The prospect of a financially healthy future at age 80 feels elusive for many millennials. They have more debt and fewer assets than preceding generations did at the same age. They’re finding their footing in the increasingly multigenerational workplace, but their employment security is slipping away as unions dissolve and a gig economy emerges. By 2034, when the oldest millennials turn 54, Social Security is expected to be insolvent.
It’s hard for millennials to be optimistic about their octogenarian years.
But every challenge is an opportunity to innovate and shape society to be better. Millennials have plenty of time to prepare for a good life in their golden years. What would an 80-year-old millennial say to her 20-year-old self?
It looks like 80 will be the new 60. The majority of millennials are probably correct in believing they will have to work longer than previous generations did.
The good news? Living longer is the main reason millennials will be working longer. When Social Security was created in 1935, a man who reached the retirement age of 65 could expect to live an additional 13 years. A millennial man can expect to live an additional 20 years after 67, the new age for full retirement; for women it’s about 22 years.
The other upside of working longer, as Quartz journalist Anu Chatterjee reports, is that people who work longer are healthier in mind and body, more socially connected and more satisfied because they have a sense of purpose. Chatterjee notes that while longer careers are a win-win for workers and employers, the workplace needs to evolve to allow for more flexibility—something plenty of younger workers would like to see, too.
It’s easy to say keep working, but not always easy to do. In fact, 65% of millennials are anxious about whether they’ll have jobs as automation and artificial intelligence supplant human workers, and three-fourths think they will have a hard time adapting to new technologies as they age.
However, report after report indicate that automation will actually create more jobs than it eliminates. By the time the first millennials turn 80 in 2060, the new jobs are likely to be things nobody has yet imagined, like how nobody in the 1950s envisioned that videogames would become a $36 billion industry in the US.
To adapt to an unpredictable future, millennials should embrace the idea of lifelong learning, retraining, and reinvention to gain skills for their next jobs even as they work at their present ones. The World Economic Forum points out that goods and services have been losing value thanks to technological advances, but education is becoming ever more valuable. That’s also an opportunity to explore curiosities and challenge oneself, endeavors which millennials, as the most-educated generation ever, have come to value. This doesn’t necessarily mean more college either. When asked to imagine two to three decades ahead, 70% of millennials believe traditional college will largely be replaced by online degree programs, apprenticeships, and innovative forms of education, offering flexible opportunities for aging millennials to hone new skills.
More than half of millennials think traditional full-time jobs will disappear, shifting instead into freelance work for 75% or more US workers in the next 30 years. The change has already begun: The share of contingent workers rose from 10.7% of the workforce to nearly 16% in just a decade.
Full-time employment has been a foundation of worker security far beyond paychecks—employers have also provided sick leave, health-care insurance, and pensions or matching contributions to 401(k) accounts. Being an independent contractor requires taking on those responsibilities. On the other hand, freelancers are finding greater satisfaction in choosing when they work, where they work, and what they work on. They can balance careers and families better (an especially good thing for improving workplace gender equality). We’re also seeing companies borrowing from gig economy structures—implementing remote work policies, sabbaticals, and rotational programs.
Meanwhile, regulation needs to catch up with the evolution of gig work, so that independent contractors can accrue benefits from many different gigs, whether from their own contributions, those of the companies they contract for or, as a New York drivers’ guild suggests, a tax on the services they provide. If gig work becomes the norm for most people, the entire benefits model could change.
Most 80-year-olds treasure their memories. Millennials value experiences over stuff, too, to the point that they are changing the definition of wealth. Money is a means to an end—something that allows them to live the kind of life they want. Millennials value financial wellness.
“The goal of ‘financial wellness’ isn’t to amass valuable assets, but rather to take advantage of your finances in a way that helps you live a life full of value,” says Vishal Jain, Chief Financial Wellness Officer at Prudential.
This experience-oriented mindset, coupled with globalizing culture and low-cost travel, means that millennials will likely see more of the world than previous generations. In a survey, millennials planned to take an average of 2.6 international trips, compared with 1.5 for boomers. All those trips mean millennials plan to spend an average of $6,802 on travel this year, more than gen xers ($5,434) or boomers ($6,395). Millennials are looking for adventure (27%) and to try something new (24%). They want authenticity, with 30% staying with locals abroad and 66% eating with locals.
Traditional wellness counts, too. Millennials are worried about steepening healthcare costs. Four in five millennials with incomes over $75,000 believe the healthcare procedures they have access to today will likely be considered a luxury in the future. However, despite healthcare becoming more expensive, millennials are still likelier to be healthier than other generations. The millennial obesity and diabetes rates have declined since 2008, whereas they have risen for other generations.
The reason for this is two-fold. First, the share of millennials who exercise is higher than for other generations and climbing, and 64% of millennials—compared with 56% of Gen Xers—say they do everything they can to promote their health and wellness. Second, millennials are benefiting from a greater emphasis on preventive medicine and advances in health technology—with wearables and apps helping maintain healthy lifestyles, AI increasing the efficacy of diagnostics, robots improving surgery, and the emergence of gene therapies.
Millennials still have time to make a big difference to the situation they’ll find themselves in at age 80. Two-thirds of millennials work for companies that offer retirement plans. Those who work for an employer that matches 401(k) contributions are even luckier—it’s free money from their employer and doesn’t count toward their income contribution limit.
Automated savings plans and new AI-driven financial services are helping millennials save. However daring millennials feel about financial technology, they are reluctant to venture into stocks. For those who have, volatility has been a gut punch. Yet, avoiding the stock market carries a heavy price of its own—today’s low interest rates mean regular savings accounts can’t keep up with price inflation. On the other hand, for still-young millennials, saving even small amounts snowballs impressively, thanks to the power of compound interest. That means even millennials who don’t have access to 401(k)s from their employers may still be able to build up a nest egg.
Assumptions about the future are based on today’s reality. But policies change to reflect evolving social norms, and millennials, who see themselves as “everyday changemakers” are disrupting those right and left: redefining success as careers with meaning, choosing experiences with friends and family rather than stuff, co-living rather than buying houses, diversifying the definition of family. In a survey (PDF), 62% of millennials said they believe they can make a difference in their communities. They’ve already made an impact in ways big and small, and they’ve got years more ahead of them.
Explore what life will be like for 80-year-old millennials in our landmark study.
This article was produced on behalf of Prudential by Quartz Creative and not by the Quartz editorial staff.