Shifting Generational Values: A Forecast for Future Economic Trends

by Ashley Baldwin in ,

At a recent Oregon Women Lawyers networking event held in Portland, Judith McGee, chief executive officer and co-branch manager of McGee Wealth Management, drew the crowd’s attention to formative attitudes each generation shares and how these differences shape economic environments in the home, workplace and country at large.

Gesturing to her daughter and granddaughter, McGee demonstrated the generational gaps found in many companies to a group of about 50 professional women of all ages. Her business is composed of three generations of women, who all bring similar but different perspectives to the mix, and in particular, varying views on finances.

“My daughter is my co-manager and president, and my granddaughter is our marketing manager. I learn from both, and hopefully they have learned some things from me. We can use that understanding of our differences in order to move forward to a better, more successful future. And by success, I mean in all areas of life,” she said.

McGee believes that understanding the economic environment in which each generation came of age will help forecast trends in technology, housing, the economy and careers as we move forward.

McGee offered examples of the different economic worlds that each generation has faced, beginning with the “Depression Era” (born 1912-1921). This generation could buy a house for an average of $3,845, or twice the average annual salary of $1,970. This was a money saving generation that used cash to purchase what they wanted.

She compared the above scenario to the “Baby Boomers,” (born 1946-1964) a group she divided into two segments. While both had access to credit and used it, the second half of the generation was the first group to drive the economy through credit.

Spending habits and a country’s economic health influence how generations view the world, McGee explained. Each generation views money differently: The Depression Era generation saved and paid in cash; the first wave of Baby Boomers were the first credit card holders; the second wave of Baby Boomers were fearless borrowers; Generation X (Born 1966-1979) is made up of conservative spenders who demand their presumed worth in the job market; and Generation Y spends more on social experiences than material goods.

McGee's presentation was taken from research for a book she is writing. Understanding the differences among generations will help shape our country’s economic success, she stated. “As a nation, we are generally positive people. We should build on that optimism by understanding where we are and where we have been. That understanding will help us build the successful future we all want,” she said.

McGee recalled the recent global financial crisis and how it has affected each generation and the population as a whole. One in seven mortgages during the onset of the most recent economic crisis (2007) were “underwater.” With an unemployment rate of 10% during the height of the crisis, American wealth declined by an average of 63%. One in seven children were living with a parent who had lost his or her job. More frighteningly, 20% of families living in the U.S. during the crisis did not have enough money to buy food. Time will only tell how the most recent economic climate will impact the generation growing up now, however, she said.

Forecasting the future, McGee said her research suggests more reliance on advanced and accessible technology, increased online media coverage and careers that mirror the STEM (Science Technology Engineering and Math) program being promoted and funded by federal and state governments.

For example, Generation Y is very driven by philanthropy and sustainability and wants to make the world a better place. Because of these generational traits McGee predicts that we’ll see more jobs in cyber security, genetic counseling, medical and technology areas. Similarly, there will likely be more employment opportunities in sustainability and organic farming.

McGee encourages us to embrace these generational differences when looking to the future. “We can view our generational differences as communications challenges or building blocks for the future,” she said. She fondly refers to this process as “co-mentorship,” a tool that we can use to our advantage in the workplace or otherwise. As McGee concluded her presentation, she took her own advice by proudly acknowledging her granddaughter’s PowerPoint slides used in her presentation.