Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Kids and Money

I read in this MSN Money article by Liz Pulliam Weston that the average teen is expecting to make a six-figure income:

I refer to tidbits from the "Teens and Money" survey Charles Schwab released earlier this year. This poll of 1,000 Americans aged 13 to 18 from a variety of socio-economic backgrounds found that 73% believed they would earn "plenty of money" when they were adults.

In fact, the teenage boys expected to make an average $174,000 annually. Teenage girls expected to earn $114,200.

But the reality of the situation is:

Fewer than 5% of the U.S. population makes more than $100,000, according to the bureau. Only one household out of six report a six-figure income, according to the Federal Reserve's 2004 Survey of Consumer Finances.

Wow, these salaries seem pretty high, especially given the occupations that were most popular among the teens: doctors, nurses and medical technicians, technology (including jobs in programming, network operations and computer repair) and teaching, the three career fields that most interested the kids polled.

Notice that the boys think they will be making significantly higher salaries than the girls--perhaps their expectations may be even more unrealistic than the girls--that is, the girls may be more realistic about what they will earn or maybe the boys are just willing to ask for more.


Blogger David Foster said...

It's not just earnings potential--I think that in general, kids have only the vaguest ideas about potential career choices--what the work is really like, what opportunties it leads to, and what it pays. Television focuses obsessively on certain kinds of careers--doctors, cops, and lawyers--which represent a very small slice of the total employment world. Teachers often know so little about the business world that they can be of no real help.

12:00 PM, June 13, 2007  
Blogger Helen said...


I very much agree. People think so many of the jobs they see on TV are glamorous and exciting. The majority of work at any job--even that of doctors, cops and lawyer--is fairly tedious and boring, even if it sounds exciting. Many people are sorley disappointed when they enter a field and find out what is really involved.

12:06 PM, June 13, 2007  
Blogger Joe said...

This isn't unique. As a kid, I didn't know what my father made, but I had no doubt I would make as much as him. Whether I am or not is a rather curious question. Adjusting just salary for inflation, I'm definitely not--he would be making more than twice what I make--but I have fewer children and live in a townhouse. Gas, electricty, cars, electronics, etc. are either cheaper when adjusted for inflation or as a percentage of income. I definitely have more disposable income than he ever had.

(Plus, to my knowledge, his salary from 1980 to his retirement in the mid 90s didn't keep up with inflation.)

(On the other hand, he worked at GE for close to forty years--I've had a very uneven career including trying to run my own company which resulted in deep debt.)

12:08 PM, June 13, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

see... the issue is for if you control for inflation. Most people don't do that, and in actual dollars, in 20 years, it may be reasonable to make that much by then... in '85 to '05 the median income doubled in dollars NOT adjusted, and when you ask your dad what he made, he doens't use adjustments... so most people don't think of income that way. In addition I think it would be better to know the median of the middle 80% to control for people who make wealth far beyond expectation, like a CEO...

12:24 PM, June 13, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I grossly underestimated my salary when I was that age. I expected to make perhaps a fifth of what I actually make. But then money didn't seem important to me at the time, so long as I enjoyed the work. (No, really. I wanted to be an astronomer.)

Towards the end of graduate school, I finally started to get a clue why I wasn't picking up many dates. I chose to work at a national laboratory, making $50K, and thought I was rich. As a single man without dependents, I suppose I was. Dates picked up slightly, enough anyway that I found a wife.

Both salary and obligations have gone up since then. I'm making six figures and realize that puts me towards the top -- but I don't feel rich. (My wife is home with the kids and a not-very-profitable Avon business.) My demographic is SITCOM: Single Income, Three Children, Oppressive Mortgages.

I don't know how families make it on $50K. --Wait, yes I do: They live somewhere where there aren't high local salaries pushing the cost of living through the roof.

To get back to the original article: It would be interesting to see if the realism increases with age. There's a lot of difference between a 13-year-old and an 18-year-old. Still, I'd be shocked at how ignorant the kids were, if we weren't already being deluged with the evidence of rotten public education in this country.

12:32 PM, June 13, 2007  
Blogger Heather said...

These salaries are high but not unreasonable for a doctors, engineers, and lawyers. Also, keep in mind that teenagers are not thinking in terms of a mediocre career but a successful one.

