Spending Habits by Generation

Move over, baby boomers: millennials are now America’s largest generation.* Over the past few years, my colleagues and I at the Bureau of Labor Statistics have gotten a lot of questions about millennials’ spending habits. As more millennials enter the workforce, the purchasing power of this generation increases, and both marketers and researchers are interested in how millennials choose to spend their paychecks. So we decided to start sorting our data on American spending habits by generation two years ago. We now have a much better idea of household spending for millennials, Gen X, baby boomers, the Silent Generation and Greatest Generation. Chart showing generational spending habits by household. Scroll to the bottom of the blog post for an all-text version. The research tables we produced show that generational spending habits differ in ways both expected and surprising. (See below for a text version of the chart). Here’s what we found: https://www.facebook.com/departmentoflabor/videos/vb.190226429055/101553... (Transcript of the video.) *Editor's note: The Consumer Expenditure Survey is a household survey. While millennials outnumber other generations in number, they come in third behind Gen X and baby boomers with regards to independent households. Why’s that?  Not all millennials are out living on their own just yet, so they’re not counted as separate households. Steve Henderson is an economist with the Bureau of Labor Statistics.  

Annual Household Average Millennials (1981-now) Generation X (1965 to 1980) Baby boomers (1946 to 1964) Silent generation (1929 to 1945) Greatest Generation (1928 or Earlier)
Housing $16,505 $21,954 $18,320 $15,107 $13,717
Clothing $1,708 $2,442 $1,937 $848 $221
Eating Out $2,891 $3,864 $2,900 $1,964 $1,087
Food at Home $3,264 $4,882 $4,243 $3,164 $2,505
Entertainment $2,186 $3,231 $3,286 $2,276 $885
All Other Spending $20,559 $30,608 $28,960 $18,988 $10,626
Total Spending $47,113 $66,981 $59,646 $42,347 $29,040


Video Transcript

How do millennials spend their money? Unlike older generations, the majority of millennials (2 out of 3) rent. Millennials have the fewest vehicles (1.5) of any generation, except those born before 1929. Gen Xers spend the most money overall, but millennials spend the largest share of their budget (over 6 percent) eating out. Millennials spend less on entertainment ($2,186) than baby boomers and Gen Xers. Millennials also spend less ($1,708) on apparel than baby boomers and Gen Xers, but spend the most on motorcycles. They also spend the most ($169) on clothing for children under 2. #BabyShowers Learn more: bls.gov/generations

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Thank you for the chart. This chart will be very helpful.

Knowing that Millennials can remain on their parents employer sponsored health plan until age 26, I would be interested to know what is spent on health care

Of course Millennials can be reported as the largest generation. All other generational categories are 20-25 year periods of time. You've got 30+ years and counting in the millennial category. That may the conventional period to include when defining millennials. It is not, however, accurate for comparison to other generations when addressing pure numbers of people contained in each category.

Millennials include ages 21-35, not 30+ years of people.

I'd also like to see what portion of spending across generations is going towards paying off indebtedness other than housing, especially student loans.

I love stats like this! There is so much talk in workplace about millennials and baby boomers and Gen X. I happen to be a GenX and that's a very close snapshot of our spending, perhaps because we still have a mortgage in it's cycle, young children, etc.

We need a new CPI formula, such as CPI-E, in order to properly track the spending patterns of seniors/retirees, relative to cost-of-living-adjustments(COLA's)...you know, for the retirement benefits that impact the ones that are actually on retirement budgets. Why are we still tracking the spending of younger workers, as in the current CPI-W formula...?

Two thoughts:

-Why is the millennial generation covering a 35 year span when other generations are typically around 15 years? That would explain why they are the largest (I am guessing at some point the current span of years to identify millennials will be broken into two).

-Since a large portion of millennials are not yet financially independent from their families (regardless if they are work age and even if they are working) I believe it may appear they spend the same on housing, spend more eating out, etc. but when they shoulder a high mortgage (ballooning housing costs), have a family, etc. and are not living with their parents/family that pattern will change.

Wondering about millennial annual expenditureon on student loan debt, and if/how this would correlate to other spending habits, and also any correlations to what professions millennial's are/are not choosing.

Last frame of the video refers to "learn more at bls.gov/generations." This website does not exist.

Hi Jerry,
That link works when we tested it. It's a redirect to this page: http://www.bls.gov/cex/csxresearchtables.htm#generational.

This chart appears to represent household consumption, and since taxes are not included, I assume it's after tax consumption. I am a little unclear how expenditures appear to average around $70k when mean household income is around $60K, and I assume that is a pre-tax figure. I would be interested to see how these figures can be reconciled, assuming the delta doesn't represent borrowed money.

Actually, according to BLS, "Median annual household income in 2016 has ... [gone] from $57,985 in January 2016 to $57,616 in September 2016." This is considerably below the consumption levels shown in this note, even ignoring the issue of taxes.

So glad you published this article. Very helpful.

The Millennials spend less on housing than most other groups because so many are still living with their parents.

Interesting information.....for sighted individuals. Please rethink using a video with nothing but printed words and no audible text and a graph with no descriptive information. This was not accessible for those with screen readers.

Thanks for the feedback, Vick. We're working on updating this so there is text version of information we share in the chart.

Its nice to seethe bbreak down by generations. Very informative. Do you have a report that shows what Millennials vs Gen X's spend their money on or where they shop for clothing or misc spending based off their housing demographics?

Ms Hill, we don’t have a report that answers your question specifically, but you can see the full set of generational tables at https://www.bls.gov/cex/csxresearchtables.htm#generational. Additionally, you can find cross-tabulated tables by age x US Census region and also age x income at https://www.bls.gov/cex/tables.htm#crosstab. For the millennial generation, just merge the columns for under 25 and 25 to 34.

This sure is an interesting read and great charge! However, I wonder how the travel industry is represented amongst millenials and GenX.
I am part of the www.accesmallorca.com group in Europe, and naturally, it is of utmost interest to us how the different generations from the US travels and spend money while traveling.

Will the BLS be adding to this data set of expenditures by generation (by industry) for 2016? If so, when might we expect to see those results? Thanks so much.

Karel, we just published our midyear standard tables today, so the midyear special research generational table should be coming soon. As to the 2016 data set: Yes, BLS plans to publish the annual 2016 tables, including spending by generations, later this year.


Any idea why most generations cover a span of 16 to 18 years while millennials are spanning 26 years and counting? Not surprising that a "generation" covering 26+ years has a greater potential than generations of half the span.

The resulting portrait of consumer spending patterns provides insight on how the consumer budget has evolved and I think this is accurate.

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