Conseiller Editor Yves Bonneau scored a prestigious KRW award with this editorial. We at salute this achievement and present his work for you on our site.

As baby boomers transition from employment to pension, our attention turns to their successors – Generations X and Y.

And what do the soothsayers see for these groups, both of which were weaned on post-university recessions and wage rates (in inflation-adjusted dollars) far below those enjoyed by their predecessors?

Not much that’s positive, especially given recent debt fiascos which have seen crisis points shift almost at random from the U.S. to Greece, Ireland, and Spain and then to Italy, France and Germany over the past three years.

Read: Canadians befuddled by debt

And yet, the real threat to the generation now entering retirement, and those following, may lie in data contained in an American study that’s gotten little media attention.

Last November, the Pew Research Center, which specializes in socioeconomic and demographic studies, published a comprehensive analysis of the state of wealth among our southern neighbors.

For most Americans, and the same is true of Canadians, real estate comprises the largest component of assets. In 2009, home values accounted for 39% of average total household assets. The second-largest component was investments (primarily funds and securities), which accounted for 16% of average total assets.

“Obviously, as home is the most important asset of U.S. households, a change in direction of the real estate market has a significant impact on the value of household assets,” says the Pew Center. So the housing crisis, which started around 2006, pulled down the value of household assets during the remainder of the decade. It’s proven a real catastrophe.

Read: Half of Canadians not paying down debt

According to the research, in 1984 a household headed by a 65+-year-old adult had a net worth 10 times greater than a household headed by someone 35 years old or younger. In 2009, this same comparison showed a difference of 47 times.

This wealth disparity between older and younger people has, of course, intensified during the recent economic crisis. But it does not explain fully the chasm researchers are finding. The slow increases in wages for younger workers, and unemployment levels within that age group, also are factors.

Despite the fact that the average value of household assets increased by 10% between 1984 and 2009, the proportion of households with no assets or a negative value also increased. It was 11% in 1984 and is now 20%.

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Finally, Americans over age 65 grew their total assets by 42% since 1984, while those 35-years-old, or younger, saw assets shrink by 65%.

These numbers can easily be applied to most Western countries.

The Vanier Institute of the Family found average Canadian household debt reached more than $100,000 in 2010, with annual savings averaging only $2,500. In 1990, annual household savings were $8,000. In Quebec, Ipsos Reid found average household debt increased from $40,000 in 2000 to more than $65,000 in 2010; with the largest increases among those aged 35 to 44.

All this data points to steps taken in the wrong direction.

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Nonetheless, even if the total assets of Canadian households had increased dramatically in the last decades, or improved in relation to the real estate, there’s no guarantee the market here won’t one day play the same tricks it did in the U.S.

At the rate things are going, a large part of this presumed wealth will end up in the hands of a generation that will live longer than any other in history, and will also have to take care of elderly parents at the same time it’s assisting growing children.

Without being alarmist, savings rates – especially among the younger cohorts – will have to change drastically over the next few years if we want the financial industry to continue to thrive. Otherwise, how will you sustain healthy business growth, or even have a future in this profession?

Read: Savings goals missed due to lack of planning