12:53 PM, June 13, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Another MSN thread

1:17 PM, June 13, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I thought a lot of young girls want to be Paris Hilton, Brittney Spears or Ivana Trump.

1:26 PM, June 13, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Why BE a doctor, by the way, when you can get the same lifestyle (minus the stress) by marrying one?

1:32 PM, June 13, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I thought a lot of young boys and girls want to be the next American Idol, what happened to that?

1:47 PM, June 13, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Given the cost of college education, they had better make six-figures or never dig out of debt!

1:49 PM, June 13, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm a single woman making 30,000. How do I live? Very simply. I love my job, and while I'd like to make more, I don't want the hassle.
So I live within my means.

3:00 PM, June 13, 2007  
Blogger Peregrine John said...

There's wisdom, there.

3:03 PM, June 13, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The closest my wife and I came to earning six figures was a couple years ago when our combined income hit $90,000.

Now, with one wage earner in the family, we're back into the low to mid-$60s.

As in all other things, life will soon give these youngsters a reality check.

3:22 PM, June 13, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dude, you gotta use your bod and six pack abs - like get a summer modeling job or something

3:47 PM, June 13, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

it's cool, that girl on six is pretty hot. does she go around here?

3:54 PM, June 13, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I wonder if there's not a bit of teen narsicism involved. The same teens that say that they will earn much more than average might also believe that they are smarter than average and more moral than average.

4:29 PM, June 13, 2007  
Blogger tomcal said...

"The secret to becoming wealthy is to live within your means."

-Warren Buffett

5:10 PM, June 13, 2007  
Blogger Bruce Hayden said...

Why BE a doctor, by the way, when you can get the same lifestyle (minus the stress) by marrying one?

Because a girl is quite unlikely to. The best way to marry a doctor is to be one. Ditto for lawyers. Why? Because doctors spend their lives with other doctors. They go to school together, do their residencies together, and then practice together. And they understand the stress, etc. that are involved in the profession.

Besides, there are the numbers - far more women wanting to marry doctors than are available.

5:14 PM, June 13, 2007  
Blogger Bruce Hayden said...

I still like the idea that kids today are thinking about these high paying jobs. Most of them will fail, if for no other reason than the barriers to being a doctor or lawyer are fairly high. But that is far better today than setting one's sights at a factory job down the street.

5:16 PM, June 13, 2007  
Blogger Evil HR Lady said...

Was the question put in any context? If the question stated the national average income and then asked what they thought they'd make, I'd say it was narcissistic to think they were going to make that much money.

But without that context the answer in not indicative of much more than the ability to pull a number out of the air.

6:50 PM, June 13, 2007  
Blogger Cham said...

Our culture exposes children to much advertising which leads one believe they cannot survive without a $40K or a $500K home, as well as a certain brand of jeans and backpack. As adults we know that the old clunker in the garage will get us back and forth to work just fine, but tender minds do not follow such sage logic. So today's children feel that they must earn $174K or $114K just to get by. Fortunately, their expectations will be sculpted appropriately when the college degree fails to appear or the bill arrives for the student loans and those first few interviews quickly put expectations in perspective.

8:52 PM, June 13, 2007  
Blogger Nathan Mates said...

There's another misconception spread by the media -- that your apartment will look terminally trendy, even if you work in a low-paying job. Tons of movies feature (single) characters in media/advertising, but their apartments look like showrooms for UltraChicStore(tm). There's no way anyone could afford such a place on that level of salary.

10:42 PM, June 13, 2007  
Blogger Joe said...

This isn't the fault of the media. The reality is that as teenagers, most kids don't remember their parent's struggles, especially if they are the youngest in their families. It's more than that--parents hide a lot of hardships from their kids.

My oldest daughter doesn't remember when my wife and I ate saltine crackers so we'd have enough money for baby food. Even at fourteen, she had no idea how close to bankruptcy we were.

Finally, kids just don't think about certain things, like you actually get a water bill and have to pay someone to pick up the trash--it doesn't just happen.

This has been true since teenagers first thought about how much of a better cave they could get than their loser parents.

11:05 PM, June 13, 2007  
Blogger Unknown said...

Would this survey also support strain theory as to why some young people pursue criminal opportunities--when the notion of an unrealistic earning potential is realized?

