Summary List Placement
The pandemic has had a lopsided affect on millennials, a generation that was already divided before 2020 by wealth and opportunity, among other things.
Millennials' first recession — the financial crisis — split the generation down the middle, as the older cohort graduated into a stagnated job market and the younger cohort caught the tailwind of the recovery. Pre-pandemic, millennials were marked by high income inequality that looked even starker along racial lines.
The pandemic has intensified this wealth divide, with some millennials faring well and others continuing to struggle, mirroring America's K-shaped recovery. But this divide exacerbated and even created other ones, with a huge impact on careers on the one hand, and the very concept of adulthood on the other.
Here's how the pandemic has further fragmented the millennial generation.
Widening wealth inequality has been a feature of American life in the 21st century, but the coronavirus pandemic has amplified a growing gap within the millennial generation.
Christine Percheski, demographer and associate professor of sociology at Northwestern University, previously told Insider that the pandemic has exacerbated the high income inequality that existed among millennials pre-Covid.
"This pandemic is widening economic inequalities within millennials, with some millennials relatively unscathed economically and others just completely financially devastated by unemployment losses, increased childcare costs, lost economic opportunities, and lingering health problems that they or family members are going to experience," she said.
Millennials who already had lower earnings prepandemic and millennials with children are among those in the generation suffering the most right now, she added. Those who found themselves unemployed are likely "burning through whatever savings they had," Percheski said.
On the other end of the spectrum is a group of wealthier millennials that's been able to spend less disposable income than in non-COVID times and built up some savings during the pandemic, according to Percheski.
This wealth gap has accentuated several other chasms within the millennial generation, such as a career gap.
Many of these millennials like worked in experience-focused industries, like travel and hospitality, which were hardest hit during the coronavirus recession. It's a contrast from the millennials faring well, who have been fortunate to work in industries that have remained stable.
"It's a big difference between the millennial who works in cloud computing versus the one who manages a restaurant," Jason Dorsey, president of the Center for Generational Kinetics, previously told Insider.
Prior to the pandemic, there were already two types of millennials, according to Dorsey: the "mega-llennial" who was moving ahead professionally and the "me-llennial" who felt behind in their career. The pandemic has added another dynamic to this career disparity, in which those laid off or furloughed from service jobs, or worked them on the frontlines, were put more at risk financially and health-wise.
There is also a divide in millennials' living situations as some become homeowners and others become roommates with their parents.
Many millennials fled big cities for the suburbs during the pandemic, as historically low interest rates and the option to work remotely made more types of homes viable for the generation.
Millennials led all generations in homebuying last year, according to Apartment List's Homeownership report, accelerating a five-year trend in millennial homeownership rates rising the fastest. And 30% of millennials said in a recent survey by Clever Real Estate that the pandemic pushed them to house-hunting earlier than planned.
Even for urban renters, those who stayed in cities are embarking on solo living for the first time amid rent drops, finding new lifestyles and a new sense of independence.
But not all millennials upgraded their living situation. Some, whether for affordability reasons or the desire to be closer to family during a global health crisis, moved back in with their parents. More than half (52%) of young adults who were quarantining with their parents in July, which could lead to feelings of regression.
"Most people expect to be able to stay on their own," psychologist Jeffrey Arnett previously told Insider. "They get used to paying their own bills and doing their own laundry and buying their own groceries. And then to come home, it feels like a defeat."
It's all given rise to an adulthood gap, as some move into the responsibilities and stress of adulthood while others stand still in extended adolescence.
Millennials' struggles with "adulting" have been long documented, but their journey into adulthood has been a challenging one thanks to a relentless affordability crisis. But the pandemic has, ironically, brought the traditional trappings of adulthood — think independence and responsibility — within sight for some millennials.
First-time homeowners and those venturing into living on their own in cities have taken the next step in their living situation. Some have also turned for the first time to "nesting" activities such as organizing and cooking. More than 80% of millennial homeowners surveyed last year by OnePoll, on behalf of Bernzomatic, said they tackled a home renovation during the pandemic, the highest share of any generation.
And most are grappling with adult-level stress that ages them both mentally and physically. Research shows that abnormally stressful events not only physically age your brain but make emerging adults feel at least a year older.
However, another kind of stress has emerged for the other side of the adulthood gap: millennials living with their parents. The pandemic is the latest in a series of economic challenges millennials have faced. Arnett said it scrambled and delayed things for the younger cohort, the most likely to have lost their jobs. A halted career and no income stream, which makes goals like homebuying seem out of reach, most likely pushed any sense of adulthood further away for those affected.
It's all another manifestation of the K-shaped recovery, which has benefited those with means and hurt nearly everyone else.