2019 Affluent Outlook: What A Difference A Year Makes

Each January for the past 10 years, we’ve reached out to our affluent  respondents with a questionnaire designed to gauge their optimism about the future. Last years’ data came on the heels of another year of surging equity markets, and strong job growth, just after Congress enacted a large tax cut bill expected to benefit the well-off, resulting in the highest economic optimism levels we’ve seen to date.

In comparison, this years’ responses come just after the 2018 midterm elections and in the context of a newly volatile stock market and a 35-day government shutdown.

You can be sure those dynamics shaped this year’s data and the significant differences we see.

Overall, economic storm clouds appeared in late Q4 ‘18 and clearly provided a darker context around the data. At the same time, a midterm election that put more balance into the political landscape seems to be mitigating some of the negativity we saw last year among women, with women’s optimism up significantly from year ago.



For affluents, agreement that the past year was good for them falls below last year’s measures on three key measures: good for them personally, for their career/finances, and for their family. And the perception that the past 12 months were good for the economy declined significantly, from 67% to 51%.

In addition, there is even greater polarity than last year between those who say the country is headed in the right direction and those who say it’s going the wrong way. Last year, the split was 48% saying wrong direction and 44% saying right one. This year it has grown to 53% agreeing we’re on the wrong track, and just 33% on the right one. But again, remember the study was fielded while the government was shut down.

Last year, the differences between men and women were stark, with women more pessimistic about the U.S. economy and America. They were much less likely to report  that their careers, finances and families prospered in the past year. This year, the same or more women say 2018 was good for them across all three measures,  while significantly fewer men stated the same -- bringing the results across gender much closer in line. In fact, women score equal to or higher than men on all three measures, the opposite of last year.

In addition, each year we observe a phenomenon we call “affluent insulation”: when affluents have high expectations the coming year will be good for them, their finances and their family, but report the broader U.S. economy may experience some bumps ahead. In other words, affluents are personally optimistic, but less encouraged by the economy and country’s situation, though they still believe they’ll be insulated from any hiccups.

We clearly see that this year, coming on the heels of Q4 ’18 stock market volatility, threats of trade wars and other geopolitical dynamics, affluents’ overall view of the state of the U.S. economy for 2019 is significantly worse than 2018. Just 43% say that 2019 will be a good year for the U.S. economy, a decline of 13 percentage points from year ago. Nevertheless, a full 71% of affluents say that it will be a good year personally, and 78% say it will be a good year for their families.

Where we start to see holes poked in “affluent insulation” is with seniors (aged 72+).  Seniors were by far the least likely to say that 2018 was good for them personally and are similarly less positive that it was a good year for their finances. It’s likely that seniors, with their fixed incomes, larger nest eggs, and fewer years left to recover from economic downturns, are the generation most adversely affected by more challenging economic factors and stock market fluctuations.

And unfortunately, financial worries on the horizon are clouding seniors’ views on 2019 more strongly than other generations as well. They have the dimmest view of the U.S. economy, with only 37% saying it will be a good year. And they’re the least likely to say it will be a good year for them personally, for their finances, and even for their family than any other generation.

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