Millennials Most Risk Averse Generation Since Depression Era

Millennials have been called a lot of things—apathetic, late bloomers and the like—but savvy savers? That’s a new one.

But a new survey finds that Millennials are the most financially-conservative generation since the Great Depression. And the great recession is to blame.

The study, which was conducted by UBS Wealth Management Americas and defined Millennials as those ages 21 to 36, described their risk tolerance as either “conservative” or “somewhat conservative” (34%). They also added that saving was the best financial advice they had received, whereas other generations said that investing was the best advice they’d received.

This generation is extremely risk-averse when it comes to investing, the survey finds, with only 12% of Millennials saying they would invest money in the market, with 28% saying long-term investing is a pathway to success.

"They have a Depression Era mindset largely because they experienced market volatility and job security issues very early in their careers, or watched their parents experience them, and it has had a significant impact on their attitudes and behaviors,” UBS said in a release.

While they may not be flocking to equities, Andrew Meadows, consumer and brand ambassador at The Online 401(k), says Millennials may not have a real understanding of how to maximize the cash they have on hand.

“I am glad they are saving. That is the exciting part. But it’s one thing to save, and another to invest and understand what your money is doing. I think that is where they fall short.”

Calling this demographic “children of the recession,” Meadows says they experienced the financial realities of losing a job or home through either their own parents or friends and relatives.  “They know you have to be prepared for everything.”

That being said, 48% say financial freedom is the single most important factor of success and that a household of $220,000 defines success. They also say increased funds would notably improve their happiness, specifically an additional $1 million.

Financial advisor John O’Meara says he isn’t surprised to see Millennials keeping more investments in cash—they mirror the generation who lived through the Great Depression.

“They kept more cash than subsequent generations,” O’Meara says. “But over the long-term, that won’t become a winning strategy. If they don’t see another crash, they will become less risk averse.

UBS reports Millennials are also more optimistic about their own--and their children’s--abilities to be successful in the future. But will their children follow their parents’ lead? Both experts say it’s unlikely.

“Children of the Great Depression didn’t take that lesson from their parents,” O’Meara says. “Everyone takes their own experience and projects that out.”