Just as baby boomers grew up believing that a "good breakfast" meant bacon and eggs, they expected - assumed, really - that their standard of living would be higher than their parents'.
Boy, were they wrong!Having dutifully eaten their bacon and eggs, the boomers awoke one day to discover they'd been chowing down on cholesterol and other enemies to good health.
Similarly, they reached adulthood only to find they needed two incomes just to match the standard of living - forget about surpassing it - that one income provided in the 1950s and 1960s.
And, a new book warns, the worst may be yet to come. Unless they start saving more and consuming less, baby boomers face far less comfortable retirement years than their parents.
The way they're headed, baby boomers in retirement may more resemble their grandparents, financially, than their parents, say Frank Levy and Richard C. Michel, authors of "The Economic Future of American Families," published last month by the Urban Institute Press.
Levy is professor of public affairs at the University of Maryland, and Michel is an economist at the Urban Institute.
"Upward mobility is not guaranteed anymore," Michel said in an interview last week. "In the '50s and '60s, it was. . . . Baby boomers need to lower their expectations. They're not going to live as well in retirement as their parents."
Nor, it turns out, are they living as well in their earning years as their parents did.
For their study, Levy and Michel considered as baby boomers those born between 1949 and 1958. By the time the boomers start retiring about 2013 or so, members of this group will have had plenty of time to get used to not quite measuring up. The wages of baby boomers are not rising as rapidly as their parents' did in the '50s and '60s, nor is their net wealth, which is largely dependent on home equity.
"It seems to be pretty clear that if economic growth doesn't improve soon, the peak income of the college-educated will meet - but not exceed - their parents' peak earnings," Michel said.
The picture is most bleak for baby boomers without some college, about half the baby boom population. Their peak income is projected to be 5 percent to 20 percent lower than their parents' peak.
For most people, net wealth is tied to the value of their homes. The parents of the baby boom took advantage of low interest rates and low housing costs. About 75 percent of boomers' parents own their homes, while about 60 percent of baby boomers are homeowners.
But, Michel notes, it's more of a sacrifice for boomers to own their homes. The monthly principal and interest payment on a median-priced home in the 1950s and 1960s took about 15 percent of family income, he said. Today, it takes about 30 percent of the family's income, and that's from two wage-earners.
The authors calculate that baby boomers will enter retirement with an average net worth of about $143,000. That is slightly less than the $157,000 their grandparents, born between 1909 and 1918, were worth (when inflation is figured) at their retirement in the early 1970s.
The pre-Depression economy, with its slow but steady growth, was more like today's economy than the post-World War II expansion was, he said.
In contrast, the parents of the baby boom generation, born between 1929 and 1938, are expected to enter retirement with an average net worth of almost $293,000.
"It's not a failure of a generation to succeed," Michel said, noting that boomers' parents were lucky to enjoy the post-war period while the boomers were caught by Arab oil price hikes and world trade competition with newly rebuilt Germany and Japan.
"It was expected that each generation of Americans would live better than the last with hard work and perseverance," Michel said.
"It's just not true any more."