Using anecdotal evidence from speaking with employers, I believe that the discrepancy between young folks’ expected income and actual income is growing. If a young person discovers that he/she is not going to earn a $100,000+ annual salary but desires the lifestyle of someone with that income level, a common action would be to find alternative (including illegal) tactics to create wealth.

6:40 AM, June 14, 2007  
Blogger Unknown said...

Illegal tactics are chosen, not forced. I have had large numbers of friends who were disappointed in life and did not turn to crime. Any pooh-poohing of those poor babies who were only doing it because of (x) denegrades those people who did not turn to crime when things got tough.

And, no, I do not think it is a common action.

8:46 AM, June 14, 2007  
Blogger davod said...

I was reading something the other day about union and Democrat complaints about the difference in wages between korea and the US for car manufacturers workers. The US wage quoted was $60 per hour.

9:17 AM, June 14, 2007  
Blogger Helen said...


I agree with Oligonicella that crime is chosen--behavior often is a product of thinking--and in our culture of entitlement, everyone is supposed to be rich--and we are taught by the government and others that it is fine to take from those who have more than us. This is a poor lesson to learn.

9:46 AM, June 14, 2007  
Blogger Unknown said...

Oligonicella and Dr. H.:

With my 0640 comment, I was not stating that the survey findings were a legitimate excuse for criminal behavior, but I would say that it is a common rationale provided by young offenders for anti-social behavior (as Dr. H. mentioned the "I am owed this" concept).

The argument that criminals choose to be criminals is certainly the popular belief (I favor that opinion as well in most cases), and it is why the focus in the majority of correctional systems is retribution (incarceration, etc.) as opposed to rehabilitation--despite the literature offering a convincing argument that targeted rehabilitation is more effective and less costly than simply hard time.

The counter argument would be: "if you took 100 children and gave them no parental guidance, no role models, poor economic opportunities, and related, would you not expect the vast majority to develop into adult offenders who did not really make a choice?"

10:31 AM, June 14, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Helen - Doesn't Samenow have something to say about this?

11:10 AM, June 14, 2007  
Blogger Helen said...


Yes, Stanton Samnow talks about these issues in "Inside the Criminal Mind." I think he is fairly on target although I think (and he says) that environment does play some part.


"if you took 100 children and gave them no parental guidance, no role models, poor economic opportunities, and related, would you not expect the vast majority to develop into adult offenders who did not really make a choice?"

Not necessarily--frankly without the poor peer role models, maybe they would turn out better?

3:02 PM, June 14, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

No kid has "no" role models. If the usual ones are absent or the child is alienated from them, he or she will find someone else to identify with and learn from.

4:38 PM, June 14, 2007  
Blogger Unknown said...

TV and movies. Blame Tarrentino.

That was sarcasm.

"if you took 100 children and gave them no parental guidance, no role models, poor economic opportunities, and related, would you not expect the vast majority to develop into adult offenders who did not really make a choice?"

There's no excuse. No one lives in a news or cultural vacuum, not even the really bad guys. They know it's wrong. They just find it easier than toughing it out.

I have friends, poor and well to do who have toughed it out. I don't believe in no choice.

Just my point of view. I'm not saying anyone here is promoting the opposite.

5:06 PM, June 14, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

All of my kids are now in their twenties. All have friends and acquaintances who have shop lifted numerous times because they wanted things they simply could not afford, their parents could not afford, or would not buy for them. Stupid things - silver earrings, bracelets, a piercing, a CD.

I am hopeful my kids have never done that, but I can't say for sure one way or the other. I do know I have probably spoiled them rotten, enjoying every moment of it. But looking back, it was not a good thing. I have read stories of kids being pummeled, stabbed, left lying on a sidewalk because another kid wanted their new sneakers or leather jacket.

Like most parents, I wanted my kids to be better off than I was growing up. But better yet was to have put even more effort than I did into stressing the importance of education and becoming the person they need to become in order to be the type person it takes to procure, and handle, any semblance of prosperity. Who wants a Britney or a Paris for a child?

8:54 PM, June 14, 2007  
Blogger Kurt said...

Then again, if these teens turn out to be like the college students I used to teach not too long ago, most of them will expect to receive A's and B's in their classes and will regard anything less as an unreasonable affront. The fact is that too many kids these days have an inflated sense of self-esteem which only serves to encourage laziness and a sense of entitlement.

