Six Facts to Know About Millennials
- Millennials are the most diverse generation in history; 57% are non-Hispanic whites compared with 61% of generation X and 72% of boomers;
- 60% of boomers get their news from local TV; 60% of millennials use Facebook as a primary source
- Millennials are marrying later than any previous generation, with a median age of 29 for men and 27 for women
One of the hottest topics in the business world today is how to manage the new generation of workers. There’s more discussion and more research being done today on people born in the last two decades of the 20th century—the rough boundaries given to the demographic cohort called “millennials”—than on any generation before it.
Millennials are a fascinating generation, filled with contradictions. For example, generally speaking, millennials are a highly confident group, according to demographic researcher Jean Twenge. Yet at the same time they are the most stressed out generation, according to the American Psychological Association (as could be expected from a population whose formative years were bookended by 9/11 and the fear of terrorism on one hand, and the Great Recession and the fear of unemployment on the other).
Here are six facts American business leaders, including manufacturers, should understand about millennials:
1. They are the largest generation in history. Baby boomers have long considered themselves the most influential generation by virtue of their sheer numbers. But according to Pew Research Center, millennials are now the largest living generation. True, roughly 76 million babies were born during 1946-1964 and 66 million were born during 1981-1997, Pew’s definition for millennials. Extending the millennial boundaries to the year 2000, as many demographers do, and the number of babies born in both cohorts is virtually the same. But according to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the number of immigrants arriving over the past quarter-century has swelled the ranks of millennials past 80 million. At the same time, boomers are slowly dying off (their population peaked around the turn of the millennium). While boomers’ numbers and relative wealth ensure they’ll remain key target customers for the foreseeable future, as millennials become more affluent and the economy becomes more technologically sophisticated, expect the later model of humans to become the primary customer.
2. They are the most diverse cohort in history. The Pew Research Center found that no previous generation has been as diverse as millennials. Some 57% are non-Hispanic whites, compared with 61% of Gen Xers and 72% of boomers. The percentage of non-Hispanic whites will continue to fall, as non-white babies make up half of all births today. This makes newer generations more tolerant than previous generations and it’s having an impact on politics.
3. Millennials are the first generation to be asked by a previous generation for guidance. At a MAPI meeting last year, demographer Neil Howe, who along with Bill Strauss introduced the term “millennial,” introduced me to a new phenomenon: millennials are the first generation in history to be asked for guidance from a prior generation. Considering the exponential growth of technology, this shouldn’t surprise members of the boomer and silent generations, who’ve grown accustomed to calling children and grandchildren for help with computers, cellphones, televisions, and the like. Still, considering historic traditions worldwide in which older generations were revered as wiser, this is a remarkable cultural reversal.
4. They get most of their political news from nontraditional sources. While 60% of boomers still get their news from local TV sources, according to Pew that same percentage of millennials turns to Facebook. In other words, they’re relying on news aggregators that abbreviate and edit stories, rather than original content generators such as newspapers. This affects the amount and quality of the news they read.
5. They’re different socially and religiously. Millennials are marrying later than any previous generation: just 26% are married today, compared with 36% of Gen Xers and 46% of boomers when they were in this age range. The median age of marriage for millennials is 29 for men and 27 for women, the highest in history. In addition, just over a third of millennials describe themselves as religious, the first in U.S. history to not have a majority described as such. The percentage of absolute believers is 58% among millennials, which is 15 percentage points below the rate for boomers.
6. They lean Democratic but are philosophically more complex. The majority of millennials are socially liberal (for example, they are far more likely to favor same-sex marriage and marijuana legalization than earlier generations) and identify with the Democratic Party (in the most recent Harvard poll of millennials, 55% would like to see Democrats retain the White House, while only 40% would like to see a Republican elected). At the same time, the Harvard survey reveals that 40% of millennials agree that tax cuts are a way to generate economic growth, while only half that percentage disagrees. A Reason Foundation poll also found that a majority of millennials hold economically conservative views. As Derek Thompson, senior editor at The Atlantic, observed, “something interesting happens when Millennials start making serious dough. They start getting much more squeamish about giving it away.” Welcome to the club.