There's a personal finance generation gap, and it has nothing to do with credit cards.
People my age (I was born in 1981, on the cusp of Generation X and Generation Y) are supposed to have a sense of entitlement, of naive optimism. We were sheltered, people say, and our expectations of the "real world" are too high.
Even in the generally youth-friendly blogosphere, I sometimes see people asking questions like, "Why do young people have such a tough time managing their money?" They assume the answers have to do with too much personal spending and not enough self-control. People who urge 22-year-olds to max out their 401(k)s are also operating on some of the same false assumptions.
I don't think those over 40 or so realize how much things have changed since they were starting out in the workforce. Young people today live in a different universe.
You start life in debt. If you went to college, you probably have student loans. Whether or not you went to college, you probably have credit card debt, too. You were eighteen when you got that first credit card and hadn't really figured out yet what a bad deal a 22% interest rate was.
A college degree doesn't create security. We don't graduate into entry-level jobs at 3M and IBM--we get internships, temp, or work retail. We don't buy houses after graduation--we rent apartments with roommates. Today's recent college graduates aren't in any position to get married, start families, or sock away money for the future.
"Real" jobs are hard to get. Employers, even little non-profits like my employer, *love* to save money by hiring people part-time, three-quarters time, or as "permanent temps" in order to save on benefits. They also love to hire freelancers. All of these people have to be responsible in lesser or greater degree for their own health insurance and retirement plans--any "benefits" offered to them are a shadow of what was offered to corporate employees thirty years ago.
There are no pensions. You get a pension from working for the government or joining the Army. In any other job, you get a 401(k)--if you're lucky. If you're really lucky, you will have an employer match on that 401(k). If it takes a year or two years for that match to kick in, it might as well not be there as you probably will have moved on.
Traditional health insurance is dead. If you are lucky enough to get insured, it will come with high deductibles, no prescriptions, no coverage for preexisting conditions, or administrative headaches. HMOs and PPOs are the high point.
We're not counting on the government. Most of us don't think Social Security will be around for us. Medicare? Who knows. We're not used to having good health insurance, and the current Medicare would be a step up for many of us.
What's a career? People who write careers love to trot out the statistic "you'll have 7-10 careers in your lifetime" (or 10-12, or 12-15) as though it's a new piece of information. I'm 27, and I've had at least a dozen jobs that have lasted three months or more. I have no idea how many "careers" that makes and couldn't care less--all I care about is how I can combine and describe those jobs on my resume to make me attractive to someone who's hiring for the next thing I want to do.
Whatever we do, and however short a time we've been doing it, we're already thinking about what we're going to do next. We do not relax into jobs and stay at them for twenty years. I have been at my job for five months, and while I have no intention of leaving anytime soon, I still keep track of job openings and have a sense of what my next step will be. The thirtysomething woman I supervise is much less ambitious than I, but she still keeps a foot in the freelance world and my boss predicts (rightly, I believe) that she won't be with the company for more than three years.
This is mostly self-preservation--we know that company loyalty and job security do not exist. To succeed, we need to pay attention and plan ahead.