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Can Millennials Guess Prices From the Past? [Survey]

August 22, 2018

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Millennials have a tendency to blame baby boomers. But how well do they understand the generation?

Much has been said about how millennials — the generation that encompasses the part of the population born between 1981 and 1996 — views money. As a whole, millennials are meeting financial milestones, like achieving financial independence from their parents, buying their own homes, and saving for retirement, later than the generation before them. In fact, the average age of first-time homeowners in 2017 was 33, a contrast to those in the boomer generation, who bought homes in their 20s.

Within the generation, some of this discrepancy is attributed to how the value of currency and commodities has shifted within the last few decades, with millennials pointing to the ability of older generations to work lower-paying jobs and still afford investments and commodities like real estate. In fact, the generational “feud” often has millennials blaming baby boomers for ruining the economy and the housing market.

But how well does the millennial generation actually understand the cost of things from the past? To find out, we surveyed 5,000 Americans in the millennial generation to see how well they could guess the prices of items in the 1980s. The prices we polled them on were the true cost of each item in their respective year, not adjusted for inflation. Some findings included:

Overall, members of the millennial generation think that items in the 1980s cost less than they actually did, with the majority guessing the lowest price possible for every single item

Millennials found prices of all items difficult to guess, although they struggled the most with prices of game and music items; only 8% correctly guessed the price of a 1980 Walkman and only 13% correctly guessed the price of a 1985 Nintendo

Older millennials were more likely to guess items correctly

Millennials Think Life in the Past Was Cheaper Than It Really Was

Overall, our study found that the majority of millennials believe that life in the 1980s was cheaper than it really was. Of the five items we polled them on, none of the actual prices were correctly guessed. In fact, not only did millennials not guess the correct price, the majority guessed the lowest possible price offered as a choice for every item.

Portable color TV (1980): 44% guessed the lowest possible price

Walkman (1980): 53% guessed the lowest possible price

Apple Macintosh (1984): 42% guessed the lowest possible price

Movie ticket (1985): 48% guessed the lowest possible price

Nintendo (1985): 54% guessed the lowest possible price

Millennials affinity for choosing the lowest cost available hints at a skewed perception toward the living cost of past generations, suggesting that while they may believe that their parents’ generation had it easier, their understanding of actual living conditions is distorted.

Millennials Struggle to Guess Prices Across All Items

We also found that millennials struggled to guess prices across all items, regardless of the category. Millennials found the cost of a 1980s Walkman the most difficult to guess, with only 8 percent of respondents guessing the correct price of $200. This may be a result of a lack of comparable product in today’s market; the Walkman was largely phased out by the iPod.

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Millennials found the price of a 1980 portable color TV the easiest to guess, with approximately 1 in 4 respondents guessing the correct price of $589.95.

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Older Millennials Are More Likely to Guess Prices Correctly

Perhaps unsurprisingly, our research found that older millennials were more likely to guess prices correctly than their younger counterparts.

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In fact, older millennials always correctly guessed the cost of items over those on the younger side of the generation, demonstrating that millennials who were actually alive, although young, in the 1980s have a better understanding of the cost of items than those who were not yet born during that time period.

Millennial Attitudes Toward Money Differ From Earlier Generations

As a whole, the millennial generation’s attitude toward money differs from their predecessors. Studies have shown that millennials are more open to discussing money than their parents’ generation and find the topic generally less taboo. It’s not just the way millennials view money that differs, either — it’s also how they spend it. The majority of millennials prefer to shop online and spend their money on small luxuries or commodities that support an experience.

While generational divides on key issues are expected, the tendency of millennials to reference the living costs of the baby boomer generation in contrast to their own is intriguing when their inability to accurately guess those costs is taken into account. For a full overview of how much millennials think items cost in the 1980s — versus how much they actually did — check out our full infographic below.

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