Generation Glum

Baby Boomers are feeling depressed...about pretty much everything.

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America's baby boomers are feeling gloomy. Yes, you couldn't pick up a newspaper or turn on the TV all weekend without hearing grim economic news. But the members of this especially large generation born from 1946 to 1964 are more downbeat about their lives than older and younger adults, according to a new Pew Research Center survey.

Baby boomers, currently ages 43 to 62 and, in their peak earning years, have the highest income of any age group, but they are the most worried about money as their epic and thoroughly discussed retirement looms, the survey of 2,413 adults found.

Here's how boomers stacked up to older and younger generations on a few questions.

  Younger adults 18-42 Boomers 43-62 Older Adults 63 plus
In the next year, how likely is it that your income won't keep up with the cost of living?
Likely 45 55 43
Not likely 55 45 55
Is it easier or harder for people to get ahead now or 10 years ago?
Easier to get ahead today 19 10 14
Harder to get ahead today 55 66 58
About the same 24 23 25
Is it now more or less difficult for people to maintain their standard of living compared with five years ago?
More difficult 77 86 74
Less difficult 14 9 13
The same 6 3 7

Source: Pew Research Center, 2008.
Note: Don't know responses are not shown.

Do boomers have a right to be so glum? They've got a lot of stuff going for them that older and younger people don't. Boomers earn more money than both older and younger generations. Americans ages 45 to 64, which is roughly the same age range as the boomers in the Pew survey, have a median household income of nearly $60,000. That compares with about $53,000 for younger adults ages 25 to 44 and about $30,000 for those ages 65 and older, according to the Census Bureau. Boomers also are more likely than younger or older adults to have retirement accounts, stocks, and bonds, Pew found.

More younger adults under age 42 report having a hard time paying for medical care and housing than boomers, according to the Pew survey. The young people are also more likely to have had someone in their household take on extra work to make ends meet or to have been laid off than the baby boomers.

To be fair, many baby boomers missed out the fantastic pension plans that some of their parents are getting. Three quarters of boomers are homeowners, at a time when home values are falling. And quite a few are sandwiched between taking care of elderly parents and helping out cash-strapped and struggling adult children.

Yang Yang, a University of Chicago sociologist, posits that the huge size of the baby boom generation, approximately 76 million, may account for their chronic unhappiness because they had more rivalry for jobs and education than other smaller generations. "The generation as a group was so large, and their expectations were so great, that not everyone in the group could get what he or she wanted as they aged due to competition for opportunities. This could lead to disappointment that could undermine happiness," Yang says.

D'Vera Cohn, a senior writer for the Pew Social & Demographic Trends Project, has a different theory. "Their generation reveled in the culture of youth," she writes. "Boomers are a big, complicated generation, but one thing can be said about them without fear of contradiction: They are no longer young."