Millennials outearn earlier generations at the same age

Millennials quitting lucrative jobs to travel

American household incomes are rising from a 2011 low, lifted as women earn slightly more. A Pew Research Center analysis of the the most recent census data also shows that millennial-led households brought in $69,000 last year, more than households led by those age 22 to 37 at any time in the past 50 years.

The next closest group was Gen X in 2000, when they were in that age group, the analysis found. That was around the time the dot-com bubble crested. Gen X-led households that year brought in nearly the same amount as today's millennials, an inflation-adjusted $67,600.

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"At least at of this point in the business cycle, adjusting for household size, households headed by millennials are doing better than almost any group of 22- to 37-year-old-headed households back as far as we can track it, with the possible exception of 2000," Richard Fry, a senior researcher with the Pew Research Center, told CBS MoneyWatch.

So what's fueling the rise? Primarily, young women are earning more, and more of them are working than their counterparts in other generations.

Last year, 78 percent of women in millennial households worked at least 50 weeks of the year versus 72 percent of Gen Xers in the same age range in 2000. And millennial women working full time for the whole year earned a median of $39,000 versus $37,100 in 2000. While that might not seem like much, it's enough to give today's millennial households a slight historical edge.

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However, millennials' higher income doesn't necessarily mean a better standard of living, Fry noted. They may be making more money than ever, but that money isn't going as far. 

Indeed, millennials have less disposable income than their parents, according to a recent Federal Reserve study that uses different metrics. That's because of expenses like student debt and higher home prices.

Other groups are seeing their inflation-adjusted total household incomes rise as well compared to their age group in other generations. Baby boomers took in income of $77,600 last year, surpassing a previous record of $75,800 for the 54- to 72-year-old category. 

For Gen Xers, typical income was $85,800 per household, close to the 2000 peak of $86,200 for the same age group at that time. Pew noted that it couldn't accurately estimate income levels for the Silent Generation, now age 73 to 90.