9:26 PM, June 14, 2007  
Blogger David Foster said...

kurt...and an "inflated sense of self-esteem" will be a major inhibitor to these kids earning the kind of incomes they say they want.

A person who cannot stand criticism may be tolerated, reluctantly, as a marketing analyst. He will probably *not* be tolerated as Director of Market Research, and certainly not as VP of Marketing. Prima donnas will generally find their careers to be very constrained, and in many cases, no one will ever tell them why.

9:06 AM, June 15, 2007  
Blogger SGT Ted said...

Asking kids what salary they expect to be making is like asking them what car they plan on owning; completely useless, because they have no clue, really.

12:46 PM, June 15, 2007  
Blogger tomcal said...

I don't think kids have a clue at how much work it is to have a high paying job. It's something that takes over your soul in a lot of cases.

What they really mean is that they want to make a lot of money BUT by doing something they enjoy with lots of free time and peace of mind.

I have found that doing one or the other is easy. If someone figures out how to do both, let me know.

For any kids who just want money, here are a few ideas:

1) Join the Army, do your 2 years in Iraq, then sign up with a private military company such as Blackwater, go back to Iraq, and make 600 to 800 per day, tax free I think.

2) Learn to be a roughneck on a drilling rig, the pay is good right out of the gate, and with a year or 2 or experience (if you still have all of your limbs and your back has held out) you can go work on an offshore platform off of Equatorial Guiana of some other third world shithole. (That's what I did, by the way).

3) Go up to Alaska and work on maintaining the pipeline. Probably safer than option 2 because you won't be faced with the possibility of civil war.

4) You used to be able to make a hundred grand or something like that just for going into the 3 Mile Island nuclear plant for an hour and tightening a few bolts. Of course you got your lifetime limit of radiation in that hour.

5) In general, there are all sorts of opportunities like the above all over the world. You'll be rich enough to retire before you know it.

6:21 PM, June 16, 2007  
Blogger tomcal said...

Oh, and I forgot the best.

You can go to northern Peru and work repairing the piplene that brings oil out of the Amazon Basin, over the Andes, and to a harbor on the Pacific where it is loaded onto tankers.

Sections of the pipeline are blown up by terrorist revolutionaries daily, so there is always lots of work. All of the action is right in the jungle, so you won't have to worry about altitude sickness or anything; just snakes and mosquitos and spiders. You'll probably start by mopping up the spilled oil, but soon graduate to putting out oil fires, and then actually repairing the ruptured lines. When I had the opportunity (which I decided to pass on) to do this back in 1980, the pay was about $8,000 per month, I think.

You get free housing too, an 8 by 8 foot galvanized metal shelter (like a windowless cube on skids) which is dragged by a bulldozer each morning to that day's job site.

Every guy out there wears a Rolex. Maybe you can get your folks to buy you one as a send-off present.

6:47 PM, June 16, 2007  
Blogger Serket said...

Wow, those are outrageous predictions! I am in my low 20s and I do not expect to ever make $100k, but I would be satisfied with at least $40k.

2:11 PM, June 18, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

There's a real gender factor in all this. Most men know at least subconsciously that women generally select mates based in large part on their income potential. This probably has a lot to do with the different $$$ expectations for boys and girls. The boys know that their choices in the mating market will be limited by their income. This is much less true for the girls.

2:43 PM, June 18, 2007  
Blogger tomcal said...


Don't sell yourself short. There are all sorts of people making 6 and 7 figure incomes who sell nothing more than their opinions.

11:48 PM, June 18, 2007  
Blogger tomcal said...

$40k is basically 170 per day, assuming you work 240 days per year.

My maid makes that.

11:53 PM, June 18, 2007  
Blogger Helen said...


"There are all sorts of people making 6 and 7 figure incomes who sell nothing more than their opinions."

Well said, unfortunately, often times these opinions have to be fairly PC in order to make that kind of money but not always.

7:37 AM, June 19, 2007  
Blogger FVS said...

Sorry to disappoint! The United Nations and the global corporations would like to see Americans working for an average salary of 5K per year.
Unless we do something to reverse the forces of globalization, than a salary of 5K is the direction we're headed towards!

10:59 AM, June 20, 2007  
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