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Does this wallet make me look old? Why the way you carry your cash, credit cards isn't a marker of your age.

According to some headlines, carrying around a physical wallet signals a generational divide. Trend reports beg to differ.

leather wallet with bank cards sticks out of the back pocket of jeans. The woman put her purse in the back pocket of her jeans. The concept of pickpocketing, indiscretion, frivolity.
Credit: Getty Images

Along with middle parts, natural diamond engagement rings and home ownership, apparently carrying a physical wallet is a dead giveaway for what generation you’re in.

In fact, many headlines suggest that digital wallets — Apple Wallet on iPhones, Google Wallet on Androids and PayPal — are the only way the Gen Z demographic (those born between 1997-2012) pays for things.

“To a growing number of youths, a wallet stuffed with cash and cards is as unfashionable as the millennial tuck, no-show socks and skinny jeans,” the New York Times wrote in March.

Similarly, in February, the New York Post proclaimed that “carrying cash, identification and debit cards in a billfold has become akin to carrying around old butterscotch candies.”

But why are the conversations around digital wallets fixated on Gen Z specifically?

Harry Temkin, the chief digital officer of DriveWealth, a financial technology platform, told Yahoo News that digital wallet design is about tailoring to a generation that has grown up digitally. They want convenience, options and accessibility.

“If you look at any of the top [digital] wallets, they offer direct deposit, they offer two-day advance, they [might be] offering high yield savings,” Temkin said. “They’re tying all of these things together in super cool innovative ways that are attracting this younger audience.”

Part of the drive toward digital wallets came after contactless payments became popular during the pandemic — a time when many members of Gen Z were starting to open their first bank account, cash in on their first job or use their first credit card. Temkin cited the appealing design of the wallets as what makes them appealing to young people.

But it’s not just Gen Z who is interested in them. Gen Z’s connection to digital wallets could be a marketing tactic. For example, WARC, a marketing platform, claimed that an association with the term “Gen Z” has “shaped trends and influenced what’s popular.”

McKinsey reported in 2022 that nearly nine out of 10 Americans — across all age demographics — were using some form of digital wallet, and that that number would continue to grow.

Temkin, who is in his late 50s, said he and his kids all use digital wallets.

As more people use digital wallets for payments, Dong Min Kim, director of Google Wallet, told Tearsheet that it’s inevitable consumers will want it for “non-payment essentials” like health insurance cards, transit passes and identification — all of which already exist. However, there are only a few states that allow digital versions of state IDs or driver’s licenses for their residents.

But for some digital wallet users, there’s a safety element too. A 21-year-old Florida resident told the New York Times that, in the event of a mugging, her ID and cards wouldn’t be compromised because she wouldn’t have physical copies of them to be taken — they would all be encrypted on her phone.

Even after growing up in the digital age, Gen Z has concerns

On the other side of the coin, however, growing up in a digital world has made a lot of Gen Z members more cautious.

Gemma, 23, told Yahoo News that she has Apple Pay but has been trying to use cash more often.

“I don’t want to contribute to the obsolescence of cash,” she said. “I have one friend who pays everything down to their mortgage in cash. My other friends are pretty 50/50, I think. They pay their bills online, do a bit of online shopping, but everything they buy in-person is with cash.”

A 20-year-old Reddit user, who declined to give their name, agreed. They told Yahoo News they don’t have a credit card and carry cash instead because it’s “accepted by nearly everyone.”

Gabe, 28, said he saved his credit card information in a secure digital wallet app to make “buying things online smoother.” But he also highlighted “the nightmare” of having his phone battery die, leaving him without any other access to money or identification.

“Two or three cards don’t take up much room,” Gabe added. “I used to actually keep my [subway] card in my phone case, and at that point it was even more convenient than a digital wallet.”

In terms of public transit, some cities like New York and Chicago have tap-to-pay options where commuters can use their digital wallet rather than purchasing a physical ticket. Other major U.S. cities, including San Francisco and Philadelphia, allow users to download apps for digital transit tickets.

Another issue, Gemma added, was privacy. Concern over digital surveillance has been at an all-time high, especially with the recent TikTok ban proposal.

“I don’t appreciate my purchases being tracked and judged,” she said.

Google Wallet told Yahoo News that it is “secure and private” and “doesn’t share your real credit card number with businesses.”

“You have choice, control and transparency when it comes to your privacy,” the spokesperson said.

For Apple Wallet, iCloud encrypts wallet data when it’s sent over the internet and stores it in an encrypted format when it’s on Apple servers. When you make a purchase, Apply Pay uses a unique transaction code, so your card number is never shared with a merchant or put on Apple servers.

Temkin of DriveWealth added that from a regulatory standpoint, “there’s always going to be monitoring to ensure that customers are kept safe.”

“Our technology with wallets creates this seamless transformation of money,” Temkin said. “And that was something that was just simply not possible a handful of years ago.”