The average middle class person is a millennial or boomer


For once, boomers and millennials seem to be on the same team—at least those in the middle class. For all the differences between the two generations, there’s a surprisingly strong overlap in the venn diagram of generations. (This may make sense when you consider that by and large, boomers raised millennials, but that’s another story.)

The striking similarities are there in a new report from H&R Block, which analyzed data representing 10.5 million Americans who filed their taxes with the company since 2000 as well as a survey of 1,000-plus taxpayers. Nearly half of these tax filers, 4.6 million, reported an Adjusted Gross Income between $45,000 and $145,000, which H&R Block deems middle income. While this included everyone across all generations, the highest average ages were 32 and 62 years old—the millennial and the boomer, respectively. 

Of course, these figures make sense since millennials and boomers are the largest generations, whereas Gen X and Gen Z are much smaller. It only stands to reason that the largest number of middle-class Americans would correspond. But even still, they have more in common than you might think. 

Many middle-class Americans aren’t—or are no longer—married. While that share is smaller for millennials (43%) than for boomers (50%), the gap isn’t all that big. It’s unsurprising data in a couple senses, considering millennials’ inclination to marry later in life or not at all, as well as the fact that marriage tends to lift people up and out the middle class altogether. They also prefer to live in coastal states such as North Carolina, Texas, and Florida. But one of their biggest overlaps, however surprising it may be, is how they feel about money.

‘A very real fear’ about money

“Millennials and boomers—who we found to make up the majority of middle-income Americans – have drastically different views of the world,” Kathy Pickering, Chief Tax Officer at H&R Block, tells Fortune. “Where we see them converge is on their feelings towards their income and cost of living. Worries about inflation and how it continues to impact income growth is a very real fear among both millennials and boomers.”

The majority of these households make under $80,000 (the median U.S. household income is $70,784), and are worried about how inflation has hit their paychecks despite experiencing income gains that surpassed expected growth forecasts. Only half of middle class millennials were happy with their pay growth, while 65% of middle class boomers said they were unhappy with it. Nearly half (42%) of boomers also feel they are worse off financially this year than last. 

Just trying to get by

But these generations are responding to their money worries differently, in line with their life stages. Millennials were the most likely to report feeling financially insecure, which makes sense considering the many economic challenges they’ve faced and the fact they’re entering high-spending years. 

It explains why many also said they were working two jobs to make ends meet. More vulnerable to a volatile economy, young adults are more likely to turn to gig work than older generations. Two in five adults in the U.S. have a job on the side, a Bankrate survey finds. These extra streams of income are meant to help combat their biggest concern—the cost of living, per Deloitte, but a new Bank of America report finds these side gigs still aren’t giving young adults enough money to get by. 

Meanwhile, boomers are also hustling, although not quite to such an extent. While 44% of those polled by H&R Block were retired, 38% were still working full-time and some had part-time gigs or a side hustle. One respondent noted they were “working extra hours to make more money.” 

That’s unsurprising considering $1 million is no longer enough to retire comfortably. As we live longer and navigate a more expensive economy, many people end up working longer or returning to the workforce for more money. Boomers aren’t going out of the office any time soon, it seems; a report from Bain & Company found that by 2031 older workers will make up more than a quarter of the workforce globally by 2031,10% higher than in 2011. 

The cost of living crisis

Middle-income boomers are also focused on postponing large purchases, preferring to save, invest, or pay off debt, H&R Block found. The majority at least have the security of owning a home, whereas millennials were the most likely to report to H&R Block that they’re still renting.

Even millennial millionaires rent because the cost of city living is so high. No wonder the generation increasingly feels like they’ll never be homeowners. (Although that might be slowly changing—the number of millennials who own a home finally exceeds those that rent one.)
Ultimately, 62% of millennials feel extremely concerned about inflation and 70% of boomers expect inflation to continue rising, per H&R Block. Even if inflation has technically made the middle class wealthier, that doesn’t stop households from feeling strapped as they navigate the squeeze of tight housing and job markets. After saving unprecedented amounts during the early pandemic, the middle class has since fallen from said great heights.

Still, middle-class millennials remain hopeful—they are most likely to believe their income will increase next year, at 67%. Middle class boomers weren’t so optimistic, with 66% believing their financial situation will stay the same or get worse. It’s an interesting dichotomy, considering that it’s millennials have often gotten the short end of the economic stick.

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