The young adults of Generation Y want what their parents have – the full package of careers, cars, houses and kids.

Yet many of these young people lack full-time jobs in their field and a large number of them are being supported to some extent by their parents, even into their 30s. Plenty of Gen Y members are doing fine in today’s economy, but the overall lack of financial independence is striking.

The disconnect between Gen Y’s ambitions and the financial reality is documented in the Yconic/Abacus Data Survey of Canadian Millennials, which was conducted for The Globe and Mail earlier this year and involved 1,538 young people aged 15 to 33. The most dramatic findings concern Gen Y members’ ability to establish their financial independence from parents. Survey participants expected to reach this milestone by 27 on average, but 43 per cent of the 30- to 33-year-olds said they had not yet done so.

Parents, you’re far from alone if you help your adult kids financially. In the survey, almost one in five people in the 30 to 33 group lived with mom and dad, as did 29 per cent of those in the 25 to 29 range. Seventeen per cent of 30- to 33-year-olds said they were getting help from their parents to pay their bills and 28 per cent of youth aged 25 to 29 said this.

A fair bit of analysis has been done on whether today’s young adults have more trouble establishing themselves after graduation than their parents. The Globe and Mail’s Who Had It Worse Time Machine suggests they do, while a recent BMO Economics study said they are better off in some ways. The Yconic/Abacus survey gives us a different take by delving into the experience and attitudes of young people rather than economic indicators.

Let’s dispense with some stereotypes that are sometimes used as a rationale in blaming Gen Y for its own problems. Far from being self-absorbed slackers, this is a group with traditional middle-class values. More or less, nine in 10 participants in the poll indicated a desire to buy homes and cars, or had already bought them. Only 9 per cent were unequivocal in not wanting to have kids.

Millennials don’t play the blame game, either. Two-thirds of those in the poll said they were either satisfied or very satisfied with their lives, and a similar proportion believes it will have a better or similar quality of life than their parents. There’s little variation in this thinking between the teenaged younger poll participants and those in their early 30s.

Student debt gets a lot of attention as an issue facing young adults and the Yconic/Abacus survey validates this to some extent. Only 23 per cent of survey participants aged 25 to 33 had zero non-mortgage debt, and a third of those aged 30 to 33 owed more than $20,000.

Landing a career-building, full-time job is another challenge that is well documented in the survey. One-third of people in the 30 to 33 group and 73 per cent of 25- to 29-year-olds had not found a full-time job in their field. Among those aged 25 to 29, just over one-third thought they’d need as many as five years to find full-time work in their field, and 7 per cent weren’t sure when this would happen.

Even those who are working struggle. Among 30- to 33-year-olds, 52 per cent say they can afford to pay their bills but have trouble saving money, and 22 per cent say they’re either barely making ends meet or living paycheque to paycheque.

By no means is Gen Y a financial basket case. Sixty per cent of 30- to 33-year-olds said they have bought a house or planned to do so in the year ahead, and two-thirds have bought a car. But the number relying on their parents is too high for complacency. We need to dig further into this issue.

Gen Y, at least you have time on your side. Today’s 20- and 30-year-olds should expect to live 90-plus years and work until 65 or 70. You can still meet your financial goals – just later than your parents did.

I’ll discuss what Gen Y’s financial issues mean to parents in a column later this week. Beyond supporting their kids emotionally and financially, parents could certainly get more aggressive in asking educators, politicians and the business community what they’re doing to help young adults succeed.

Like their parents, these young people want life’s full package. If they can’t get it, there’s something wrong.

Full results of the poll can be obtained through yconic’s website (signup required): Gen Y financials findingsGen Y state of mind findings.


Check out our new Gen Y blog, where a 20-something recent university graduate will chronicle her real-life journey of embarking on a career, struggling to repay her student debt and trying to find her financial footing.

The Globe and Mail
Published Monday, May. 26 2014, 6:34 PM EDT
Last updated Tuesday, May. 27 2014, 8:52 AM EDT