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Are teenagers out of touch with reality?

So yesterday on Moneyville, Madhavi wrote an interesting article called “Teens think they’ll earn $90,000 a year by age 30.”

According to the National Report Card on Youth Financial Literacy (.pdf), high school graduates seem to be extremely disconnected from reality. Especially when you consider the results from a survey of over 3,000 recent Canadian high school graduates:

  • The average survey respondent expects to earn $90,735 in 10 years; roughly three times the average income of 25 to 29 year‐olds with post‐secondary degrees ($31,648).
  • The median survey respondent expects to earn $70,000 in 10 years.  However, the median income for a 25 to 29 year‐old with at least a high school diploma is $26,000.  Even among Canadians between the ages of 25 and 29 who have a post‐secondary degree, the median income is only $29,000.
  • Nearly 3‐in‐4 (73%) expect to own a home within the next 10 years, and according to estimates by Statistics Canada, only 42% of 25 to 29 year‐olds are homeowners.
  • A large majority of respondents (81%) believe they will be financially better off in life than their parents.

Now check out some comments from Madhavi’s Moneyville article:

  • “These kids are in for a very rude awakening.”
  • “Sure, if minimum wage is raised to $45 an hour!”
  • “Realistic? I think not. Since when have teens been known to be realistic about their expectations, in general?”
  • “I’m not surprised. They have a sense of entitlement and the problem is, they now get coddled in University as well.”
  • “For that kind of money you either need to be a stock broker, sling crack rock, or have a wicked jump shot. Welcome to reality kids!”
  • “This is a generation that has been sold a bill of goods: Get a University education and you shall write your own ticket. Most have never been denied a single thing, gotten everything they’ve asked for and so much more. Fifteen year olds with $200 sneakers and $75/monthly cell phone plans. Inflated grades for mediocre performances. It’s no wonder their expectations are so unrealistic.”

Teenagers are optimistic – and they should be! I don’t want to live in a country where youth are being told that they have to aim low, because what they really want in life isn’t going to happen. Those Moneyville comments angered me. Are these the people our youth are looking up to? How inspiring and motivational to be told that life sucks, it will never be what you want it to be, and to stop trying to accomplish anything. Sure, eventually most teenagers won’t earn anywhere near $90,000 by the time they’re 30. But I think we should be teaching them that if the really want it, and are willing to work hard for it, they can achieve anything they want in life.

Related: How I landed my first job out of college

I’m 29, and while I don’t make $90k, I’m close. And I expect that next year (the year I turn 30), I will hover around that $90k mark. It’s something I never expected, and I’m extremely grateful for it. But I have also had to work incredibly hard for that money and for my career – probably harder than most people who bring in that kind of salary. Nothing has come easy. But in my teens and into my 20’s, every time someone told me I couldn’t do something, or that my expectations were unrealistic, that lit a fire in me. I wanted to prove them wrong so badly. And if I can do it, anybody can. Truly.

Last week, I was talking to my boyfriend about careers, and that I think we are growing up with a huge sense of entitlement. We expect great jobs and great salaries to be there waiting for us, we expect to climb the corporate ladder quickly, and we want everything yesterday. And that’s the problem. I think that the disconnect between high school dreams and the reality of the real world comes from the fact that there are many students who never apply themselves – maybe because they don’t think they have to. There are definitely teachers and parents out there who sugarcoat what reality will be like after they finish their education. So some students never pushes themselves to achieve more, yet there is an expectation set in them, and they feel like they are entitled to the same thing as those who do work hard.

Related: How I saved for my down payment

I am hopeful that the teenagers who are entering University and starting adulthood keep thinking optimistically about their future, but to be realistic about their expectations. I hope that they truly understand that nothing gets handed to you once you graduate. The job market is extremely competitive, and if you want a great salary, that car, a house, and a comfortable (debt-free) life, you need to earn it.

To the youth of today: you can truly do great things with your life and with your career – don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. But you have to want it more than your peers, and you have to want it more than those who already have it. Be hungry. Work hard, don’t take anything for granted, and create opportunities for yourself.

Do you think teenagers are out of touch with reality?

