According to a a recent “Planning & Progress Study” examining financial perspectives of young people, the last 10 years have seen significant changes in attitudes toward money and risk. The annual research study from Northwestern Mutual began in 2009 and delved into adults in the U.S. aged 25 plus regarding attitudes and behaviors toward money, financial decision-making, and the broader issues impacting people’s long-term financial security.

To mark the 10-year milestone of the research, the study looked back at the original cohort surveyed – people who were aged 25 or older in 2009 and are 35 or older today.

Among changes revealed by the comparison is that overall financial security and financial habits have markedly improved:

  • 71% feel financially secure today vs. only 47% who felt financially secure in 2009
  • Compared to 10 years ago:
    • 73% say their financial situation is better now
    • 88% say their financial habits are better
    • 74% are carrying less debt
    • 74% are more frugal
    • 66% have set specific goals for the next 5-10 years, while only 57% said the same in 2009

Americans have gotten more cautious over the last 10 years, which can be attributed to the financial crisis of 2008.

When comparing today to how they felt during the financial crisis:

  • More than one-third (37%) of adults have become less comfortable today taking financial risks vs.18% who are more comfortable
  • A quarter (26%) have become less comfortable taking career risks vs.17% who are more comfortable; and
  • More than one-third (35%) have become less comfortable taking risks with their healthcare coverage vs. 13% who are more comfortable

Despite the prolonged U.S. economic recovery over the last 10 years, American optimism has remained essentially flat since 2009. Among adults age 35 and older, the study found:

  • Just over half (54%) agree the American Dream is attainable for most Americans. That’s down slightly from the 58% who said the same in 2009.
  • Nearly three-quarters (73%) believe a person can accomplish anything if they put their mind to it, but confidence was higher in 2009 when 82% said the same.
  • Two-thirds (65%) believe they will get to where they want to be in life, which is flat to the 65% who said the same in 2009.
  • A little more than one-third (36%) believe the U.S. is generally headed in the right direction, which is an uptick from the 27% who said the same in 2009. But 44% feel the U.S. is not headed in the right direction, which is slightly more than the 40% who said the same 10 years ago.

Read more study results here.