans are well known for their relatively high voting turnout compared to younger Americans who are more fickle. Would younger Americans vote consistently about down-the-road issues like the national debt, Social Security, and other things they may be several decades from personally experiencing? Is this less consistent voting behavior among younger Americans the reason that there aren’t more safety nets for younger adults? Are Millennials, and not “Walmart Moms,” the next major voting bloc to emerge?
How much of this should raise concern about the economic welfare of younger Americans now or should we be more worried about how this later, rougher start in life will lead to less wealthy Americans (with its impact on American society) decades down the road?
It would be interesting to tie this to information about the demographics of the Occupy Wall Street protests. Media reports have tended to portray many of the protestors as college students or just our of college – how true is this? In public support for the movement, how much is based in the younger ages versus older demographics (who might support the Tea Party more?)?