Typically, people 45 to 54 are more likely than others to say they are “pretty well satisfied” with their financial situation, according to the University of Chicago’s General Social Survey. But not the current crop of middle-aged Americans.
As people get older, they tend to become more at peace with their finances, survey research shows. But not the current crop of middle-aged Americans.
Let’s call them the Grumpy Middle.
They are unhappier than previous generations. And they’ve been this way for years.
Typically, people 45 to 54 are more likely than others to say they are “pretty well satisfied” with their financial situation, according to the University of Chicago’s General Social Survey. Then the generation born between 1962 and 1971 started to reach their current age range — and bring their longstanding economic dissatisfaction with them.
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By 2016, as middle-aged Americans, they were 12 percent less likely to say they were satisfied financially, and 18 percent more likely to say they were unhappy. (Respondents can also give a neutral answer.)
Following the Grumpy Middle over time in the survey reveals that they have been less happy than other respondents as far back as the early 1990s, when most of them were in their 20s.
Americans in their 20s and 30s have always expressed a higher degree of anxiety, but this is the first time in the survey that the dissatisfaction has crept so far up into middle age. The General Social Survey does not dig deeper on this and ask why. And other variables that touch on personal happiness don’t suggest people born between these years are more unhappy overall.
But when it comes to money, a look at economic data begins to yield some clues.
Middle age used to be the peak earning years on the job market, but this is no longer true, especially for men. People 45 to 54 are still earning more than than younger colleagues. What’s changed is on the other side of the age matrix: Older workers have increasingly gained ground on the income scale. The older they are, in fact, the more rapid the ascent up the income rankings.
Back in 1994, when the baby-boom generation was filling in the 45-54 age group, a male full-time worker made $1.29 for every dollar made by other male full-time workers. Women in this age group were also the top earners, although female pay was not as disparate; they made $1.13 for every…