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The State of Crypto: Age, Access, and Agency

By Coinbase


, October 26, 2023

, 7 mins read time

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To update the dream, they’re updating the system

Go to school, get a job, buy a home, work your way up. For older generations, the unspoken deal was that if you followed the rules and showed drive and resilience, you had a real shot at economic opportunity and prosperity—the American Dream.

Younger generations report that deal is no longer available: just 9% of Gen Z (ages 18-25) and 19% of Millennials (26-40) say the American Dream is achievable for everyone. On top of school and other debts, high housing costs, and high inflation, an outdated financial system stands in their way, built on legacy institutions that aren’t serving their needs.

Views on the current financial system

While generational disillusionment with the status quo has been widely hyped via trends like “quiet quitting” and “lazy girl summer,” the core insight of Coinbase’s Q3 State of Crypto Report is that these narratives miss the point. Yes, younger people are checking out of the status quo—but they’re actively engaged in building something new. Instead of following conventional paths, they’re adopting new, flexible models of work, ownership, and finance that don’t rely on legacy middlemen. These new models move with them across the country, around the world, and as fast as the internet. Young people today aren’t waiting for anyone. They will be the majority of America's voters and consumers by 2028, so it's on politicians and institutions to catch up.

Almost no one is happy with the nation’s financial system—only 9% of Americans are satisfied with it, and only 22% think it’s better than any other country’s. But young people are especially disillusioned by it.

  • Just 7% say the financial system works very well for people like them. 

  • More than half (52%) say they never or only sometimes use it.

  • Fewer than one in five (17%) think the US system is better than others, versus one in four people over age 40 (26%).

New research for Coinbase examines how young people experience and access the financial system (or not), where they think it falls short, and how they’re taking their future into their own hands and creating economic opportunity for themselves. As younger generations become more pressured financially and more disillusioned by the system, they’re also becoming more empowered by technology and emboldened by their growing influence as consumers and voters to do something about it. 

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Age. More than 100 million Millennials and Gen Z adults grew up with the internet, mobile phones and apps. When Millennials had their early career prospects undercut by the 2008 financial crisis and Great Recession, they popularized marketplace apps to convert their free time and unused belongings into extra cash and drove a global phenomenon, the sharing economy. Gen Z had to adapt when the COVID-19 pandemic kept them locked down and living online, including socializing by gaming, learning to assign value to digital assets. 

They want legacy institutions to fit within their lives, not the other way around, and to be able to manage and move their money through the financial system at the pace of the internet and around the world. Only 5% of Gen Z and Millennials call the system “speedy;” only 11% call it “innovative”—they’re much more likely to call it “political” and “expensive.” Of all generations, Millennials are most likely to call the system “outdated” (29%);” Gen Z are most likely to call it “confusing” (28%) as well as “exclusionary” (29%).

Agency. As the current system lets them down, young people are taking agency and building new paths to prosperity.

  • They’re more likely than older generations to want multiple sources of income (45%) and to have side gigs (32%). 

  • Millennials are the generation most likely to want to work as hard as possible to achieve their goals (48%).

  • Three fourths (77%) of Gen Z want to choose their own paths rather than pursue the traditional path of college, homeownership, etc.

They’re seeking out new economic opportunities that don’t depend on an outdated financial system propped up by sclerotic institutions, laying a foundation not just for an updated system but for an updated American Dream. One enabled by a technology, like cryptocurrency, as a tool to update the system.

  • Nearly two in five (38%) say crypto and blockchain can increase economic opportunities for them in ways traditional finance can’t, versus 26% of older people. 

  • More than one in three (31%) own crypto, versus 12% of older people. 

  • Young people are more interested in crypto than older people because it’s a global currency that can be accessed and sent across the world (16% versus 10%).

  • About one in four (38%) see crypto as the future of finance, versus less than three in 10 (28%) older people.

And they’re taking action on crypto beyond just owning it—studying it in school, seeing it as an important source of jobs, and getting ready to advocate and vote in 2024 for candidates who are building for the future and against those who support a broken status quo. Together, Millennials and Gen Z adults make up about 40% of the voting-age population today and will be a majority of voting-age Americans by 2028

  • Half (51%) say they’re likely to throw their weight behind crypto-friendly candidates in 2024. 

  • About two in five (39%) say politicians and policymakers should support technologies like cryptocurrency and blockchain to help future generations, versus 28% of older Americans.

These generations will make up a greater share of the country’s consumers and electorate tomorrow than they do today, and their push to use crypto as a tool to update the financial system and create more opportunity and prosperity for themselves will drive adoption of crypto in politics and society.

This is Coinbase’s second State of Crypto Report, following the Q2 2023 report on corporate adoption, which found that more than half of Fortune 100 companies are developing blockchain initiatives to stay competitive. This series aims to educate the public about the role crypto can play in updating the financial system for the benefit of consumers and corporations alike. At a time of broad agreement that the current system is neither an example for the world nor innovative or fair, the findings lay out how crypto can help support greater equality of opportunity and a new, more inclusive, self-directed and technologically up-to-date American Dream.

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