Millennials, or those born between 1981 and 1996, as defined by the Pew Research Center, have had a lot happen in a short amount of time. Millennials have faced a lot of uncertainty in the economy, which shows up in their investing trends.
While many millennials feel like they’re behind on their financial goals and retirement savings, they’re also expected to inherit more than $40 trillion from their parents and other family members in the coming decades.
Given the immense amount of money they will control shortly, millennial investment trends and habits can provide helpful insight into the future financial landscape. As the oldest millennials turn 40 years old, let’s look at some of the investment trends that have shaped the millennial generation and some of the places they still feel stuck.
- Millennials are less likely to invest in stocks than Generation X.
- Millennials are highly interested in socially responsible investing, contributing $51.1 billion to sustainable funds.
- 24% of millennials have $100,000 or more in savings.
- 46% of millennials say they aren’t saving enough, and it's the primary activity they need to do more of.
- Only 37% of millennials feel knowledgeable about their investments.
One in four millennials has more than $100,000 saved
American millennial investors are saving more than ever before, increasing their savings by 10% in the last two years. Although 24% of millennials have $100,000 in savings, up from 16% in 2018, 27% said they are still not saving at all.
More than 75% of millennials are saving for retirement, and 32% are saving for their first home or looking to upgrade to a different house. Millennials are also the youngest generation to start saving, starting around age 24, compared to age 30 for Generation X and age 33 for baby boomers.
Source: Bank of America
Millennials are interested in sustainable investing
Over 60% of millennial investors believe impact investing has more potential to make lasting change than traditional charitable giving, according to Fidelity Charitable.
According to a study done by The Harris Poll, 76% of older millennials think climate change is a severe threat to society, and they’re willing to put their investment dollars into finding a sustainable solution. While other generations also care about climate and sustainability, millennials hit their prime investing years with more access to investment opportunities such as Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) funds. In 2019 almost 500 actively managed funds had ESG criteria in their prospectuses.
A recent survey found that 24% of millennials owned ESG stocks, but 33% weren’t sure what ESG funds were. Women were more likely to hold this type of stock, at 25% of respondents, versus 17% of male respondents.
Source: CNBC, Pew Research, The Motley Fool, Fidelity Charitable
Millennials are less likely to own stocks than Gen X
Millennial choices around asset classes might surprise you. Millennial investors are less likely to be invested in stocks than their Generation X counterparts, with 37% of millennials saying they would own stocks vs. 47% of Generation X. 66% of millennial investors and 73% of Generation Z investors utilize stocks in their investment portfolios, and growth and dividend stocks are among the most popular. Millennials report that they own 58% and 59% of each, respectively.
Millennials may fear losing money in a stock market crash, keeping them from entering the market at all, or delaying past a reasonable time. Entering the job market during the Great Recession, fluctuating real estate costs, and student loan debt has made millennials cautious in their investing strategies. One way to reduce the fear and emotions around investing may be to choose mutual funds, which hold multiple stocks in one group and help manage risk through diversification.
When evaluating a stock for purchase, millennials were more likely to look at traditional investing sites than Generation Z investors, who turned more to social media. Male investors were more likely to value historical stability, while female investors said social media factors had more value for them. Social media buzz was one of the least relevant factors for millennials when buying a particular stock.
Source: The Motley Fool, Investopedia
39% of millennials invest in cryptocurrency
While many of the younger generations are interested in cryptocurrency, digital currency is making significant gains among millennials. Almost 60% of millennial investors say that they hold some kind of digital currency, 38% said that they own cryptocurrency specifically, and 15% said that they possess a non-fungible token (NFT), which is a digital asset like bitcoin or dogecoin, but it replaces real-world objects like music, art, and videos.
Older and wealthier millennials are more likely to hold cryptocurrency than their younger counterparts. Fifty-nine percent of millennials earning at least $75,000 a year hold cryptocurrency, compared to just 21% that earn less than $75,000. Men are about twice as likely to invest in cryptocurrency than women.
There is some confusion about cryptocurrency, with about 44% of millennials saying that it's too confusing or risky for their investment money. Comparatively, 58% of baby boomers say that cryptocurrency is too confusing, and 49% of Generation Z and 48% of Generation X are also likely to say it's too confusing to invest in crypto.
Source: The Motley Fool, Investopedia
47% of millennials have mutual funds in their portfolios
Mutual fund investments continue to grow for millennials. Forty-seven percent of millennials invest in these funds compared to 35% of Generation Z. Mutual funds are the second most popular investment type for millennials after individual stocks, and exchange-traded funds (EFT) are third, with 23% of millennials choosing to invest in those.
Millennials typically look for diversification and safe investment strategies over high returns. Compared to baby boomers and Generation X when they reached age 40, millennials face more student loan debt (33.6% versus10.91% and 14.52%, respectively) and struggle to pay it back and meet other financial goals.
Research shows that millennials are working hard to move past these challenges and get out of debt. A recent report shows that millennials have more financial goals than other generations. Eighty-nine percent say that establishing an emergency fund is a crucial goal, 84% emphasize saving for retirement, and 89% of millennials work on creating and maintaining a budget.
