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Young Adults Experiencing 'Money Dysmorphia' Despite Stable Finances: Study

Social media is linked to "money dysmorphia" among younger generations, research finds.
Cover Image Source: Money Dysmorphia | Photo by Tim Gouw | Unsplash
Cover Image Source: Money Dysmorphia | Photo by Tim Gouw | Unsplash

Recent studies indicate that a large number of young adults experience financial stress despite being in relatively stable financial positions. This phenomenon, termed "money dysmorphia," describes a sense of financial inadequacy disproportionate to one's actual financial situation. According to a report by Credit Karma, approximately 29% of Americans admit to experiencing this phenomenon.


"Money dysmorphia is kind of like today’s version of keeping up with the Joneses," said Courtney Alev, consumer financial advocate at Credit Karma.

The prevalence of this phenomenon appears to be more pronounced among younger generations, suggesting a potential link to excessive social media use. Approximately 43% of Gen Z and 41% of millennials report struggling with comparisons to others, contributing to feelings of financial inadequacy and the perception of not earning enough.

"What we found was a really strong connection between feeling bad about your money situation and how much time you spend on social media," said Isabel Barrow, director of financial planning at Edelman Financial Engines.


"Younger generations may express the greatest symptoms of money dysmorphia, as they inherit their parents’ trauma around scarcity and survival," said Ali Katz told NASDAQ.

"For example, sometimes we see it arise when parents don’t want to talk to their kids about their inheritance due to various fears that will perpetuate generational money trauma," he added.

Social Media | Austin Distel | Unsplash
Image Source: Social Media | Photo by Austin Distel | Unsplash

According to Credit Karma, a significant portion of individuals who perceive themselves as financially lagging actually have savings above the average. This creates a "distortion between perception and reality," as noted by Alev.

Millennials and Gen Zers, having grown up amidst narratives of financial struggle, often feel that their earnings are insufficient. This sentiment is compounded by societal narratives about economic challenges preceding their generation. The report also highlights that 45% of millennials and Gen Z respondents express a strong desire to attain wealth, reflecting aspirations for financial security.

Furthermore, another study suggests that despite a significant increase in household net worths by 37% between 2019 and 2022, only a small fraction of Americans, approximately 14%, perceive themselves as affluent.


"This financial fear often stems from not understanding money, having bad money experiences in the past, or trying too hard to be financially independent too soon," said Jeff Rose, CFP and founder of Good Financial Cents.

In a video with over 1.4 million views, TikTok creator Lukas Battle advocates for a stance against the national inflation level as a means to convey a message to corporations. This movement seeks to address the pervasive culture of excessive spending prevalent on the internet, reflecting a profound shift among the younger demographic.

"There’s this perception that you have to portray yourself as successful and that means having an expensive watch or nice car and that is so untrue. You have to make sure you are happy. Stuff isn’t going to make you happy," explained Carolyn McClanahan, a certified financial planner and founder of Life Planning Partners.