Do Baby Boomers Resent Their Children?

Angry responses to 20-somethings’ financial struggles suggest conflict between generations.

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When new research came out recently about 20-somethings' financial struggles, the survey also revealed some encouraging news: Not only are members of Gen Y optimistic about their future, but older Americans—Gen Y’s parents and grandparents—agreed that young people today have it rough. That kind of cross-generational solidarity suggests a mutual understanding and support network that Gen Yers desperately need to get on their feet.

After all, some experts have found that help from family members, in the form of emotional support or financial assistance, can make the difference between falling further behind and finding a way to move forward. Luckily, many of today’s 20-somethings benefit from so-called “helicopter parenting” and continued closeness with their parents—one reason why at least 1 in 4 feel comfortable enough to move back home after college graduation.

But the comments left by readers in response to our recent articles on the subject suggest that a far stormier relationship might be lurking beneath those cheery survey findings. Comments left by older Americans are often full of resentment toward the younger generation, describing them as spoiled brats who don’t know how to be frugal and lack any appreciation for what’s been given to them.

In response to the finding that half of young adults have taken jobs they don’t want in order to pay bills, a commenter calling himself “old unemployed guy” wrote, “The shock! The horror! It's called being a grown up and it really sucks. Fortunately there is a support group that meets at the corner bar every night.”

Another commenter wrote, “The problem with Generation Y is that they're[sic] idiotic enough to believe government can fix the economy.” Another focused on student-loan debt and argued that young people should not complain about having so much of it. Rick of Texas wrote, “We worked our way through school, and graduated without debt. I have two sons, and both worked their way through school. If you built up debt going through school, you have to pay it off.”

A commenter calling herself Kathryn also disagreed with the premise that young people have it harder today. “Things are no harder now, than [they were] in their grandparents’ generation. They just want more, and sooner. They see the house the earlier generations have, and automatically think that is what they should have,” she wrote.

The harsh words also flowed in the other direction. A younger American, calling himself Danny of New York, wrote, “I am really tired of older Americans trying to talk about how younger Americans are stupid… The economy is crap, not because of us but because of you.”

Another story that profiled a young man surviving on $20,000 a year drew similar ire from older commenters. They wrote that it was irresponsible to live without health insurance and that he was too young to understand how hard life would become once he also had a family to support.

These commenters raise questions about how older and younger Americans are truly getting along. We might be living together more than in the past, and be more involved in each other’s daily decisions and lives, but do we like each other? What explains this intergenerational anger? Do older Americans resent younger ones, and if so, why? Does either generation really have it “better” than the other?

The unfortunate truth might be that the economy has made it harder for everyone—young and old—to feel good about their financial state. And that frustration easily pours out into angry comments.

Twitter: @alphaconsumer