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The average South American millennial has a different life than their US counterparts.
Those in Brazil, Argentina, and Colombia have less student debt and are more likely to have kids.
But overall the average South American millennial is worse off financially than those in the US.
This story is part of a series called Millennial World, which seeks to examine the state of the generation around the globe.
In some ways, millennials can relate to each other’s upbringings more than any generation before them, given the way the rise of the Internet and social media have connected people across the globe.
But while the midlife crisis may eventually come for all millennials, where they live undeniably impacts their lifestyles. The experience of the average US millennial is different than that of the average South American millennial. And in South America, a continent with over 440 million people, one’s experience obviously varies based on which of the region’s 12 countries they reside in.
That said, we took our best shot at describing the average South American millennial by focusing on the countries with the largest populations, such as Brazil, which accounts for nearly half of the continent’s population, in addition to Colombia and Argentina.
From student debt to kids to overall financial well-being, here’s what life is like for the average South American millennial.
Student debt isn’t as prevalent in South America as it is in the US, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t a problem for some millennials.
In 2020, Insider reported that nearly 45% of US millennials had student-loan debt. As of June 2022, 43.5% of US millennials aged 36 to 41 had a student-debt balance of $20,000 or less, according to the St. Louis Fed.
In South America, fewer people attend college than in the US. As of 2018, 28% of 25- to 34-year-olds in the US had received a bachelor’s degree, compared to 17% in Brazil, 20% in Argentina, and 23% in Colombia, according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, or OECD.
Most students in these countries don’t go on to pursue master’s degrees either, which can often come with big student-debt burdens. As of 2018, roughly 1% of 25- to 64-year-olds in Brazil and Argentina had received master’s degrees, compared to 11% of 25- to 34-year-olds in the US.
For those who did attend college, most found themselves with lower tuition costs than their US counterparts.
In Brazil and Argentina, education at public universities is tuition-free. In 2021, Colombia announced that tuition would be free for 97% of all students attending public colleges and technical schools.
Tuition for private colleges in Brazil and Argentina typically ranges between $2,000 and $10,000 per academic year, according to some estimates. In the US, the average cost of tuition and fees is roughly $40,000 per year, compared to $23,000 for a public out-of-state school and $10,000 for a public in-state school.
But lower college tuition doesn’t mean everyone in these countries is happy with the education system. As of 2019, three-quarters of bachelor’s students in Brazil attended paid-for private universities, because while the country’s public colleges are free, they’re also very competitive and have limited slots. As of 2015, the majority of students accepted into these schools were from the middle class or higher, Insider reported — the types of students least in need of tuition-free education.
Less well-off students in Brazil have been left to take on student debt to afford to attend the less-prestigious private schools. And while they could pursue a career without a college degree, the job landscape isn’t in their favor. According to a 2011 study, Brazilians who received tertiary education earned an average of 2.5 times more than those who did not, a bigger gap than any other country in the OECD at that time. In the United States, families of those with a bachelor’s degree earned twice that of those without, according to a St. Louis Fed analysis of 2016 data.
Data on South America’s homeownership rate by age group is hard to come by. But the available information suggests many South American millennials own their own home. Homeownership rates vary by country, however, and high home prices are an obstacle for many.
US millennials crossed a notable threshold in 2022. By the end of the year, a RentCafe report found, a majority of them — 51.5% — owned a home for the first time ever. The percent of all US households that are owner-occupied was 66% as of the first quarter of this year.
In Brazil, a lot of value is placed on homeownership. As of 2010, the country’s homeownership rate was roughly 73%. In a 2021 survey of over 3,100 Brazilians that QuintoAndar conducted, 88% of respondents said they lived in a house, not an apartment.
That said, some have argued that Brazil still has a significant housing shortage, which has contributed to overcrowding, a growing homeless population, and larger concerns about affordability. As of March, the median sale price of a home in Brazil had risen by 28% compared to the prior year.
Millennials in South America are a bit more likely to have kids than those in the US.
After hitting a record low in 2020, the US birth rate rose for the first time in seven years in 2021, but it remained near the record low reached the year prior. The birth rate was reported as 1.66 births per woman, a decline from 2.12 in 2007 and the rate of 2.1 births per woman needed for the population to naturally replace itself.
Of 12 South American countries, Argentina, Colombia, and Brazil ranked 8th, 9th, and 10th, respectively, in birth rate as of 2020, according to Data Commons. Bolivia, Paraguay, and Guyana ranked the highest, with birth rates of 2.65, 2.50, and 2.42 respectively.
Just like in the US, many millennials in South America are struggling with finding and affording childcare. As of 2019, only 32% of all Brazilian children had access to childcare, according to HuffPost, which has led many women to exit the workforce.
The average South American millennial is feeling the effects of the economic slowdown across the world.
In Brazil, the unemployment rate was 8.8% as of the first quarter of this year. In the third quarter of last year, Argentina’s unemployment rate was 7.1%. In Colombia, the urban-unemployment rate rose to 10.8% last December. The US unemployment rate fell to 3.4% in April, the lowest level since 1969.
In the US, inflation rose by 4.9% on an annual basis in April. Brazil’s inflation rate was 4.18% on an annual basis in April, compared to 108.8% in Argentina. In February, Colombia’s inflation rate rose by 13.28%.
When it comes to measuring overall living standards, real GDP per capita can provide some insight into how the average millennial is faring. According to the most up-to-date CIA data, the US ranked 15th among all countries in real GDP per capita. Brazil, Argentina, and Colombia ranked 110th, 86th, and 111th respectively.