The global millennial survey

A Radical Rebrand of Wealth for Generation Y

How are attitudes to wealth changing in an increasingly globalised and digitally democratic world? Do attitudes to wealth differ across cultures and generations?


As part of UBS’s ongoing exploration of the changing attitudes to wealth, we investigated the views of more than 2,000 top-earning millennials across the world. We asked them about their aspirations and attitudes to working and how they view wealth, including:

  • What does it mean to be ‘wealthy’ today?
  • What aspects of wealth do different cultures prioritise?
  • Millennials from which countries are most and least confident about being wealthy?
  • What do changing aspirations and attitudes to wealth mean for the future of the working world and the businesses of tomorrow?

This research uncovers a new type of global citizen. Their place as part of an emerging millennial generation defines their worldview and aspirations. But not all economies are poised to deliver the conditions they need to succeed. Ultimately, the desire of the workforce is evolving fast and businesses must reshape their offering to stay in the game and satisfy the ambitions of this new generation.


  1. Wealth aspirations are changing globally: regardless of where they are from in the world, top-earning millennials now have very similar aspirations. Experiences, not possessions, are the new focus.
  2. The highest levels of confidence are seen amongst millennials in the emerging markets, contrasting with apprehension in the more established markets: new economies emerge as better equipped to deliver in a new, more flexible future whilst established economies seem to be losing momentum.
  3. The millennial work consensus – predictable paths give way to uncharted territories: young people across the world have an appetite for a new and different way of working, rejecting permanent contracts with employers in favour of starting their own businesses.

The changing face of wealth

Young people today live in a highly globalised and digitalised world, characterised by accessible information and constant social interaction. They are no longer defined by their location. Instead, their fluency in the language of this new world sets them apart and has led to a mutual understanding of wealth and a shared set of aspirations.

We asked our top-earning millennials which forms of wealth they most aspire to from a list including philanthropy, building social connections, amassing possessions, leaving a legacy for your family and having fulfilling experiences 2.

The results are striking: the vast majority of millennials across the globe define wealth as something beyond simply possessions, with 86% prioritising something other than a life of luxury – being rich in possessions or cash – in favour of other aspirations. Instead, this group tells us the most important form of wealth is to have a vibrant, experience-rich life, with over 1 in 3 (36%) prioritising this goal over any other. This is the most popular goal in eight of the ten countries, except Russia, where it comes second after leaving a legacy for your family, and the UAE, where all aspirations emerge as similarly important.

This suggests a seismic shift in attitudes. Previous generations have been understood to focus on the accumulation of possessions with buying your first home or owning your own car important rites of passage.

But for young people today, moments and experiences are vital. In the US, spending on life experiences and events has increased by 70% since 19873 and this research indicates a bigger, worldwide trend in this direction.

Beyond experiences, 1 in 5 (21%) aspire to leave an inheritance for future generations of family and a further 1 in 5 (19%) look to build social status and networks. A life of luxury is the priority for only 14% and 10% consider doing good things for society through charitable giving to be the most important type of modern wealth.

While millennials everywhere seem to be looking more to experiences than possessions, there are some differences in aspirations market by market. Millennials in the most developed markets – the US, UK and Singapore – are all firmly focused on the notion of experience more so than developing economies, who have less unified, more disparate aspirations.

Charitable giving and philanthropic efforts are more relevant for millennials in the UAE and India, reflecting different cultural imperatives. Leaving a legacy for family is more important in Russia and South Africa. Being well-connected and building social status is more prized by those in the UAE, China or India, which are also among the most business-focused markets, suggesting a desire to build a personal brand for professional success.



Key statistics

  • 86% of top-earning millennials aspire mostly to something other than being rich in possessions or cash
  • More than 1 in 3 (36%) consider exciting experiences to be the embodiment of a wealthy lifestyle
  • Just under 2 in 3 (63%) are confident in achieving their wealth aspiration
  • As high as 77% in India and 72% in Mexico
  • As low as 44% in Singapore and 58% in UAE
  • 80% consider themselves likely to start their own business or already have
  • As high as 99% in India and 98% in China
  • As low as 63% in both the US and UK

Confidence amongst new world millennials contrasts with apprehension in established markets

Whilst we see a fair amount of global consensus in wealth aspiration, where we do see contrast between top-earning millennials from different markets is their level of confidence in achieving their aspirations, as well as achieving financial success more generally.

Furthermore, the pattern of confidence levels illuminates the power shift from the old economic powers to the new – it is millennials in the emerging economies that are much more assured than their counterparts in more established markets. The high confidence seen in emerging economies comes with a strong sense of ambition and entrepreneurialism, while anxieties are felt in established economies which seem to be losing momentum in growth and success.