Source: The Motley Fool, Investopedia, Morning Consult State of Consumer Banking & Payments
Millennials are not confident about investing
According to a CFA Institute study, only 21% of non-investing millennials and millennials who are only invested in retirement accounts are very or extremely confident about making investment decisions. When you add taxable investment accounts to the list, the amount of confident investors increases to 47%.
While millennial households had a higher median annual income than the United State’s median income in 2020 ($71,566 versus $67,521), they are still more likely to feel behind in their financial goals. More than 30% believe the money they've saved for retirement won't last. Only 37% of affluent millennials say they feel knowledgeable about their investing and financial topics, but those who do feel knowledgeable are five times as likely to feel confident when making financial decisions.
Source: CFA Institute, Morning Consult, US Census Bureau, Investopedia
41% of millennials own information technology stocks
Compared to 29% of Gen Z investors, 41% of millennials own information technology stocks such as software, IT services, computer and server hardware, and other electronic equipment. The information technology sector has played a pivotal role in advancing robotics and automation, especially with the increased demand for computers during the pandemic and the considerable increase in remote work. Forty-five percent of millennial men owned information technology stocks compared to 34% of millennial women.
In addition to owning more information technology stocks, 41% of millennials own financial stocks, compared to 42% of Generation Z investors. Emergent technology and healthcare also have high millennial involvement, with 39% and 38% of millennials owning each type of stock, respectively.
Source: The Motley Fool
Millennials trust financial advisors
According to the CFA Institute, 72% of the millennials who work with a financial professional are either very or extremely satisfied. Only 15% of those who don’t work with a professional cited lack of trust as a viable reason not to work with one.
Additionally, 58% of millennials say they prefer to work face-to-face with a financial professional, which emphasizes the necessity of real people offering financial advice and retirement planning services. Only 16% of millennials showed a strong interest in using robo-advisors, although 61% approve of them as an investing tool.
Forty-three percent of millennials have a financial advisor. Millennials who considered themselves knowledgeable about investing were twice as likely to have a financial investor. Of those with financial advisors, 27% said their investments perform extremely well, compared to just 13% of millennials who said the same and didn’t have an advisor.
Source: CFA Institute and FINRA Investor Education Foundation, Investopedia, The Fool
67% of millennials utilize employer-sponsored retirement plans
While many millennials seem to be prioritizing saving for retirement, and 67% say that they participate in their employer-sponsored plans, there is still room for improvement. According to a Transamerica study, 21% of millennials do not have a job with an employer-sponsored retirement plan available. As pensions become less common, many millennials will have to rely on self-funded retirement savings.
Millennials with an employer-sponsored retirement fund contribute roughly 15% of their annual salaries to their 401(k) or similar retirement vehicle.
Source: Bank of America Millenial Report, Winter 2020, Transamerica Center
60% of millennials feel behind in retirement savings
Millennials are worried about having enough saved for retirement, and they feel left behind by their peers. About 60% of millennials said they feel behind compared to where they think they should be, and 38% don’t believe they’ll retire until they're age 70 or older.
The top financial stressor for millennial parents is not saving enough in general (44%), followed closely by not saving for retirement (38%). Seventy-seven percent of millennials say they’re concerned that Social Security won't be available when they are ready to retire.
Millennials have had some tough breaks, entering the job market during the Great Recession, which also impacted the housing market, and facing potential job loss or underemployment during the COVID-19 pandemic. Some used their retirement savings to survive during the pandemic, which has set them further behind their peers.
According to the CFA Institute, employer-sponsored retirement plans and family discussions offer a headstart to the individuals who utilize them. Forty-six percent of millennials with investment accounts credited their parents and family as key in their decision to start investing. The more millennials can invest in the stock market, both through their employer-sponsored plans and on their own, the easier it will be for them to feel comfortable about retirement.
Source: Bank of America Millenial Report, Winter 2020, CFA Institute, Investopedia, Transamerica Center
Millennials are comfortable with tech
Millennials are more likely to hold stocks in the financial (42%), information technology (40%), and emergent technology (38%) industries than previous generations, and they’re also more interested in using technology for investing, like apps and robo-advisors.
Like older generations, many millennials say they prefer to work face-to-face with a financial professional (58%). This is on par with baby boomers (60%) and Generation X (58%). Millennials are also early adopters of technology and have helped digital banking and robo-advisors gain popularity. They are likely to quickly adopt and use wealth-building and investment apps, which provide investment advice and an opportunity to build wealth passively.
Source: CFA Institute and FINRA Investor Education Foundation, Investopedia, The Motley Fool, Morning Consult
Millennials' financial well-being is lower than the national average
Despite being the largest generation currently working and with a head start on retirement savings, millennials’ economic well-being remains lower than the national average, according to a recent study.
The global average of financial well-being in December 2021 was 50.98%, but millennials were reported at 49.54%. The scores were even lower in the U.S. and Canada; millennials had a financial well-being score of 47.84%, up slightly from the low in October 2021 of 45.83%.
