When Eric Sullivan first bought cryptocurrency, he went all in. Sullivan is from Denver, Colo. and was attending the University of Denver in the spring of 2020 when he invested all his earnings from an accounting internship, $20,000, in digital assets, including Bitcoin, Ethereum, and XRP coins. “I had saved up a good amount of money, and I just dumped it all in,” he explained. “I bought in fully, and it was like alright, this is cool. I just liked the idea of it.”
Sullivan, along with the rest of Gen Z crypto investors, excitedly watched his investment climb higher and higher by the day—until it didn’t. The crypto market implosion began in May when the coin TerraUSD crashed, starting a chain reaction of various cryptocurrencies crashing and companies laying off staff, or shutting down altogether. What was a three trillion dollar industry in November 2021 is now a one billion dollar industry.
Sullivan, who is now 25 and is working at a distillery in Crested Butte, Colorado, didn’t take out any profits, and estimates he lost hundreds of thousands in valuation when the crypto market crashed. “I was like, well, f–k it, you know, I kind of blew that, but whatever,” he said. “Overall, it’s like water under the bridge.” Despite the initial disappointment, he is still a true believer in crypto.
Reflecting on the crash, he explained that he doesn’t feel like he lost “real” money, since he still owns the assets that plummeted in value. He added that since he’s young and doesn’t have financial responsibilities that come with supporting a family, he doesn’t think the money was a necessity. Looking ahead, he still plans to put the majority of his investments in digital assets—to him it’s an obvious decision. “I think it’s absolutely the future,” he said. “I think the technology’s there.”
Gen Z, which includes people born between the mid-1990s and the early 2000s, in many ways drove the crypto boom, and they fell the hardest when it crashed. Beyond the allure of making fast money, social factors also drove young people to crypto. “The history of crypto is really born out of people not trusting central banks and financial institutions who were basically bailed out for what they did in the 2008 recession,” explained financial advisor Douglas Boneparth. “Crypto [represented] freedom to a lot of people,” he said.
The volatility of digital assets also presented an opportunity to make money outside of wage earning. “The economic opportunities that our parents had and our grandparents had for social and economic mobility are just not there for young people [today]. That means that you have to take risks if you want to try …….