Millennials’ midlife crisis looks different from their parents’ sports cars and mistresses—it’s a ‘crisis of purpose and engagement’


Buying sexy sports cars, changing hairstyles, and finding a mistress used to be the classic signs of a midlife crisis—at least for older generations. However, millennials feel too financially strapped in today’s economy to indulge in such breakdowns, according to a new psychology study. Of more than 1,000 millennials surveyed, 81% reported they can't afford to have a midlife crisis, which the Thriving Center of Psychology defines as either dramatically gaining or losing weight, consuming more alcohol, attending therapy, changing appearances, or taking on a new hobby. 

Many who experience a midlife crisis also deal with anxiety, depression, loss of purpose, sadness, and burnout. While baby boomers' midlife crises were marked by fear of aging or panic over major life changes, younger generations face distinct worries. Millennials’ crises are more about "purpose and engagement," says Steven Floyd, owner of SF Psychotherapy Services. "A generation that was encouraged to work hard and shoot for the stars—they got there and wondered: am I satisfied? Do I even care?"

Millennials 'can't afford' a midlife crisis in the traditional sense, often involving extravagant spending on expensive cars, extended vacations, or cosmetic surgery, notes Mason Farmani, a personal life coach. Earnings for millennials, born between 1981 and 1996, are 20% lower than those of baby boomers at the same age. The burden of student loan debt, a challenging job market, and rising housing costs hamper their financial stability and delay milestones such as home buying and parenthood, limiting their ability to spend freely on a midlife crisis.

Some experts argue that millennials can afford a midlife crisis; it just looks different. "The underlying emotional and psychological turmoil truly defines the experience," says Andrew Latham, a certified financial planner. The essence of a midlife crisis lies in the quest for meaning, identity, and personal fulfillment—not financial splurges.

While millennials may not indulge in traditional lavish purchases, they might make smaller discretionary ones, like a wardrobe overhaul, cosmetic procedures, or spontaneous travel. These actions stem from a desire to recapture youth, find meaning, or escape stagnation rather than financial planning.

Millennials may not experience a "traditional" midlife crisis, similar to their parents, but they still go through significant life changes. "The term ‘midlife crisis’ may need to be redefined for this generation’s experiences," says Farmani.

While many millennials reported they can't afford a midlife crisis, others are not as concerned about finances. Katya Varbanova, CEO of Viral Marketing Stars, says she worked hard in her twenties to build an emergency fund allowing her the freedom to take a year or two off. Even so, she has experienced signs of a midlife crisis, like depression, anxiety, loss of purpose, and identity issues, which she partly attributes to being chronically online and exposure to rage-baiting content. "Sometimes life just happens, whether it's a health issue, a breakup, a personal disaster," she adds.

Varbanova predicts that millennials will continue to reshape the concept of a midlife crisis. More will likely pursue self-employment and entrepreneurship to improve financial stability. "We’re the first generation that realized money isn’t worth it if it costs you your soul and freedom," Varbanova says. "Millennials truly crave both."  

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