Despite Competing Financial and Social Pressures, Emerging Adults Ages 18-34 Are Positive about Their Future and Value the Simple Things in Life
News release | Oct. 10, 2023
New research from Edward Jones delivers insights on shared experiences
and preferences defining GenNext
ST. LOUIS, October 10, 2023 – The majority of Americans ages 18 to 34 (80%) currently view themselves as struggling or merely surviving in life, but are optimistic about their future, according to new research from financial services firm Edward Jones. In partnership with Next360 Partners and MarketCast, Edward Jones set out to define this age group numbering more than 76 million Americans — 'GenNext' — and what matters most to them across all aspects of their lives.
GenNext represents a life stage known as 'emerging adulthood' — the next generation of workers, heads of households, consumers and investors with significant decisions to make about their future. The study found a resilient and optimistic group, despite having experienced heavy life challenges that began with early memories of their families' experiences during the Great Recession and including more recent events such as the COVID-19 pandemic, rising inflation and job transitions.
“Our research offers a deeper understanding of GenNext, an age group defined by their shared experiences, not the year they were born,” said Lena Haas, head of Wealth Management Advice and Solutions at Edward Jones. “With most worried about rising costs and an inability to save, this will have vast implications for the wealth management industry. Our purpose calls us to identify how we might help this age group plan and reach their life goals — across health, family, purpose and finances.”
Who are GenNext?
GenNext is a unique cohort, coming of age under unprecedented circumstances. Some of these defining factors include:
- Diversity: They are extremely diverse, as half identify as nonwhite and 17% as LGBTQ or prefer to self-describe their sexual orientation.
- Education: GenNext is also the most educated generation in history1— 1 in 3 have some college education, while 1 in 4 have a bachelor’s degree or higher. That education, combined with easy access to information, leads them to seek not one or two sources of information but to consult many sources to learn, plan and act.
- Life Events: Many have experienced or aspire to experience traditional life events such as marriage or home ownership, including 8 in 10 who have or want children, but are still juggling jobs, school, gig work and other priorities.
- Face-to-Face Connections: Although GenNext has grown up with the internet, they value and prioritize meaningful interactions as contributing to their own personal wellness — reporting feeling happiest when they’re with the people they care about. Nearly a third (31%) also ranked mental health as the most important contributor to wellness.
- Comfort Above All: Their main priority is being comfortable — they want enough money to have a meaningful life, and they view the pursuit of purpose, not financial accumulation, as the main value of a career.
“The study challenges many of the popular assumptions about today’s young adults,” said Dr. Joe Coughlin, senior advisor to NEXT360 Partners. “Despite many stereotypes that range from funny to frivolous, GenNext is hardworking, ambitious, and navigating the uncertainty that goes both with their life stage and the social and economic challenges of life today. Despite being born in the digital era and portrayed as happiest on their devices, GenNext are happy homebodies, with more than half (58%) reporting they feel most fulfilled when spending time with family and friends. Although they may have a clear picture of what they want their lives to look like in the next five years, only one in three (36%) are prioritizing finances to get there.”
A different approach to work and money
Despite their limited time in the workforce, nearly 1 in 5 (19%) have experienced being laid off from a job. While they think positively about retirement, GenNext doesn’t expect to enjoy the same level of financial stability as their parents or grandparents — and only 31% currently have a retirement account.
Employer loyalty is less important to this group, and the career ladder no longer exists for them — they are instead planning for what the research refers to as “pogo stick careers,” where they are highly mobile and move from one job to another. GenNext are comfortable wearing multiple hats, with many looking to “side hustles” to fund their lifestyles outside basic expenses. Only 1 in 10 (13%) associate a career with success and achievement.
“They want flexibility in where and when they work, and are open to nontraditional career paths,” Haas added. “Naturally, this group will have diverse financial needs impacting how they save, spend and invest. It was important for us to understand their needs and encouraging to see that they are open to advice where there may be gaps.”
Thriving, not just surviving, includes financial advice
GenNext cited a short-term mindset when it comes to finances, focusing on everyday expenses, budgeting and saving for large purchases over other financial matters. Only one in 10 (13%) have paid off college debt, only about half (57%) have health insurance and less than a third (27%) have life insurance. To thrive, those in this life stage could benefit from financial education and professional advice, but only 12% go to a financial advisor to discuss their finances. The majority (52%) speak with their parents. Despite common misperceptions, only 20% reported using social media or influencers as sources of financial guidance among the many other perspectives they seek.
Though more than three-quarters (78%) of GenNext do not currently work with a financial advisor, 41% of those who don’t say they plan to someday, and 68% view financial advisors as a sounding board for ideas. Even though they are the digital generation, 66% of GenNext prefer in-person interactions with their financial advisors. Coughlin notes that, “GenNext are ushering in new expectations for the future of advice, one that is not digital alone but omnichannel, goes beyond financial discussions and where personal is premium.”
“Working with a financial advisor can improve your financial knowledge and confidence and help you feel more in control,” added Haas. “Our research found that 68% of GenNext don’t think they have enough income or savings for professional financial advice. But it’s never too early to get started. Financial advisors can remove burden and complexity and help you focus on the most important first steps.”
To learn more about GenNext and this research, visit edwardjones.com/financialfuture.
Edward Jones, in partnership with MarketCast and NEXT360 Partners, LLC, conducted a mixed-methods study combining a nationwide online survey executed by MarketCast July-Aug. 2023 (among a U.S. national sample of 2,003 adults ages 18–34 years old) combined with interviews, focus groups and cognitive mapping conducted by NEXT360 Partners with GenNext participants in Atlanta; Boston; Charlotte, NC; Cleveland, OH; Dallas/Ft. Worth; Denver; Los Angeles; Phoenix; and Raleigh-Durham, NC.
About Edward Jones
Edward Jones is a leading financial services firm in the U.S. and through its affiliate in Canada. The firm’s nearly 19,000 financial advisors serve more than 8 million clients with a total of $1.8 trillion in client assets under care at the end of June 2023. Edward Jones’ purpose is to partner for positive impact to improve the lives of its clients and colleagues, and together, better our communities and society. Through the dedication of the firm’s 52,000 associates and our branch presence in 68% of U.S. counties, the firm is committed to helping more people achieve financially what is most important to them. The Edward Jones website is at www.edwardjones.com, and its recruiting website is www.careers.edwardjones.com. Member SIPC.
NEXT360 Partners, LLC is a global action research and strategy consultancy delivering expert perspective on demographic, cultural, policy and technological change. In partnership with its clients, NEXT360 conducts custom research empowering leaders in business and government to discover new market opportunities, develop winning strategies, and to deliver results. Learn more about what’s your NEXT at https://next360partners.com.
MarketCast is a data and technology-driven research and insights firm serving CMOs and marketers at the world’s top brands, media companies, tech platforms, and sports and video games organizations. The company brings together a unique mix of primary research, AI, and big data to deliver full-funnel transparency for marketers. Our insights guide critical marketing decisions, helping brands determine which audiences to prioritize and product benefits to communicate, in addition to developing, launching, and measuring brand and advertising campaigns across media platforms. Headquartered in Los Angeles, MarketCast has researchers, product leaders, and data scientists around the globe. For more information visit www.marketcast.com.
1. U.S. Census Bureau: B15001: SEX BY AGE BY EDUCATIONAL ... - Census Bureau Table