The Harsh Reality for Young Investors: Diminishing Returns in a Changing Market

The golden age of investment returns is over, leaving young investors facing a challenging landscape

Young investors and savers are facing a harsh reality: they will not enjoy the same level of returns as their parents did. The past four decades were a golden age for investors, with global shares and bonds posting impressive annualized real returns. However, this era of high returns is now likely over, as global trends such as globalization, declining interest rates, and low inflation have reversed. Young investors must now navigate a more challenging investment landscape, making decisions on saving, maximizing returns in a lower-yield market, and aligning their values with their investment choices.

The End of the Golden Age

The past four decades saw exceptional returns for investors, with global shares and bonds outperforming historical averages. However, these high returns were driven by factors such as globalization, low inflation, and declining interest rates, which have now reversed. Young investors must adjust their expectations accordingly and prepare for lower returns in the future.

The Dangers of Unrealistic Expectations

Young investors often look at recent history and expect similar market returns, leading them to save less for retirement. However, if market returns revert to longer-run averages, young investors will face a significant shortfall in their wealth accumulation. It is crucial for young investors to understand the reality of lower returns and adjust their saving and investment strategies accordingly.

The Decline of Bond Yields

The decline in bond yields over the past few decades led to substantial capital gains for bondholders. However, as yields approach zero, the potential for future capital gains diminishes. Recent increases in yields further limit the room for capital gains. This decline in bond yields has implications for young investors, who will likely experience lower returns in the bond market.

The Squeeze on Stock Returns

Stocks have historically been the main source of investors’ returns, but the outlook for stocks is now dim. Despite a strong recovery in stock prices, the squeeze on earnings yields and expected returns remains. The equity risk premium, which measures the expected reward for investing in risky stocks over safe government bonds, is at its lowest level in decades. Without sustained earnings growth, young investors may face disappointing returns or a significant market crash.

Traps for Young Investors

Young investors are falling into traps that further reduce their expected returns. Holding too much cash, a reluctance to own bonds, and engaging in thematic investing are common pitfalls. Young investors allocate more to cash than older generations, leaving them exposed to inflation and missing out on returns. They also tend to avoid bonds, despite their potential to outpace inflation. Thematic investing, driven by the popularity of exchange-traded funds (ETFs), can lead to higher fees, increased volatility, and the risk of chasing market fads.

The Importance of Sensible Investment Decisions

Given the challenging market conditions, it is crucial for young investors to make sensible investment decisions. They have access to more financial information, user-friendly investment platforms, and low-cost index funds than any previous generation. However, many young investors are not taking advantage of these resources and are falling victim to traps that reduce their expected returns.


Young investors are facing a new reality of lower investment returns compared to their parents’ generation. The golden age of high returns driven by globalization, declining interest rates, and low inflation is over. Young investors must adjust their expectations, make sensible investment decisions, and avoid common traps that further reduce their returns. It is crucial for them to save early, diversify their portfolios, and align their values with their investment choices. The future may be challenging, but with the right strategies, young investors can still achieve their financial goals.






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