Which U.S. Generation Wields the Most Economic Power?
In our inaugural Generational Power Index (GPI) 2021, we’ve ranked generations on how much power and influence they hold in American society.
And when it comes to money and economic power, our research has concluded that Baby Boomers, those between the ages of 57-75, have more influence than Millennials, Gen X, and Gen Z combined.
|Generation||Economic Power Share|
These findings may seem intuitive, but what exactly contributes to economic power? To find out, let’s take a closer look at the GPI’s underlying variables.
The Building Blocks of Economic Power
Our starting point was to define the age ranges of each generation:
|Generation||Age range (years)||Birth year range|
|The Silent Generation||76 and over||1928-1945|
|Gen Alpha||8 and below||2013-present|
Using these ranges as a framework, we then calculated our four underlying variables of economic power. Here’s what the distribution within each one looked like:
The earnings variable represents the median weekly earnings of full-time workers in the U.S., and was the most evenly distributed of the four variables. Gen Z had the lowest median weekly earnings ($614), while Gen X had the highest ($1,103).
Boomers established a clear lead in the second variable, net worth, which represents each generation’s share of overall U.S. wealth. As it turns out, Boomers hold 53% of all wealth in the country—more than all other generations combined.
The third variable captures each generation’s share of billionaire wealth, and was dominated by Boomers and the Silent Gen. We calculated this variable by starting with the top 1,000 billionaires globally, then filtering for Americans only.
The final variable, business leaders, is based on two underlying metrics: the generational share of both S&P 500 CEOs and small business owners. This enabled us to capture data from two sides of the business spectrum to see who holds power there.
Download the Generational Power Report (.pdf)
Shifting Dynamics in Economic Power
America’s wealth distribution is not stagnant, meaning the balance of economic power shifts with each passing year. Keeping this in mind, here are two of the most compelling trends that we discovered while analyzing data for the GPI report.
1. Younger Generations Show Sluggish Growth
The following chart illustrates each generation’s share of household wealth over time.
It makes sense that Baby Boomers would hold the most wealth of any generation. They have had more time to accumulate assets, and the population of Boomers is roughly three times higher than that of the Silent Generation.
What’s more interesting, however, is the stark difference in wealth trajectories between Boomers and younger generations.
While Boomers entered the workforce in a prosperous post-WWII era, Millennials and Gen Z have either started their careers in the aftermath of the 2008 Financial Crisis, or in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.
To put it in perspective, when Baby Boomers were as old as today’s Millennials in 1989, they held 21.3% of U.S. wealth. That’s more than four times higher than what Millennials hold now.
2. Small Business: The 99.9%
America’s small businesses may not have the same scale as global corporations like Apple or Amazon, but they are an incredibly important part of the U.S. economy.
In fact, small businesses make up 99.9% of all U.S. companies, and employ one-third of the nation’s workforce.
Here is who runs small businesses, from a generational perspective:
The 13% share held by Millennials may not sound too impressive, but it is one of the cohort’s strongest areas for economic power.
Looking forward, it seems entrepreneurship will grow into an area of strength for both Millennials and Gen Z, who are 188% more likely to want to create a side business compared to older generations.
Combine this with the fact that e-commerce adoption has been accelerating even faster than expected due to the pandemic, and it’s easy to see how younger, more tech-savvy generations could quickly expand their influence.
Charted: Average Years Left to Live by Age
Visualizing the number of years left to live for Americans at every age, reveals the broader trends in American life expectancy.
How Many Years Do You Have Left to Live?
At the start of the 19th century, when there fewer than 1 billion humans on the earth, global life expectancy at birth stood at roughly 29 years.
This is a startlingly low figure—because life expectancy is a statistical projection of how many more years a person can expect to live, based on the mortality rates at the time. And since the infant mortality rate in particular was so high, life expectancies accurately summarized the low likelihood of many babies living to adulthood.
However, since the 1920s, life expectancy across all ages has improved leaps and bounds, thanks to rapid advancements in nutrition, healthcare, and sanitation.
We visualized the current American life expectancy by age and gender, using data from the Office of Social Security, which bases their current projections on 2020 mortality rates.
American Life Expectancy at Every Age
A key takeaway with life expectancy is that it increases as one gets older. This is easily seen in the table below, which lists the remaining years left to live at a given age for an American male and the projected life expectancy.
|Age||Years Remaining (Men)||Life Expectancy (Men)|
At birth, an average American baby boy can expect to live till just past 74. But if the boy reaches adulthood, then at 21 he might live to a full year more, past 75. This trend persists even towards the end of life when the years we have left drop rapidly, influenced by the higher likelihood of death.
American women, on the other hand, have a higher life expectancy than men. At birth the gap is close to six years, narrowing steadily to around one year by 85.
Interestingly, women outlive men in nearly every country in the world, due to a mix of sociological, behavioral, and biological reasons.
COVID-19: Reversing A Decade of Increasing American Life Expectancy
While the current American life expectancy at birth seems reasonably high, it is nearly two years lower than the 2022 figure which used the 2019 mortality rate. It is also lower than the life expectancy at birth in 2009, which used 2005 mortality rate.
at Birth (Men)
at Birth (Women)
American mortality rates went up 17% between 2019–2020, in part because of COVID-19, in turn affecting life expectancy. The U.S. also had a higher COVID-19 mortality rate compared to its peers two years after the pandemic first struck.
Thus, American life expectancy may not improve immediately to 2019 levels, which can affect insurance premiums, pension benefits, and plans.
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