Author: Krystal Yee

I’m a personal finance blogger and marketing professional based in Vancouver. I’m a former Toronto Star (Moneyville) columnist, author of The Beginner’s Guide to Saving and Investing, and co-founder of the Canadian Personal Finance Conference. When I’m not working, you can usually find me running, climbing, playing field hockey, or plotting my next adventure.


  1. AMD says:

    I read this article too yesterday and was considering writing about it. I think you’ve covered a great synopsis. There was one other comment about supply and demand of certain types of jobs, which can also help teenagers achieve their dreams. I’d say it’s really good advice to figure out what your end goal is (is it more important for you to achieve the salary or is it more important to work a different type of less profitable job?) and consider your choice of career appropriately.

  2. Dan Brown says:

    “…roughly three times the average income of 25 to 29 year‐olds with post‐secondary degrees ($31,648).”

    Does this include everyone that have jobs? As in, 25-29 year olds with full-time salaries? I would expect that number to go up quite a bit. I just imagine these teens see themselves as getting good stable jobs when they’re older.

    I definitely agree that they should be optimistic – is it wrong for these kids to want to be doctors, lawyers or engineers? I think not, and if they become those professions then the money will come. Just my $0.02.

  3. Melissa says:

    I read this, too, and I think all the commenters, and maybe even the survey leaders have missed the point a bit. This isn’t about entitlement or about being out of touch with reality, but about kids being given unrealistic expectations.

    Where do these kids get the idea they’ll be making $90k when they’re thirty? They don’t pull the number out of thin air: someone has given them that idea. If the party line in high school is to “get your degree and then you’ll have it made,” then how can we blame these kids for believing it? It wasn’t that long ago that I was in high school, and no one ever sat me down and said, “OK, these are your interests, and this is what you think you want to major in, and these are the kind of careers you could get and these are the typical salary ranges.” No, I was just told to work hard, get my degree, and then I would make lots of money. Period. As an adult I learned that wasn’t exactly the case, but as teenagers, how can we describe them as entitled and out of touch with reality for just believing the teachers we told them to believe?

  4. Don’t forget about when you were a teen. The teachers were telling you to get good grades, get into university and you WILL get a good job! (hey, they had to give you some sort of incentive to show up to teen prison, er, school – right?). The guidance counsellors were worse! It was their JOB to keep you motivated. And lastly, the university recruiters spew on and on about ideals, education as a means to an end, and, how by getting a post secondary education you open doors to riches (which are normal!) that all will attains. But then, it is a sales job after all.

    These poor teens have no idea what is going to hit them. Student debt, a potentially less than useful degree, a diluted market place (where everyone who wants that good job (ya, 500 per) has a degree).

    Add nonsense braggarts (who never do actually show anyone a pay stub) on various CDN forums who claim to make $100k @ 25. Then top it off with mass media showing 20-30 somethings driving sweet rides, owning big, nice property in expensive cities.

    These kids don’t have a chance (and most won’t read PF articles while their hormones are raging, they are experimenting in life and WoW, sports and skateboarding are a higher priority than PF education.

    • Krystal Yee says:

      Yeah, it’s hard to know who is telling the truth and who is exaggeration when you read those MV and other forum comments.

      It’s so hard for teenagers to get a clear grasp of reality when we have teachers, parents, and television all providing them a false sense of what’s to come. That being said, the internet provides a wealth of information, although like you mentioned, most will never stumble across anything to do with personal finance. But that being said, I’ve gotten wonderful e-mails from 16-17 year olds who HAVE started educating themselves online (and were shocked at what “the real world” was really like, so there is still hope… :)

  5. Elcobydos says:

    Teenagers out of tough with reality??!?! No way!!!

    Seriously though, I wish my school had took time to teach me personal finance instead of trigonometry or Spanish class. I don’t know how many schools across the nation offer personal finance classes but I doubt its many considering all the debt people are in these days.

    • SA says:

      I was really appalled by some of those comments too, these people just sound really bitter. There is nothing wrong with aiming high! However, I do agree that many people don’t have a grasp on how personal finances work. I agree with Elcobydos – I also wish I had the opportunity to learn about personal finance back in high school. It’s so important to understand how to create and live within a budget, and how to manage your cash flow. I don’t understand why that’s not in the curriculum.

