The Economic and Financial Status of Older Americans: Trends and Prospects

Source: William R. Emmons and Bryan J. Noeth, Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, Center for Household Financial Stability, Working Paper, September 4, 2013

The global financial crisis and ensuing Great Recession reduced the income and wealth of many families, but older families generally fared better than young and middle-aged families. The Federal Reserve’s Survey of Consumer Finances reveals that being young was a significant risk factor during the downturn, regardless of a family’s race, ethnicity, or education level. Among older families, those headed by someone 70 or over fared slightly better than those headed by someone between 62 and 69. Income and wealth also increased most strongly among older families during the two decades preceding the crisis. Part of the explanation for favorable income and wealth trends among currently living older Americans is a positive birth-year cohort effect. After controlling for a host of factors related to income and wealth, we find that cohorts born in the late 1930s and 1940s have experienced more favorable income and wealth trajectories over their life courses than earlier-or later-born cohorts. While it is too soon to know how cohorts born in recent decades will fare over their lifetimes, it appears that the median Baby Boomer (born in the 1950s and early 1960s) and median member of Generation X (born in the late 1960s and 1970s) are on track for lower income and wealth in older age than those born in the 1930s and 1940s, holding constant many factors other than when a person was born.