The Great Depression had a huge impact on the generation that came of age in the 1930s and fought World War II.
They were careful with their money and saved for the future. They ended up raising their children, the Baby Boomers, in an era of prosperity.
In some respects, the Great Recession, accented by the financial crisis of 2008, has had a similar effect on today's young consumers. A report by the market research firm Packaged Facts finds today's consumers are frugal and cautious with money, usually out of necessity.
The authors conclude that the recession reshaped how consumers approach money, and in particular, debt. They don't take on debt unless they have to. At least, that's what they told the researchers.
The report found that 72% of consumers describe themselves as more conservative when it comes to debt, and attribute that trait to the recession that ended seven years ago. Remarkably, that feeling was expressed in large numbers across all demographic segments.
"What we are seeing is that most consumers view their financial situation with uncertainty, a perception that likely affects how they plan for and execute financial decisions,” said David Sprinkle, research director at Packaged Facts.
That could explain why the economy has limped along with anemic growth since the recovery began. Yet there are a few things it doesn't explain.
Consumers don't seem to be reluctant to go into debt to purchase a new car. Month after month, new car sales have set records, with transaction prices averaging just under $34,000.
Credit card debt has also surged. In a recent report, the credit card comparison site CardHub warned that in the second half of last year, consumers went on the biggest credit card binge in the history of its annual review. It said total credit card debt rose by $71 billion in 2015.
There was one fact that was particularly worrying. In the last three months of the year, consumers charged more on their plastic than in all of 2014.
If Packaged Facts is correct that consumers are trying to avoid debt in the post-recession era, the numbers suggest that they are having difficulty doing so.