    • Krystal Yee says:

      I struggle with whether personal finance should be taught at home, or in school. I guess the basics of budgeting should be introduced at some point during junior high or high school, but parents should be teaching kids how to manage their money as soon as they start getting an allowance – maybe even before that. I didn’t get much guidance from my parents, or from school. As a result of having no knowledge, and not being proactive to gain the knowledge myself, I ended up in a whole mess of debt. Hopefully the kids of today turn to the internet to learn more about careers and money, since they turn to the internet for everything else these days anyway!

  6. Ryan says:

    I know teenagers can be out of touch with reality, but that doesn’t mean that the expectation is unreasonable. All through high school and university I planned out a few big picture things like what marks I would need, how much I would need to save for certain large purchases, etc. and although sometimes the numbers were quite high, I’m 100% certain that they are attainable.

    Given how much it costs to finish university, how much it costs to live in a major city like Toronto or Vancouver, and how much additional income you need to build an RRSP/savings, I set my goal at $100k.

    I hate debt. I don’t care if it’s a mortgage or school (“good” debt) or credit cards and car loans. Having to pay someone money every month out of my pay bothers me. For these reasons I continued to work 60-70 hours a week and ended up hitting my goal, 6 years early too.

    It may be unrealistic to some, but if you work hard, have some common sense, and aren’t afraid to loose your “epic social life” which includes racking up massive expenses every weekend, I believe its certainly do-able.

  7. Michelle says:

    Interesting article and it’s very true. As others have said, teachers and schools are always telling kids that as long as they get good grades and go to college, then they’ll make it in life, that’s not always what happens though.

  8. Country Girl says:

    The survey reminds me of one I came across when I was a TA – the gist of it was that a majority of first year university students expected to ‘earn’ a B for just showing up to 75% of their classes in a course. I was flabbergasted – how could these kids feel so entitled? Was this expectation nurtured or are kids these days just that lazy? I’m inclined to believe a little bit of both, spoiled kids who don’t have to work won’t ever want to work.

    I really wish everyday finances and better career planning were a more integral part of the education system. I don’t want to seem like I think that kids should be taught that life is hard, but I don’t think we should coddle them either. I also think young adults need to be more engaged with youth and present a better view of their future in 10 years: ‘Hey, I’m not making $90,000, but I am making $50,000 and in another 5-10 years, I might be close to $90,000 if I do this, this and this.”

    • Krystal Yee says:

      I totally agree. The sense of entitlement has to come from somewhere though. It’s from how they were brought up, what they see on TV, their friends, and what the influential people in their lives are telling them. It’s almost like a losing battle. How do you try to reach all of these different people in order to get the message across that life isn’t as easy as you think it’s going to be? Teenagers need people to look up to, and the adults in their life should be presenting them with what reality is actually going to be like: not everybody will succeed (or make $90k/year by the time they’re 30), but if you work hard and you pay your dues, you can have a pretty good life.

  9. Chelsea says:

    While I think that teens can be extremely optimistic that they would be making 90,000/year by the time they are thirty. I also think with the right training and drive this is a possibility. I personally if i stay at my current position will be well on my way to making 90k by the time I am thirty. I’ll likely be in the 80k range.

  10. Daisy says:

    I’m kind of rolling my eyes at those comments, because really, do they actually think these kids came up with those expectations on their own out of thin air? It’s the parents, the teachers, our society – not the kids! Those people that are saying that sound like they’re not kids – so I would assume they’re either aunts, uncles, moms, dads, or even just our age. What are we going to do to change these kids perceptions?

    Its not the kids dreams that brought them to that conclusion, it’s all of US! When they grow up seeing their parents drive new cars, in an nice suburban house, buying them cell phones at 15 and back to school shopping every year whether we need it or not, whos fault is it that the expectations are like that? Not theirs!

    Also, I think it’s great that these kids have ambition. I always said I was going to be a millionaire by 30. I probably won’t be, but my hopes to be one didn’t damage me, it made me work really hard to get where I am right now.

