May 30, 2023 8:02 am

Gen Z and millennials just want to be financially independent. Maskot—Getty Images

Unlike Peter Pan, millennials and Gen Zers would like to grow up. But today’s high cost of living has made these younger generations go from lost boys to lost adults, as many of them say it’s preventing them from becoming self-sufficient. Despite the long-held narrative that they’re relying on their parents because they’re spending frivolously on brunch and travel, a majority of them (68%) report in an Experian survey that the state of the economy is “hurting their ability to be a financially independent adult.” These younger generations are facing more of an uphill battle when it comes to building wealth and affording the same things their parents could, thanks to the difficult set of cards the economy has dealt them.

Millennials graduated into the Great Recession and its rocky aftermath, while Gen Z got their little sister version of an economic plight with the shorter-lived Coronavirus recession. Both are shouldering the burden of massive student loan debt, reckoning with a bad housing market as first-time homebuyers, and facing true inflation for the first time in their lives. No wonder so many lack confidence they’ll be able to afford their dream future. 

Over 70% of Gen Z and millennials in the Experian survey said that recent economic news (like talk of an impending recession) and layoffs have them more focused on their financial health, with most saying they’d feel better about their situation if they better understood personal finance. Many said they’re trying to become more financially literate and many are taking out all the stops to get by, adding second jobs, looking into a crystal ball for financial insight, and leaning on their parents for help. 

Millennials were already known for living with their parents longer than past generations did, but even more young adults moved back home when the pandemic hit, reaching a level not seen since the Great Depression. While many have since moved out, the trend didn’t end with lockdown; facing financial instability, one in eight millennials moved in with their parents in 2022. It helped them cut some costs, enabling them to save up enough money to afford rent or even buy a home. (Although homebuying still hasn’t been a smooth road for them, considering that baby boomers have a leg up on the same houses that younger families want.)

Other young adults are getting financial assistance from their parents’ wallets. A separate survey found that 35% of millennials say their parents pay at least one of their monthly bills. And some parents are even dipping into their retirement funds to help their kids out. The financial help (whether that be in the form of inheritance or down payments on a big investment like a car or home) has helped some millennials finally start to feel like things are taking a turn for the better.

It’s just happening later than the precedent past generations set, but it’s all part of a new norm millennials created as they chose to stay in school longer and settle down later. But that doesn’t mean young adults don’t feel behind—a typical feeling for 20-somethings especially, psychologist Jeffrey Arnett told Insider.

As Gail, an assistant professor, age 36, told Fortune’s Alicia Adamczyk, “We graduated right after the financial crisis, and I think we’re in a good position now, but it took us a long time to get here.”