Twenty-seven percent of millennials said that they would never have the things they want in life because of money, compared to 22% of the general US population.
Source: Morning Consult, Investopedia
Affluent millennials invest as cautiously as Gen X
Millennials have cautious investing habits that are more in line with the previous generation. Millennials are less likely to own stocks than Generation X (37% compared to 47%) but are just as likely to hold bonds and CDs (19% vs. 18%). However, Generation X is more likely to invest in annuities, at 11%, compared to millennials at 9%.
Living through economic turmoil and crushing student debt may explain millennials' hesitancy to take more considerable investment risks with their available funds. Millennials are more likely to have taken a loan from a retirement account (44%) compared to Generation X (33%) and baby boomers (17%).
Millennials would rather invest than spend
Millennial investors prioritize investing for the future rather than spending now and are willing to make trade-offs to stay on track. They are ready to cut back on wants, with 70% saying they’d cut back on dining out to achieve a financial goal, and 39% said they would cancel cable or streaming services.
Going a step farther, 44% of millennials said they would take on a side hustle to reach a financial goal faster, and 33% said they would stay in an unfulfilling job to pay the bills. Fifty-seven percent said they would rather stay in a less desirable position with a higher salary, while only 38% said they would take a more desirable job with a lower wage.
When asked what they would do with an extra $10,000, millennials said they would pay down debt (40%), followed by saving for a new house or investing in their current home (20%), with just 11% saying they’d put the extra money toward retirement and 10% saying they’d invest outside of retirement. Only 2% of millennial respondents said they would spend extra money on material things.
Source: Bank of America Millenial Report, Winter 2020
86% of millennials want to discuss finances openly
According to Australian publication CommBank, a massive 86% of millennials want to have open discussions about investing, and 50% of those want to discuss investing in the stock market. Men are more likely than women to say that they would like to have more open discussions about investing.
This openness to discussing money and investment strategies fits in with younger generations, who are more likely to receive investing information from social media. Millennials ranked social media buzz as the least relevant factor to consider when buying a stock, however.
Source: Commbank, The Motley Fool
How to get started investing
If all of this investing data has you excited to get started on your investing journey but nervous about making mistakes, don’t worry. Investing doesn’t have to be a complicated topic, but it is essential to know your priorities and the kind of timeline you have to reach those goals.
- One of the easiest ways to start investing is participating in your company's 401(k) plan. Speak with your human resources department or manager about getting signed up if you haven't already. Be sure to ask if there’s an employer match and how much you have to contribute each paycheck to be eligible for the entire match.
- If you want to be completely hands-off, research using a robo-advisor to manage your portfolio. Robo-advisors are generally lower cost than traditional investment accounts because they aren’t actively managed and can be a good option for someone who wants to invest but doesn’t want to manage day-to-day activity.
- If you're more of a hands-on investor, consider mutual funds and ETFs, which group many different stocks into one bundle. When you invest in that fund, you own a small piece of each stock. Mutual funds and ETFs allow you to diversify your portfolio so you aren’t putting all of your money into one specific stock or stock type.
Once you’ve determined how you’d like to invest, set a budget for your investment contribution and let your money start working for you. Focus on investing over decades and try to ignore the daily ups and downs of the market.
For more information about how to invest money, check out the best investment apps and best brokerage accounts to help you get started.
Millennials have dealt with a lot of economic upheaval in their lives but appear to have a clear focus on saving for the future and getting ready for retirement, although there is some room for improvement. Although individual preparation may vary, as a whole, millennials are focusing on their financial health and creating a solid mix of traditional and alternative investment options.
1. Pew Research Center - Millennials are the Largest Generation in the Labor Force
2. Pew Research - Defining Generations: Where Millennials End and Generation Z Begins
3. Bank of America - Winter 2020 Better Money Habits Millennial Report
4. CNBC - Millennials Spurred Growth in Sustainable Investing for Years. Now, All Generations are Interested in ESG Options.
5. Investopedia - The Affluent Millennial Investing Survey
6. The Motley Fool - Study: What are Gen Z and Millennial Investors Buying in 2021?
7. Pew Research - Millennial and Gen Z Republicans Stand Out from Their Elders on Climate and Energy Issues
8. Investopedia - Younger Generations More Bullish on Cryptocurrencies
9. Fortune - Millennials and Gen Z are a Growing Force in Investing. The Market Needs to Catch Up.
10. CFA Institute and FINRA Foundation Study - Debunks Common Myths about Millennials and Investing
11. Morning Consult - The State of Consumer Banking & Payments
12. Transamerica Center for Retirement Studies - Living in the COVID-19 Pandemic: The Health, Finances, and Retirement prospects for Four Generations
13. Investopedia - Millennials: Finances, Investing, and Retirement
14. Commbank - 43% of Millennials are Investing Instead of Spending: CBA Study
15. United States Census Bureau - Income and Poverty in the United States: 2020
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