    They may be out of touch with reality, but if they’re willing to work hard, whos to say it can’t be thier reality. I am confident that by the time I hit 30 I’ll be pretty close to making 90K/year. I’m also wondering where those statistics are from – 25-29 with a degree at only $25,000? Yeah, right. That’s crazy. I’m making more than that in an internship – you can make more than that in retail if you work full time. So that in itself is an unrealistic number.

    I do believe that if people get good grades and go to college they can make it. CAN make it being the word here. If they continue with developing themselves – not just in education but developing self awareness, and are proactive instead of reactive, and actually want to succeed I think they definitely can. If you got good grades, went to college, and then just expect a job to fall in your lap there’s no way you’ll make it, but I’m going to assume those kids that are getting good grades and going to college have enough ambition to make it . Maybe I’m just an optimist.

    Also, (and I’m sorry this comment is a novel), there’s going to be a huge labour shortage as half of our workforce continues to retire. If these kids go to college, they’ll definitely be making more than 25,000 by the time they’re 25-29.

  11. Of course teenagers are out of touch with reality. For one thing, they don’t have any idea what it costs to live in the real world. I sure didn’t when I was a teenager. My parents talked with us about the importance of not having debt and of saving for big purchases, but I had no idea of the day-to-day cost of expenses like cars, groceries, mortgage payments, insurance…I still don’t know those details of my parents’ finances! I’ve never known how much my parents make except for when my mom let it slip that my salary at my first job was more than hers (of course, she was working only part time – her hourly rate is likely higher than mine, but I don’t know that for sure).

    How are kids supposed to learn what things really cost, what salaries are realistic, and what it takes to do things like buy a house? Parents and teachers are responsible not only for inflated expectations but also for not sharing real numbers. As a teen, I didn’t know that most people – most families even – bring in less than $100,000 per year. Why would I? My job paid me $4 and change; all I knew was that my income would increase as I gained more experience – but I had no idea what that trajectory would look like.

    I still have a hard time figuring out what a realistic salary is for a given job, and I’ve been in the fulltime workforce nearly a decade. Adults are out of touch with reality as well, frequently assuming that other people make way more than they do or underestimating their monthly expenses; why would we expect any less from teenagers, who don’t even have the experience of paying their own living costs?

    • Elcobydos says:

      Amen lady! That’s why exactly why I mentioned in my comment that public schools need to incorporate personal finance classes into math class or social studies or some area where it would fit. I’m 24 years old and I had to explain to a group of friends from ages 21 – 27 what a stock was, what IRA meant, and what a 401K was. Its kinda sad but education would go a long way in helping out people.

  12. kim says:

    Well of course they’re out of touch, but I also don’t think they know how much people make and how things cost. Most parents don’t discuss money with their children. Once I was watching Teen Mom on MTv (horrible, I know!) and the teen-Dad wanted to move out on his own with the teen-Mom. The Dad asked how are you going to live? And the teen said – I make minimum wage, so that’s like *does the math* almost $15k/yr (in America). And the Dad goes – THAT’S BELOW THE POVERTY LINE! And the teen was shocked. SHOCKED!

    • Krystal Yee says:

      I will also admit to watching Teen Mom when I had cable, hahaha. And actually, teenage pregnancy aside, it does a pretty good job at showing teens the reality of what life is like in the real world. There are some on the show that work hard, and there are others that are kind of deadbeats. There are those going to school, those making minimum wage, and really struggling with the responsibilities of having to make adult decisions. Most are shocked to learn how much things cost in the real world, and how hard it is to survive. Especially with a child.

      It’s a refreshing dose of “reality” (even though no reality show is truly real), especially considering other shows out there like Jersey Shore and Real World and whatever other crap teenagers are watching these days.

  13. Average Joe says:

    A great topic!

    In our community the problem is as much education as it is unrealistic expectations. Nobody shares real-life statistics with high school-aged children. Kids have lofty goals without any focus on gaining the skills necessary to achieve the goal.

    Even when I was growing up, I was too sheltered. I thought an engineer was the dude who drove the train. Had I known about the OTHER type of engineer, I might have set my sights differently.

    Having adult conversations about debt, salaries, investments and budgeting are keys to a successful life for our children….and in most homes they aren’t receiving this education.

