23 August 2013

Spending, The Millennial Generation, and Life (Retirement) Goals, Some Bourgeois Consumption Commentary

Last night I had a discussion with my wonderful mother (Beth Miehls) about an article she had recently read about the millennial generation.  This is the generation that started with my birth in 1981 and encompass everyone born up to the early 2000s.  Thus there are hipsters, young business types, and a lot of over-educated bartenders.  

The point of the article that Beth read was that The Millennial Generation (Gen Y from this point on) has spending patterns that favor experiences over accumulation of material wealth.  Basically she was making the point that Gen Y'ers spend more of their money on travel and high end food and drink than on houses and cars, etc. because we have some type of conscious or subconscious economic preference for living well rather than owning well.  This concept is causality in neoclassical preference theory rearing its ugly head in the hegemonic bourgeois culture yet again.

I am not arguing with the basic premise here.  Gen Y has lead spending in the microbrew, localvore, eco-tourism, etc. movements.  But are we making a choice to do these things rather than spend on accumulation?

It is quite possible that Gen Y'ers are spending their money in ways other than accumulation of long term material assets such as property because these things are not available to us.  The baby-boomers (to their credit) have a higher life expectancy than any American generation before them and already own much of the property, and hold most of the high-paying jobs.  Life expectancy for American males was in the low 60s in the period leading up to the Golden Age of Capitalism (pre and durnig WWII) and has steadily increased post war.  The average American male can expect to live into their mid 70s today.  Living until 75 means that the average baby boomer (our parents) will hold their property for 15 years longer than their parents did.  This, combined with many other economic factors means that the mean property sale price in the US has increased from $19,300 in 1963 to  $272,900 in 2010 (US Gov. Census), far faster growth than the rate of inflation during this period.  *

Is my generation choosing to pay for experiences? or has the longer lives of our parents (thankfully I might add in the case of my parents, as we get along well and love each other) priced Gen Y out of the ability to buy land, houses and cars and forced us to spend our money on good beer and travel instead to give us a reason to get out of bed in this bourgeois culture of consumption?

*I haven't even started to discuss the collapse of credit markets as a factor here, which will deserve its own post when I return to this topic.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I think part of the problem is that nowadays information travels at the speed of light. The newest experience, the newest flavor is available immediately and the desire for constant change seems to drive our passions. I think if you combine all of the wants and desires in one bank account, and needs in another bank account, the needs account would lose out in many cases. We want that new phone, we want that $7 drink, but we don't need either. On the needs side of things we are still a throw away society and products are designed with relatively short useful lives. Computers, phones and cars are among them. It is unfortunate these items have become needs, but it is our reality. Finally, we have taxes. When our parents were beginning their careers they paid 25-35% of their earnings in taxes (income, purchases, fuel, etc.) Nowadays we pay closer, if not over 50% of our income to the government. Unless you are in a hospital every week, have three kids and drive all over the country - you're not getting your money's worth. Makes me think that the people who favor accumulation of wealth are at a greater advantage, but only as long as the almighty dollar holds value. You can't take experiences or products with you to the grave, so maybe living well now is the best option. Nonetheless, the way our generation spends money and time is certainly interesting to consider.