In our work studying boomers, one key generational characteristic of this cohort has been their optimism. Coming of age in the 1950s, ’60s and early ’70s, when the economy prospered and social issues were addressed, boomers entered adulthood with a rose-colored view of the future.
Jump forward some 30 years to the “Great Recession.” It isn’t so sunny any more. Boomers are entrenched in middle age, feeling their years and facing mounting debt as the kids go through college and the parents face health care needs. Squeezed by both and suffering from a shrinking 401(k) balance and an economy destined to remain soft, it is not surprising that some youthful optimism has faded.
Three reports point to trouble
Three recent reports about attitudes at the end of the “Uh-Ohs” (the ’00s) indicate that the bloom has indeed come off those rose-colored glasses.
* First, Pew Research reports in “Current Decade Rates as Worst in 50 Years,” that boomers are the least optimistic generation when asked about the next decade – half say it will be “better” than the current one. Think overcast, not sunny.
* A second measure, fairly new, is the Gallup-Healthways well-being index. It tracks several questions about emotional health, physical health, work environment and other aspects of life to gauge an overall “well-being” score. That score is on an upward trend since March 2009, when the stock market bottomed out. As of November, it stood at 66.7 out of 100. But boomers report lower scores than other generations. Their “well-being” is a little sickly.
* A third study, by Mintel International, also reports only six out of 10 boomers “expect the future to be better,” and that score is driven by 44 percent who say, “I expect the future to be better because I have become better at handling problems in the past couple of years.” With age comes experience, it seems. And again, compared to other generations, fewer boomers are optimistic.
Our sense is that middle-aged pragmatism is trumping youthful optimism. Despite countless warnings by their elders to save for a rainy day, boomers didn’t and now find themselves in precarious financial conditions.
What it means for financial advisors? Boomers will respond to financial guidance that preaches conservatism, pragmatism and smart planning. They need help rebalancing their current financial situation and building strong foundations for their future financial needs. Advisors who help them manage the next five to 10 years will be their advisors for life.