  14. Cat says:

    We are currently boarding a 16-year-old girl. She gets her homework done and has an A- average. Overall, she’s a good kid. But when it comes to getting what she wants, she gets everything from her parents. She’s grown up in a household of entitlement. Coddled, really. As 30-year-olds, my husband and I struggle so much with their parenting skills, as they are not teaching their daughter about consequences for her actions. Do we blame her? Not at all.

    It comes from learning the basics in the home, and this includes financial understanding and awareness. I wasn’t taught a lot about finances from my parents, but I did learn how to be independent, work hard and accept responsibility. So the next time they buy her another pair of Lululemon shorts, pay her cell phone bills and tell her once again she doesn’t need to get a part-time job, my head may just explode.

  15. B says:

    It’s totally doable. My niece is graduating from college as a chemical engineer next year and she already accepted a job that comes with a 95k starting salary. I was staggered. Yup doctors, lawyers, engineers can make that kind of money before they reach their 30s.

  16. Shannon says:

    I was just chatting with my mom yesterday, who is a high school teacher. We were both discussing the annoying/stupid things about our jobs, and one of the things she was talking about was how they are required to sugarcoat everything on report cards. If a kid never comes to class and when they do they don’t do anything and are sitting at a 50%, they have to write a positive comment on their report card. They have to start off on a positive note, and then continue to find good things to say. We both agree that this is in no way helpful, especially since the whole point of a report card is to find out where you stand, how you’re doing and what you need to do to do a better job in school. I found this article hit it spot on about kids having this sense of entitlement and they could be doing a poor job in school but they get by anyways with minimal effort.

  17. Shannon says:

    I took a business math course in high school that covered personal finance topics. It was basically a “practical math” class, I remember during tax time the teacher got enough tax forms for everyone in the class, put up a scenario on the board, ($X income, $X in deductions) and we learned how to do personal income taxes.

  18. Dilbert says:

    I agree that the actual income level for 25-29yr olds isn’t a good number. Take out all the people that have 0 income… Also note that the difference between the average and median is $20,000. A couple people can skew the range quite a bit when they put down $1mil a year.

    The problem with education is that if you don’t care about the topic it’s not going to stick. At a young age PF is not a sexy topic for most.

    I’m in the 25-29 range and am at the median.

  19. Calypso says:

    It’s always upsetting to me to hear of people putting down other people’s dreams. I find that most of those sentiments originate from people who are themselves too afraid to take risks and make their life how they want it to be, and so instead concentrate on spreading their fear and misery as far and wide as possible.

    I have a DEC from CEGEP, but no university degree. I cleared over $100k a year by the time I was 30 – just a few years ago – by working hard and building my business slowly. When I was younger, I was repeatedly told my teachers, media and society that the career I wanted to pursue – writing – was a path that would lead me to poverty, and that science was the only respectable career choice. How wrong they were – and how wrong I was to listen to them for as long as I did before actually trying and finding out for myself what I was capable of achieving.

  20. I think teenagers are probably more hopeful and optimistic than anything. I mean who expects that they’re going to make a measly $30k a year until they realize that’s all they can find for a job? I would hope their optimism translates to enthusiasm and motivation to be successful. But I totally agree with the “this generation has been sold a bill of goods” part, and those that don’t realize this are the ones that will certainly fall behind.

  21. Mikhaila says:

    I’m 25, and I make well above the median for the age range. I had no idea what to expect when I graduated University (after I graduated highschool all I could focus on was the four years at uni), and ended up with a great paying job with benefits. However, there isn’t a lot of room for promotion within my department, so I’m going to have to leave eventually. When I do, I don’t want to leave for a lateral move so I’ll be looking for a higher paying position.

    I agree that we need more financial literacy education in schools, as the expectations the surveyed kids are definitely unrealistic. I don’t think they know exactly how much things cost or exactly how much is actually take home pay. I think they need a reality check, but hopefully that won’t discourage them from doing what they really want to do and making a living at it.

