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Millennials Have Been Permanently Scarred by the Financial Crisis

But maybe that’s not such a bad thing.
We'll figure it out. Image: itupictures/Flickr

My generation, the Millennials, have been exhaustingly labeled over the years—negatively, more often than not. We’re lazy and entitled, unemployed and still living with our parents, or at least on their dime. We’re narcissistic and wasteful, obsessed with our smartphones and connoisseurs of the selfie. By most accounts, we’re the lost generation, nostalgic for the good old days because the party’s officially over.

But what if they’re wrong? What if the stereotypical characterizations of the most vehemently discussed generation are in fact way off base? That’s the conclusion of a recent report by UBS, which surveyed over a thousand 21 to 36 year olds. Apparently, perhaps as we’ve always liked to think, we’re simply misunderstood. We're actually conservative with our money, focused on personal success, and worried for our parents.


Part of the reason for that is that we’ve learned from the mistakes of those before us, having lived through the destruction of the Great Recession and the mania of two tech booms, explains Emily Pachuta, Head of Investor Insights at UBS Wealth Management Americas.

"Millennials seem to be permanently scarred by the 2008 financial crisis," said Pachuta. "They have a Depression Era mindset largely because they experienced market volatility and job security issues very early in their careers, or watched their parents experience them, and it has had a significant impact on their attitudes and behaviors."

The result? We love our family (45 percent) and believe in education (37 percent). We respect hard work (69 percent) and living frugally (45 percent). We define success by not only the amount of money we make—which, understandably, remains important (48 percent)—but also meaningful relationships (37 percent) and fulfilling experiences (37 percent) while putting less stock in perceived prestige (7 percent). We think long-term and, despite our unfortunate economic predisposition, we’re incredibly confident about our future and more assertive.

How Millennials define success. Chart: UBS Investor Watch

Straddled with college debt and healthcare costs, we’re disciplined savers. Skeptical of traditional investments, we’re cash-rich and prefer to invest in ourselves (no word on Bitcoin). And while we’re aware that our current situation is kind of shitty, most of us believe we’ll be more successful and financially stable than our parents, who of course aren’t as optimistic.

Millennials are a confident bunch. Chart: UBS Investor Watch

In all, we share plenty of traits with the post-WWII generation, likely given our shared experiences, preferring to take a conservative approach as opposed to more risk tolerant and financially aggressive Gen Xers. We’re also the most worried, but mostly about very long-term concerns, like retirement and taking care of mom and dad.

Which makes sense: the future has never been more uncertain. New Federal Reserve Chairman Janet Yellen noted Tuesday that while an economic comeback is gaining traction, "the recovery in the labor market is far from complete." But we’re okay with that. After all, Millennials aren’t the type to "rest on their laurels," according to Pachuta. They're ready to "[make] mistakes because they believe their goals are achievable."