Millennials buy the things their parents did — but they're much poorer

Baby boomers seem to have had an advantage in nearly every financial metric compared to millennials, according to a new study from the Federal Reserve.

Millennials buy the things their parents did — but they're much poorer
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  • Millennials earn less, own fewer assets and have more debt than previous generations.
  • The fact that millennials' spending habits differ from previous generations is best explained by lower earnings and less wealth, rather than changing tastes.
  • Some millennials might be too optimistic about their ability to retire early — or on time.

A study published this month from the Federal Reserve suggests the reason millennials are spending money differently compared to previous generations isn't because of their unique tastes, but rather they just don't have much money to spend.

There's a common narrative, according to the study, that says millennials' changing preferences explain why we've seen the recent decline of brick-and-mortar retail stores, home construction and purchases, and new-car sales. But the data indicates that millennials' tastes are pretty much the same as previous generations.

The researchers wrote that "it primarily is the differences in average age and then differences in average income that explain a large and important portion of the consumption wedge between millennials and other cohorts," which included Generation X, baby boomers, the Silent Generation and the Greatest Generation.

In short, millennials show "lower earnings, fewer assets and less wealth" compared to previous generations, and so they're tending to get married and buy cars and homes later in life.

​The "lasting impression" of the Great Recession

One distinguishing factor of millennials' coming-of-age story was the recession of 2007, and the weak labor demand that followed. "Millennials appear to have paid a price for coming of age during the Great Recession," the researchers wrote, noting the recession's subsequent weak labor demand.

They added elsewhere: "The severity of the 2007 Global Financial Crisis and the recession that followed may have left a lasting impression on millennials, who were coming of age at that time, much like the Great Depression left a lasting impression on the Greatest Generation."

That lasting impression might manifest in "attitudes toward saving and spending" that could be "more permanent for millennials than for members of generations that were more established in their careers and lives at that time," the researchers wrote.

The study also notes that millennials have about the same levels of debt as Generation X, though more debt than Baby Boomers. However, millennials also have markedly fewer financial assets than Generation X, even though millennials do seem to be saving for retirement more than other generations did at the same ages, a change that likely "reflects, in part, the replacement over time of defined-benefit retirement pensions with defined-contribution retirement accounts."

​Do Millennials have realistic expectations about retirement?

It's hard to say for sure, but some data suggests that millennials might be a bit delusional about their future economic standing. A 2018 TD Ameritrade survey, for instance, showed that 53 percent of millennials expect to become millionaires, and they expect to retire, on average, by age 56.

That optimism, as I wrote in July, doesn't seem to reflect the reality forecast by data showing that social security won't be able to pay out full benefits by 2034, the group has a collective student loan debt of more than $1 trillion, and young people are now earning relatively less than previous generations — a difference that's likely explained, in part, by more participation, particularly among women, in the workforce.

Still, millennials don't need to worry too much, as long as they're willing to work hard, save and push back retirement by a few years, as Alicia H. Munnell, director of the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College, wrote in a Politico article on millennial retirement.

... My research shows that the vast majority of millennials will be fine if they work to age 70," Munnell wrote. "And although that might sound old, it's historically normal in another sense: Retiring at 70 leaves the ratio of retirement to working years the same as when Social Security was originally introduced.

Massive 'Darth Vader' isopod found lurking in the Indian Ocean

The father of all giant sea bugs was recently discovered off the coast of Java.

A close up of Bathynomus raksasa

SJADE 2018
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Astronomers find more than 100,000 "stellar nurseries"

Every star we can see, including our sun, was born in one of these violent clouds.

Credit: NASA / ESA via Getty Images
Surprising Science

This article was originally published on our sister site, Freethink.

An international team of astronomers has conducted the biggest survey of stellar nurseries to date, charting more than 100,000 star-birthing regions across our corner of the universe.

Stellar nurseries: Outer space is filled with clouds of dust and gas called nebulae. In some of these nebulae, gravity will pull the dust and gas into clumps that eventually get so big, they collapse on themselves — and a star is born.

These star-birthing nebulae are known as stellar nurseries.

The challenge: Stars are a key part of the universe — they lead to the formation of planets and produce the elements needed to create life as we know it. A better understanding of stars, then, means a better understanding of the universe — but there's still a lot we don't know about star formation.

This is partly because it's hard to see what's going on in stellar nurseries — the clouds of dust obscure optical telescopes' view — and also because there are just so many of them that it's hard to know what the average nursery is like.

The survey: The astronomers conducted their survey of stellar nurseries using the massive ALMA telescope array in Chile. Because ALMA is a radio telescope, it captures the radio waves emanating from celestial objects, rather than the light.

"The new thing ... is that we can use ALMA to take pictures of many galaxies, and these pictures are as sharp and detailed as those taken by optical telescopes," Jiayi Sun, an Ohio State University (OSU) researcher, said in a press release.

"This just hasn't been possible before."

Over the course of the five-year survey, the group was able to chart more than 100,000 stellar nurseries across more than 90 nearby galaxies, expanding the amount of available data on the celestial objects tenfold, according to OSU researcher Adam Leroy.

New insights: The survey is already yielding new insights into stellar nurseries, including the fact that they appear to be more diverse than previously thought.

"For a long time, conventional wisdom among astronomers was that all stellar nurseries looked more or less the same," Sun said. "But with this survey we can see that this is really not the case."

"While there are some similarities, the nature and appearance of these nurseries change within and among galaxies," he continued, "just like cities or trees may vary in important ways as you go from place to place across the world."

Astronomers have also learned from the survey that stellar nurseries aren't particularly efficient at producing stars and tend to live for only 10 to 30 million years, which isn't very long on a universal scale.

Looking ahead: Data from the survey is now publicly available, so expect to see other researchers using it to make their own observations about stellar nurseries in the future.

"We have an incredible dataset here that will continue to be useful," Leroy said. "This is really a new view of galaxies and we expect to be learning from it for years to come."

Protecting space stations from deadly space debris

Tiny specks of space debris can move faster than bullets and cause way more damage. Cleaning it up is imperative.

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  • NASA estimates that more than 500,000 pieces of space trash larger than a marble are currently in orbit. Estimates exceed 128 million pieces when factoring in smaller pieces from collisions. At 17,500 MPH, even a paint chip can cause serious damage.
  • To prevent this untrackable space debris from taking out satellites and putting astronauts in danger, scientists have been working on ways to retrieve large objects before they collide and create more problems.
  • The team at Clearspace, in collaboration with the European Space Agency, is on a mission to capture one such object using an autonomous spacecraft with claw-like arms. It's an expensive and very tricky mission, but one that could have a major impact on the future of space exploration.

This is the first episode of Just Might Work, an original series by Freethink, focused on surprising solutions to our biggest problems.

Catch more Just Might Work episodes on their channel:
https://www.freethink.com/shows/just-might-work

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