The Surprising Salary That Makes Gen Z Happy

millennial office workers crossing a city street at the end of their work day with coffee.
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Gen Z adults are currently in college or recently out of it. And despite what this generation’s reputation may be, they seem to have realistic — or even low — expectations for their ideal salary.

GOBankingRates asked adults ages 18 to 24 what minimum salary they would need to make to be happy. Here’s what they said.

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1 in 5 Gen Z Adults Would Be Happy Making $60K or Less

According to the GOBankingRates survey, 20% of Gen Zers said they would be happy making $40,000-$60,000, 20% said they would be happy making $60,001-$80,000 and 22% would be happy making $80,001-$100,000.

Fergus Hodgson, economic columnist and founder and director of Econ Americas, said he was surprised that the majority of Gen Z would be happy making $100,000 or less.

“I am slightly surprised with the low expectations, but these individuals are early in their careers and likely placing more importance on experiences and exploring vocational options,” he said. “The weight of family expenses has yet to hit them. Further, my guess is they are considering roles with many fringe benefits over and above explicit salaries.”

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Despite the majority saying they would be content making up to $100,000, there are still a good amount of Gen Zers (16%) who said they would need to make between $100,001 and $150,000 to be happy. Danetha Doe, an economist and spokesperson for Clever Real Estate, believes that because of inflation and the current cost of living, desiring a low six-figure salary is not unreasonable.

“Inflation in 2019 hovered around 2%, whereas inflation in 2022 is hovering around 8%,” she noted. “Everyday expenses are much higher in 2022. Therefore, salary expectations are increasing to match the rise in the cost of living. Another reason could be the psychological impact of the pandemic. For some folks, the pandemic revealed the desire to work less and enjoy life more. In some cases, this means an individual will need a higher salary.”

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What Salary Does Gen Z Actually Need To Be Happy?

Are Gen Z’s expectations realistic? Or are they too low or too high?

When it comes to how much you need to make to be happy, “there is no magic number,” Hodgson said. “However, there is compelling evidence that incomes are subject to diminishing marginal returns. Going from $50,000 to $100,00, for example, will provide more happiness/satisfaction than going from $100,000 to $150,000.

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“That being said, people earning less than $100,000 will struggle to get out of subsistence lifestyles, especially if they have major expenses such as children and live in urban areas,” he continued. “The presence of nearly double-digit inflation in the United States will make this glaringly obvious to many people, as they find themselves dipping into savings or having to tighten their belts to live within their means and save.”

Hodgson also noted that where Gen Z lives and who they surround themselves with can have a great effect on whether or not they are happy with any given salary.

“The major determinant of our satisfaction with our income is not from material needs but rather from our sense of where we stand in the pecking order,” he said. “If we live among high earners and highly educated people in wealthy ZIP codes, we will be more likely to feel less satisfied with a modest income. However, if we are from a blue-collar family and community, we will be more satisfied with a stable job that is respected by our peers, even if the pay is not impressive. The cost of real estate varies widely and exacerbates this difference in perception.”

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More From GOBankingRates

Methodology: GOBankingRates surveyed 1,004 Americans aged 18 and older from across the country between July 21 and July 24, 2022, asking six different questions: (1) Where did you learn about personal finance?; (2) How much overall debt do you currently have? (Including student loan debt); (3) How much of your monthly income do you put towards rent/housing?; (4) What is your opinion on remote work/work from home policies at your current or future employer?; (5) Do you invest your money? If so, what do you invest in? Select all that apply; and (6) What minimum salary would you need to make to be happy? GOBankingRates used PureSpectrum’s survey platform to conduct the poll.

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About the Author

Gabrielle joined GOBankingRates in 2017 and brings with her a decade of experience in the journalism industry. Before joining the team, she was a staff writer-reporter for People Magazine and Her work has also appeared on E! Online, Us Weekly, Patch, Sweety High and Discover Los Angeles, and she has been featured on “Good Morning America” as a celebrity news expert. 
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