Older adults have made dramatic gains relative to younger adults in their economic well being during the past quarter century, according to a new Pew Research Center analysis of data from two key U.S. Census sources. Trends in household wealth reveal the pattern most vividly. In 2009, the median net worth (all assets minus all debts) of households headed by an adult ages 65 or older was 42% more than that of their same-aged counterparts in 1984. By contrast, the net worth of a typical household headed by an adult under the age of 35 in 2009 was 68% less than that of their same-aged counterparts in 1984.
These age-based gaps widened significantly during the sour economy of recent years, but all key trends are several decades old, indicating that they are also linked to long-term demographic, social and economic changes that have affected different age groups in different ways. These changes include structural changes in the labor and housing markets; delayed marriage; delayed retirement; and the changing racial and ethnic composition of the population.