Below we describe and rank clear clusters of markets from most to least confident and identify factors we have ascertained as central to driving their level of confidence.

Globally, just under 2 in 3 (59%) millennials are confident of being financially successful or consider themselves to have already achieved financial success. We see similar levels of confidence in achieving their personal wealth aspiration (as outlined above, either to have exciting experiences, to leave a legacy for family, to be well connected, to focus on philanthropic efforts, or to have possessions), suggesting that regardless of the end goal, the perceived potential is similar.

When examining confidence levels across the markets and the factors linked to confidence – from education levels to the buoyancy of the national economy to individual attitude and outlook – four distinct types of mindset emerge. Each manifests different expectations and anxieties:

Self-confident self-starters: CHINA

China stands out as combining success in the here and now with a bright future. Its young people are self-assured and driven and their confidence in navigating the digital world stands them in particularly good stead to achieve their goals.

These millennials are reaping the benefits of an economy that is booming, as well as enjoying second generation capital as an asset:

Top earning millennials in China are more likely than others to see economic policy in their country as a positive influence on their financial security (40%; 30% on average).

1 in 3 (28%) claim access to parental capital will have a positive influence on their financial security (compared to the 17% average). This buoyancy from parental wealth is amplified by the one-child policy, with those in their 20s often the sole beneficiary of their parents’ estates.

Chinese millennials prove to be among the most entrepreneurial and self-starting of all the markets and most proactively seek opportunities:

98% say they are likely to start their own business (or already have) compared to 80% globally.

They are the least likely to want a permanent contract from an employer (only 11%, compared to 30% globally).

Their skill-set and networks mean they are well-equipped to rise to the challenge:

They are adept at using technology, with 2 in 5 (43%) naming tech skills as having a positive influence on their financial security (by comparison, only 33% consider their level of education to be an influence).

More than 1 in 3 (37%) state their social networks have a positive influence on their financial security.


These markets are in or have been in the grip of transformation, moving from developing to developed economies. Whilst not yet possessing the proven economic credentials of China, the future is all to play for: millennials here show entrepreneurial spirit, though still sometimes express reservations about their chances given their country of origin.

Top-earning millennials in these newly thriving markets are amongst the most entrepreneurial globally, confident in their skills for a global era:

They are the most likely to start their own business (or already have) – as high as 99% in India, and 92% in Mexico.

They are among the most prepared to work abroad (89% in Mexico and 93% in India).

They are confident that their tech skills will be an enabler for their financial security (62% in South Africa and 55% in Mexico compared to 43% globally).

These millennials are witnessing a generational change as their economies develop and will have fundamentally different experiences to those of their parents:

Millennials in these markets are the most likely to envisage being better off than their parents throughout their lifespan and becoming relatively better off at age 25, 40 and 65 (74% in India, 71% in Mexico and 66% in South Africa believe they will be better off than their parents at age 65).

They also see themselves as more entrepreneurial than their parents – this is most pronounced in India with 82% agreeing they are a more entrepreneurial generation.

But as these markets are in a transitional phase of growth, some barriers do linger – hangovers from previous economic models play out differently in each country:

In India, family responsibilities are deemed a limiting factor in wealth aspiration (45% say this will have a negative impact on their financial security, compared to 28% globally). There are also concerns about the education infrastructure – they are more than twice as likely as millennials globally to cite this as a barrier to future wealth (38%; 16% overall).

In South Africa and Mexico, fears about economic policy and the job market are more pressing (with 65% and 62% in South Africa and 61% and 53% in Mexico saying these will negatively impact their financial security). In addition, more than half of millennials in South Africa (51%) say the global reputation of their country will be a barrier to their individual success.

Finding their feet: UAE/RUSSIA

Living in new economies or those new to navigating capitalism and its working patterns, these millennials are in conflict, finding their place in global capitalism.

In the UAE, we see a lack of cohesive identity, reflecting the population’s melting pot of different ethnic groups, there is a correspondingly diverse range of attitudes and priorities.

Here we see the most even distribution between the different forms of wealth aspiration, with each being a priority for around a fifth of the sample, with no clear ‘winner’.

Top-earning millennials in the UAE are driven and focused but feel left behind in the fast moving world of technology:

  • 91% say they are likely to (or already have) start their own business
  • Only 3% see it as desirable to ‘not work, but pursue their passions’
  • 1 in 4 (26%) say their limited tech skills will have a negative influence on their future financial security

As a culture finding its place in global capitalism for the first time, top-earning millennials in Russia show the biggest break of any market with the practices, attitudes and life chances of their parents.