  22. Danielle says:

    I’m within the 25-29 age range and have been struggling since post-secondary to nab a full-time job in my original field of choice, an arts worker/theatre manager. It took me a few hard years doing the same jobs and receiving nominal increases that I realized I needed to respecialize. I’ve only made the average income once, when I was 24 actually and since then have returned to a post-secondary college program to learn new skills in a new industry. I don’t think these kids are necessarily entitled but I do think career and job skills training are in short supply for those in the academic streams. The high schools are prepping them for more work in University, not offering valuable personal finance information or tips and skills about the workforce.

    While it’s not impossible to have the salaries they expect, they do need to realize that the road to these things can be fraught with missteps. Losing a job to a recession for example can suck the wind right out of your career development.

    Hopefully if anything, this research will help schools put the focus on learning job skills and finances EARLY.

  23. Sarah T says:

    Of course teenagers are out of touch with reality. I was. It’s called a lack of life experience. Most of these kids likely still live at home and have no idea how much being on their own costs, what paying for tuition and everything else affects their income.
    When I was 18, I thought I”d be married by 25, have a house with my husband at 27, and kids by 28 – the latest – and did any of that happen? NO!
    Teens absolutely have unrealistic expectations for a number of reasons, as many other have posted. But I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that again, they lack the experience. In time, their knowledge will increase, and with that I am sure their opinions would change. Look back at when you were young, and then consider this question about what you thought reality was when you were a teenager :).

  24. Chris says:

    I do not blame the teenagers one bit.

    I went to university, I “studied what I loved”, I finished a degree in Physical Education (no, you cannot be a teacher with that degree), and expected to find a job paying $60-70,000/yr as a strength and conditioning coach for sports teams–HA!

    Why did I do this?

    I always scored above 85% in all subjects in K-12 without really trying. My teachers emphatically instructed me that I absolutely “must” go to university otherwise I am “letting myself down” or “letting the world down” for not “developing my gifts” or whatever.

    Both of my parents, all of my grandparents, my high school guidance counselor, professors along the way, and the university career center counselors all repeated the same mantra to me at every turn: “study what you love and the money will follow.”

    I remember sitting in the university counselor’s office shaking with anxiety asking, “well what about making money? I want to make sure once I graduate that I’m making good money,” and he flat out told me that if I studied something that made money instead of studying what I was interested in that I would hate my life and regret my decision forever. If I just studied what I loved (what does that mean, anyway? Did all accountants and lawyers study what they “loved”?) that the money would take care of itself.

    Now I have just turned 29. My student debt has barely a dent in it (still over $40k). My best income year was $37,000 working as a personal trainer for (without exaggeration) 12-13 hour days for 6 days per week. That lasted two years before burning out and downgrading to a “recovery job” of $15/hour x 38 hours/wk for a year.

    TODAY I am finishing my three months of *paid training* to be a cable technician for Rogers. Some of the techs there have less than high school education and are making $70,000/yr. If you are lazy and slow you can still expect to make $45,000.

    IF I knew in high school what I knew now, I wouldn’t have spent a dime on university, I would have just taken one or two years of technical college and worked on the oilsands where the average 30 year old CAN and DOES make $90,000 per year.

    I also encouraged my younger brother NOT to go to university but to go to college or trade school instead. He just graduated with a degree in political science having absolutely no idea what to do with it. He’s now considering trade school or college.

  25. Angelina says:

    I don’t think they’re out of touch with reality. I’m a 22 year-old business owner and I make 70k annually. I started with $500, no loans, no credit, no cosigners. I am actually a high-school dropout (intelligent, but anxious to begin my business).

    My generation is very powerful. We are the internet and social media generation.

    The generation prior to mine had to please a “boss” and work their way up the corporate ladder *extremely* slowly. It’s a completely different world my generation lives in. In my generation, the corporate ladder is what we make it to be.

    For example, krystal, the author of this super-fantastic blog which I now lurk everyday like a creeper, had a full-time job in 2007, but began this blog/business part-time. In the decades prior, if you wanted to start a business, it HAD to be full-time, with an office/store lease, and someone’s body at the location full-time, AND you needed capital.

    But with the glorious internet, you can start a business with a few dollars, while dedicating minimal hours, like krystal and I did.

    This generation of teenagers is not out of touch with reality. Our elders are out of touch with us.

  26. Angelina says:

    *Krystal. Sorry hun :)

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