Rising Age Gap in Economic Well-being
Disparities in personal wealth in America are often measured along the lines of gender, race and geography. As economic shifts continue, however, an emerging divide relates to the age of the household head. Recently the gap between older and younger households has widened dramatically, sharpening concerns that new generations of Americans may not enjoy the progress that previous generations did.
A 2011 report by the Pew Research Center, “The Rising Age Gap in Economic Well-Being,” analyzed data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s Survey of Income and Program Participation (SIPP). The survey compared 6,513 households headed by persons younger than 35 with nearly 8,500 headed by adults ages 65 and older.
The study’s findings are as follows, broken out into key categories:
- Home equity: Adults aged 65 and older are now more likely to own a home: 79% in 2009 versus 73% in 1984. Older households also had 57% more equity in their homes in 2009 than did those in 1984. By comparison, households headed by adults under 35 had less housing wealth in 2009 than in 1984 and were less likely to be homeowners: 38% in 2009 versus 40% in 1984.
- Assets: In 2009, older households possessed 42% more net worth than similar households did in 1984. However, households headed by younger adults in 2009 had 68% less net worth than similar households in 1984.
- Income: For younger households, in 1967 the median adjusted annual income was $38,555; in 2010, it was $49,145, an increase of 27%. For households headed by adults over 65, in 1967 the median adjusted annual income was $20,804; in 2010, it was $43,401, an increase of 109%.
- Net wealth: In 2009, older households had 47 times as much net wealth as the typical household headed by someone in the younger age group ($170,494 versus $3,662). By comparison, in 1984 this ratio was 10 to 1. In 1984, the median net wealth gap between old and young was $108,936; by 2009, that gap had widened to $166,832.
- Overall, households headed by adults under 35 are much more likely to be living below the poverty line: in 1967, 11% of such households were in poverty; by 2010, that number had doubled to 22%.
The authors conclude: “These age-based divergences of households widened substantially with the housing market collapse of 2006, the Great Recession of 2007-2009 and the ensuing jobless recovery. But they all began appearing decades earlier, suggesting they are as much linked to long-term demographic and social changes as they are to the sour economy of recent years. For the young, these long-term changes include delayed entry into the labor market and delays in marriage — two markers of adulthood traditionally linked to income growth and wealth accumulation. Today’s young adults also start out in life more burdened by college loans than their same-aged peers were in past decades.”
Tags: poverty, youth aging
Note to instructor: The suggested assignments are designed for flexibility. They can be used in whole or part and can be adapted to a particular task -- for example, the newswriting assignments could be applied to the writing of the headline, the lead, the nut graph or the full story. Material from the assignments could also be combined with other material, for example, in the writing of a background, feature or local-angle story.
Read the study titled “The Rising Age Gap in Economic Well-being.”
- Summarize the study in fewer than 40 words.
- Express the study's key term(s) in language a lay audience can understand.
- Evaluate the study's limitations. (For example: Do the results conflict with those of other reliable studies? Are there weaknesses in the study's data or research design?)
Read the study-related Politico article titled "Study: Record young-old wealth gap."
- Reporter's use of the study: Evaluate what the reporter chose to include and exclude from the study. Would the audience have acquired a clear understanding of the study's findings and limits from this article?
- Reporter's use of other material: Assess the material in the article that is not derived from the study. For example, does the reporter place the study in the context of other research and to what effect? Does the reporter include reactions to the study from other researchers or interested parties (e.g., political groups business leaders, or community members) and are their credentials or possible biases made clear?
- Write a lead (or headline or nut graph) based on the study.
- Spend 60 minutes exploring the issue by accessing sources of information other than the study. Write a lead (or headline or nut graph) based on the study but informed by the new information. Does the new information significantly change what one would write based on the study alone?
- Interview two sources with a stake in or knowledge of the issue. Be prepared to provide them with a short summary of the study in order to get their response to it. Write a 400-word article about the study incorporating material from the interviews.
- Spend additional time exploring the issue and then write a 1,200-word background article, focusing on major aspects of the issue.