They believe they are more money driven than their parents (80%), but are divided about what this means in practice (30% aspire to have exciting experiences, 31% to leave a legacy for their family, 17% to build social connections and 16% to buy luxury items).

For them, spending power is seen to be an important part of a wealthy lifestyle (58%).

Established players: US, UK, GERMANY, SINGAPORE

Previously global superpowers and stalwarts of traditional industry, these economies are slowing down and the reverberations are being felt.

Although they are the driving force behind the ‘experiences’ wealth aspiration, the lack of momentum in their markets means millennials here are more attached to traditional ways of working, and increasingly insecure.

Top earning millennials in these established territories feel their progress is stalling compared to their parents’ generation (in Germany, only 37% think they will be better off than their parents at age 65).

Insecurity is manifested in a greater attachment to traditional ways of working as they are more likely to want the stability of a permanent job (51% in the UK say that the most desirable working conditions are to have a permanent contract with an employer). They are the least likely to anticipate starting their own business (59% in Germany and 63% in the UK say they are considering starting their own business or have already done so, compared to 80% globally).

In Singapore, there seems to be a sense of tension felt because the industries currently dominant in the market are ‘traditional’ whereas the industries millennials aspire to work in are more innovative.

1 in 4 (26%) in Singapore say they expect their limited tech skills to have a negative influence on their financial security.

They are also the most likely to see themselves as less entrepreneurial than their parents (30%).

While levels of confidence in future success vary, enablers and barriers are consistent

Globally, this is a generation who are taking control of their own destiny, as they believe their own abilities are the driving force behind their future success. When asked what factors have a positive influence on their financial security, it is those factors within their control that are the most important: their level of education is the most often identified enabling factor globally, with 61% of all millennials believing this will have a positive influence on their financial security (and this is the highest scoring factor in every market except Singapore and China), followed by their ambition (49%) and their level of flexibility and adaptability (48%).

Across markets, millennials consider the most likely factors to hold them back are related to economic instability. When asked what factors are likely to have a negative impact on their financial success, external forces including the economic policy and global reputation of their country are considered to be the biggest barriers to their individual achievement. The job market and economic policy are in the top three stated barriers in all markets surveyed except Singapore, where family responsibilities and limited social networks are more important. 1 in 3 (29%) globally say that the reputation of the country they live in impacts their success – as high as 51% in South Africa say they expect their country’s reputation to negatively influence their future financial security.

The millennial work consensus: predictable paths give way to uncharted territories

While top-earning millennials from different parts of the world enjoy different opportunities and face different obstacles on their journeys to success, they are unified by a consistent appetite for a new and different way of working. Wherever in the world they come from, this generation manifests a distinct and new attitude to workplace aspirations.

The traditional working trajectory of leaving school and securing a permanent contract with an employer is becoming obsolete – our research reflects trends for staying in education longer and moving between workplaces and industries 4. Fewer than 1 in 3 globally (30%) think being an employee is the most desirable way to work.

Most remarkable, however, is the extent to which young people today aspire to take control of their working lives by running their own businesses. Almost three quarters (71%) consider themselves ‘likely’ to start their own company and a further 9% have already done so. Brought up in the information age, these 18-34 year old are confident in their abilities to move beyond the confines of a safe office job and into an entrepreneurial future which is less certain but charged with greater potential.

Finally, along with this rejection of traditional routes into work, this is a generation mobile like no other before it. 7 in 10 (72%) would move abroad to pursue an opportunity. Embracing lifestyles ‘on the go’ means millennials consider themselves global citizens, expecting to live and work in multiple locations across the world in their life and prepared to move around to achieve their goals.


The changing nature of the global economy demands a versatile and flexible workforce, full of entrepreneurial energy and confidence. This research suggests that many of the next cohort in today’s job market are ready to deliver this – showing a drive to work hard and utilise their skill-sets running their own businesses. While those in emerging economies are taking the lead in embodying this new mindset, millennials in established markets drag their heels, hindered by the slowing rate of growth stalling the momentum of this generation. Traditional markets must tap into the ambitions of the next generation of business leaders and open up to the flexibility they need to thrive.


  1. Freuds conducted an online poll amongst 2130 top-earning (top 20% income for their market) millennials – those aged 18-34, with a university education between 5th and 20th october 2016. The ten markets included were UK, US, China, Russia, Mexico, South Africa, India, Germany, Singapore, and UAE.
  2. Preliminary phase of qualitative work about the meaning of wealth conducted by Futurelabs allowed us to devise these five notions – which reflect a broad landscape of ideas.
  3. http://eventbrite-s3.S3.Amazonaws.Com/marketing/millennials_research/gen_pr_final.Pdf
  4. Identified across government and corporate research – including the ONS and PWC.