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Why generational labels are harming our finances

Updated 04 June 2024

5min read

Lisa-Marie Voneshen

Generational stereotypes may appear to be harmless fun, but they can be damaging to your finances and relationship with money, according to the latest research from Unbiased.


  • Generational stereotypes and the language used in the financial media can damage your relationship with money.

  • Unbiased's research has uncovered some concerning findings and calls for an end to generational labels.

  • Our Make Money Ageless campaign, makemoneyageless.com offers insight into how bad financial stereotyping can be by giving a media persona based on your birth year.

  • Getting expert financial advice can help you reach your future goals.

Unbiased has conducted a study to examine the impact generational labels and stereotyping in the media are having on people’s relationship with their finances.

They worked with a team of UCL researchers led by Dr Nick Gadby to study how language is used in over 2,500 articles in the personal finance media.

The findings show an overwhelming use of negative stereotyping, which significantly influences our financial and mental wellbeing.

Unbiased wants to eliminate negative conversations around personal finance by removing generational labels and allowing people to be objective about their finances, whether it's their pensions, mortgages or investments.

Getting expert advice from a qualified financial adviser can help you reach your money goals based on your unique circumstances, not stereotypes spread in the media.

As part of our Make Money Ageless campaign, makemoneyageless.com offers insight into how bad financial stereotyping can be by giving you a media persona based on your birth year.

‘Selfish villains’ vs ‘hapless have-nots’

According to the media, so-called baby boomers (born between 1946 and 1964) are ‘selfish’ villains, as over half of the articles (53%) portrayed them negatively.

71% of personal finance articles have framed baby boomers as antagonists in stories of ‘stressed’ so-called millennials (born between 1981 and 1996) and Gen Z (born between 1997 and 2012).

While baby boomers are being portrayed as villains, millennials are framed as victims of circumstance, with over half of articles (57%) framing them as ‘hapless have-nots.’

However, some generational groups are largely ignored, with only 5% of articles exploring the personal finances of the so-called Gen X (born between 1965 and 1980).

Why stereotypes are so damaging

By tapping into generational stereotypes, no one benefits, as it can damage financial confidence and lower engagement with our finances.

“The generational labels our society uses to bucket people have become stigmatised - they now carry far more meaning than just telling us someone’s age, they carry a value judgement,” says psychologist Dr Linda Papadopoulos.

“For example, it’s fair to say calling someone a baby boomer is effectively an insult.

“And they become a self-fulfilling prophecy - we’re told that we are something, we unconsciously start living up to it, and then it becomes true.

“Decades of psychological research is clear on how powerful this cycle can be.

“What’s important is breaking free of these ways of thinking that affect us all - and acting as an individual.”

She urges people to ignore these generational labels and take control of their financial future.

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What key findings did our research reveal?

Our research exposed three key findings.

1. Generational stereotyping via language is turning us into ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots’

The long-running tensions between different generations are often based on the situations they face and the sentiments surrounding them.

The research has revealed that 69% of articles on generational finance only examine one group, so they lack the context and information for a full picture.

There’s also a noticeable split in sentiment, outlined below:

  • In 57% of personal finance articles, millennials typically receive positive coverage and are traditionally seen as victims and ‘trapped have-nots.’

  • Only a quarter of articles directed at so-called baby boomers have a positive sentiment, with 53% of their stories coming across negatively and creating a narrative of ‘selfish haves.’

  • For Gen Z, 53% of articles are positive, but they also see a lot of negative representation at 21% compared to only 2% of negativity directed towards millennials. They are typically seen as ‘conflicted have-nots.’

Our research has revealed that the majority of negative articles about baby boomers portray them as ‘stingy, greedy, and selfish,’ oblivious to their advantages and ignorant of problems faced by younger people.

However, this appears to be an unfair generalisation as 2.1 million people over the age of 65 live in relative poverty in the UK, according to the Centre for Ageing Better.

In real terms, this equates to nearly one in five people in this age group who may be unable to afford their household bills, let alone support others.

While some generations are a key focus, others have been nearly forgotten. Gen X is only mentioned in 5% of financial articles despite making up 20% of the UK population.

Gen X has been neglected as they don’t fit easily into a narrative of generation difference or conflict.

2. Stereotypes favour hostile narratives over those that may show common ground

In around a third of financial articles that directly compare generations, there is a greater potential for hostility, leading to these groups being pitted against each other.

For example, when baby boomers are compared to other generations, such as those asking which is best or ‘winning,’ nearly half are hostile, while only 15% find common ground.

Many articles can be openly combative, asking readers to ‘lay off’ younger generations or accusing baby boomers of spending money that they should be passing onto future generations.

3. Highly emotive language of generational stereotyping is making people feel trapped

Our research highlights the different emotional language used around each generation and the impact it is having:

  • Millennials: The emotional language used in the finance media is largely negative, including ‘frustrated’ and ‘anxious,’ suggesting they are stuck. Positive language tends to be passive, such as ‘optimistic’ and ‘hopeful,’ contrasting with baby boomers and perceived wealth.

  • Baby boomers: The language often suggests stability and security, including words such as ‘lucky’ and ‘comfortable.’ However, there’s much negative language with this group being labelled as ‘selfish’ and ‘stubborn.’

  • Gen Z: The language around Gen Z usually reflects a ‘can-do’ generation through terms such as ‘resilient’ and ‘ambitious.’ However, there are some negative terms used, such as ‘lazy’ and ‘stressed.’

  • Comparing generations: Often when generations are compared, the language is negative with terms such as ‘worry’ and ‘frustration’ used. Younger readers may see more emotional words, including ‘jealous,’ ‘bitter’ and ‘disillusioned’ to suggest resentment for older people, while the latter may see terms like ‘ashamed.’

The impact of stereotyping on financial content

Our research has also exposed that generalisations don’t end with the language used and the stereotypes created.

When an author attempts to offer financial guidance, it is often too general to be of any use or benefit. For example, this guidance frequently includes ‘money saving hacks,’ creating an ‘emergency fund,’ or ‘sticking to your shopping list.’

While these tips can be helpful, they fail to acknowledge the unique financial goals and challenges people have at different stages of their lives.

So, someone ready to retire will need different advice from someone in their 30s who is considering starting a family.

Need financial advice?

If you have money goals you want to achieve, you should seek advice from a qualified financial adviser. They can look at your unique circumstances and recommend the best course of action.

Unbiased can connect you to a financial adviser after you fill in this one-minute form.

Get financial advice
We’ll find a professional perfectly matched to your needs. Getting started is easy, fast and free.

About the author
Lisa-Marie Voneshen is a Senior Content Writer at Unbiased. She is an award-winning journalist with nearly a decade of experience writing and editing content across various areas, including personal finance and investing.