Young Americans stressed about their financial health might take solace in one thing: they’re not alone.
According to new data released by Northwestern Mutual on Tuesday, a significant percentage of millennials and other young Americans are carrying large amounts of personal debt—and feel guilty about it. Millennials on average carry $27,800 in personal debt, most of it from credit cards, and members of Generation Z average about $14,000.
And while both generations trail Gen Xers and Baby Boomers in the study, the high debt averages paint a troubling portrait of Americans carrying large amounts of debt at a young age—saddling young Americans with financial uncertainty unlike that of their parents and grandparents.
“There are lots of people who exit school, and before they start their first job, have debt,” Chantel Bonneau, a wealth management advisor, told Buzzfeed News. “That is a different situation from 30 years ago.”
Nearly half of those surveyed said they feel anxious about their debt, and 35% of respondents said that they feel “guilty” about the extent of what they owe. About 20% say they are made to feel physically ill on a regular basis because of their debt.
But there is some reason for millennials and Gen Zers to be somewhat optimistic. Per the study, both generations are below the overall average debt for Americans as a whole: $29,800. And the youngest generations of Americans both trail Gen Xers, who carry an average of $36,000 in debt, and Boomers, who carry an average of $28,600. And the overall numbers have improved a great deal from last year, when Americans averaged $38,000 in personal debt, according to researchers.
Still, debt is debt, and entering their adult lives trapped under an oppressive burden of credit card and student loan debt has taken a toll on millennials and Gen Zers, who grew up in the shadow of the 2008 recession. Research has consistently shown younger Americans with dimmer financial prospects than those of their parents, with everything from life savings to life expectancy taking a turn for the worse. And while some of that trademark millennial dark humor can take some of the edge off, those looming problems linger like storm clouds over the rising generations of Americans—particularly as indicators suggest another recession may be around the corner.
“The road to financial security is long, even in the best of circumstances,” Emily Holbrook, senior director of planning at Northwestern Mutual, said in a statement announcing the latest numbers. “By carrying high levels of personal debt that road gets even longer, often requiring all kinds of detours and other twists and turns. The fact that there’s been some year-over-year improvement in debt levels is good, but the numbers still remain worryingly high.”