Also, today’s young adults are more likely to be minorities and more likely to be single parents, characteristics often linked with lower net worth.
A countervailing trend: Many young women are postponing childbearing, with its costs on household budgets.
Older households gained the most from a general rise on home values. For many of them, the housing bust that began in 2006 did not fully erase earlier gains in home equity. Another factor affecting seniors: More of them hold jobs today than in the past, although Social Security remains their income mainstay.
The report's findings underscore the importance of the nation's current focus on economic policy, which is visible from "Occupy Wall Street" protests to the presidential campaign and the fractious debate in Congress over budget reforms.
The once unfettered US economy now faces the twin challenge of high unemployment and historically high debt, both for government and households. The task for policymakers is to chart a path back to full employment and solid growth while getting debts and deficits under control.
Failing to solve the growth challenge could mean that the now-young generation won't experience a higher standard of living than their parents. Failing to solve the debt problem could leave those same younger Americans to pay the tab for fiscal mismanagement.
Although concerns over generational fairness in policy haven't generally been front-page news, they are not new. US history over the past 60 years "is marked by ever-larger redistribution from the young to the old," Boston University economist Laurence Kotlikoff writes in a recent Bloomberg News column on Republican tax-reform proposals.
Mr. Kotlikoff, who has studied the generational impacts of federal policies, argues that a flat-tax proposal from Texas Gov. Rick Perry would make the problem worse. Mr. Perry's plan would tax the old and rich less when they ought to pay a higher share of US taxes, the economist says.