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Most Millennials Think They’ll Be Worse Off Than Their Parents

March 1, 2016, 6:20 PM UTC
Patio story millennials at work at Rally Software.
Cyrus McCrimmon Denver Post via Getty Images

The vast majority of American workers expect to have less money at the end of their careers than their parents did—and that fear is highest among 20-something millennials, a new study found.

Four-in-five millennial employees—80% of workers under age 30—say their generation will be “much worse off” in retirement than their parents’ generation, according to a survey of more than 5,000 U.S. employees by Willis Towers Watson, released Tuesday.

The anxiety apparently stems from current financial unease as well as their expectation that government programs will erode, with 81% of millennials believing Social Security “will be much less generous” by the time they retire, and 74% saying that government-sponsored medical benefits like Medicare will also be worse.

Millennials lamenting their plight isn’t exactly new. Some pundits have had the same fears, declaring that the generation may even be the first to wind up worse than their parents, with lower incomes, more debt and higher poverty rates. That theory has also drawn backlash and ridicule from previous generations and millennials alike, such as a 29-year-old’s diatribe last month expressing little (read: zero) sympathy for a millennial Yelp (YELP) employee fired for complaining about her salary.

But millennials’ high level of conviction in this fate may indicate a growing pessimism among them. For example, just four years ago, only 48% of young workers said they expected to be worse off than their parents, according a separate study by Young Invincibles and the non-profit Demos. In the meantime, millennials also surpassed other generations to become the largest cohort in the workforce, potentially making the trend more disturbing.

Perhaps even more concerning: It’s not just the millennials anymore who are worried they’ll fare worse than their parents. Across all age groups, 76% of U.S. employees said they expect to be a lot worse off when they retire than their parents’ generation, with workers aged 40-to-49 just as likely to believe this as 20-somethings, though millennials still had the highest rates of pessimism overall.

Interestingly, the workers closest to retiring (those aged between 60 and 69) were the least likely to believe they would be worse off than previous generations—though the majority of them (55%) still expect they will have it worse than their parents did.