Remember when everyone could balance a checkbook?

Remember when everyone could balance a checkbook?

By Jennifer L. Gaskin

Throughout history, the times and places people lived in shaped the skills they needed to survive. Think about the years before the invention of electricity: Back then, many Americans knew how to build fires, drive wagons, or preserve food. Today, those once-essential skills have been replaced with tasks our ancestors could have never imagined, such as driving cars, building websites, or taking photographs.

In the last two decades,

Balancing a checkbook is one of the life skills that younger generations don’t (and might never) possess, according to a survey of adults from 18 to 76 years old.

Are some skills destined to become relics of the past? To find out, conducted a study of 1,076 adults in equal amounts of four generations–baby boomers, Generation X, millennials, and Generation Z. Overall, 52 percent were females and the rest males. In almost every case, the skills in the study were most common among older adults between the ages of 58 and 76 and least common among younger adults 18 to 25. There were some slight differences, but several stood out because of how uncommon they are in more youthful generations today. The three skills most at risk of extinction are:

  • Negotiating purchase prices.

By a 39-point margin, baby boomers were much more likely than their younger counterparts to know how to negotiate the purchase prices of things like homes or new cars. Eighty-one percent of boomers said they can haggle on price, while only 43 percent of Gen Zers said the same. This could be explained by broader economic factors and the nature of the younger generation. Gen Zers in the research ranged in age from 18 to 25. According to an analysis by, Gen Z holds just a 2 percent share of the U.S. housing market, though as this generation ages into young adulthood, their share will rise. Additionally, with more transactions occurring online, opportunities to haggle may become increasingly rare.

  • Balancing a checkbook and writing a check.

Almost 90 percent of baby boomers know how to balance a checkbook, compared to just over half of Gen Zers. Research also revealed a sizable skill gap regarding checks between Gen Zers and millennials. About 70 percent of millennials said they could write a check or balance a checkbook if needed.This difference is likely due to online and mobile banking and the widespread use of credit and debit cards. About three-quarters of Americans use mobile apps for financial tasks like checking bank statements or making deposits. And while people still write checks, it’s a form of payment that has rapidly fallen out of favor. The most recent data from the Federal Reserve indicates that among all forms of non-cash payments, checks account for about 8 percent, down 26 percent since 2012.

  • Ironing.

Nearly 90 percent of baby boomers said they knew how to use an iron, compared to 64 percent of millennials and 56 percent of Generation Zers. This could indicate a shifting attitude toward clothing and work. In recent years, many businesses have relaxed their dress codes and allowed professionals to give up their suits and ties in favor of jeans and other casual clothes that don’t require ironing. Additionally, many employees are still working remotely since the start of the pandemic and don’t need to dress professionally while working from home.

Other life skills in decline are public speaking, salary negotiation, and reading analog clocks. They are significant ways in which younger generations may be falling behind.

Essential professional communication may be more difficult for younger workers. For example, 36 percent of Gen Zers said they know how to negotiate a raise or a salary at a job, compared to 63 percent for baby boomers and Gen Xers. Considering this generation will comprise about 30 percent of the American workforce by 2030, an inability to negotiate could pose problems.

Additionally, 58 percent of Generation Z and 63 percent of millennials said they were skilled in public speaking, compared to 71 percent of baby boomers. Many professionals have had limited opportunities to hone their face-to-face communication skills, especially since the pandemic. Combined with society’s ever-increasing reliance on smartphones, anxiety around public speaking may increase.

When it comes to domestic tasks, most people in all age groups feel confident doing things like baking or cooking without a recipe or preparing a meal for a family. But a couple of clothing-related skills may be going out of fashion. By a 31-point margin, baby boomers are more likely than Gen Zers to know how to iron clothes; similarly, they’re 28 points more likely to be able to make clothing alterations, like hemming a pair of pants or replacing a button—things only 40 percent of Gen Zers half of millennials can do.  By comparison, 61 percent of Gen Xers and 68 percent of baby boomers can.

One reason for the decline in several domestic skills could be that in many schools, family and consumer sciences (once called home economics) are either not taught or not required. An NPR (National Public Radio) anaysis found that such classes have declined over the past 20 years.

When it comes to do-it-yourself home repairs, Gen Zers are relatively competent compared to their older counterparts with using a power drill, mowing the lawn, or painting a room. Again, younger people are less likely to own homes, so, likely they have simply never had to do many such tasks. For example, 29 percent of Gen Zers know how to fix a leaky faucet. Plumbers typically charge anywhere from $45 to $200 per hour, so people of all ages would be well-advised to roll up their sleeves and get dirty.

The median income of all survey participants was between $50,000 and $74,999 a year.


Source: provides consumer and product information for older adults and their caregivers.