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Work isn’t as rewarding anymore

For baby boomers, there were clear rewards for working hard. Putting in an average amount of effort allowed a typical worker to buy a nice home, raise children comfortably and travel the world. In the 1980s, the average home price was just four or five times the median income. Now, it’s closer to 7.5 times.

Having a college degree was also far more rare in the 1980s. Now, nearly everyone in the job market has a degree so its value has been eroded. Meanwhile, the dollar has been eroded too. Wages haven’t kept up with inflation for decades, so an hour of work today isn’t worth as much as an hour of work in the '80s.

Upward mobility has declined too. A person born in a middle-class family in the 1940s was 93% likely to outearn their parents by the age of 30. For those born in the 1990s, that rate is just 45%.

Some noomers could beat the odds and create generational wealth by investing in stocks. However, even that's not as easy as it used to be. The S&P 500 was trading at around 10 times its earnings during the 1980s. It’s now trading in the low-20s.

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The relationship with corporations has changed

The employee-employer relationship has also changed since the '80s. Defined-benefit pension plans are nearly extinct. A major corporation that went public before the 1970s was 92% likely to survive the next five years. By the early 2000s, the rate had dropped to 63%.

Unions have also declined, which means workers now have far less bargaining power than their parents.

All these factors have made younger workers question the value of company loyalty and lifelong careers.

The pandemic altered perspective

The global pandemic may also have shifted work culture for everyone, not just younger employees.

The crisis triggered a retirement boom. And at the same time, younger workers saw how short life can be, and how easily their lifestyle can be disrupted by a global crisis like a pandemic or climate change. A study by Deloitte found that Gen Z and Millennials are more likely to prioritize work-life balance, flexible work arrangements and purposeful work.

The pandemic highlighted that remote work is a viable option for many companies. In fact, a survey by Buffer found that 98% of remote workers would like to continue working remotely at least some of the time for the rest of their careers.


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Vishesh Raisinghani Freelance Writer

Vishesh Raisinghani is a freelance contributor at MoneyWise. He has been writing about financial markets and economics since 2014 - having covered family offices, private equity, real estate, cryptocurrencies, and tech stocks over that period. His work has appeared in Seeking Alpha, Motley Fool Canada, Motley Fool UK, Mergers & Acquisitions, National Post, Financial Post, and Yahoo Canada.

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