For decades, everything in America seemed to revolve around the baby boomers. Born in the post-World War II era of 1946 to 1964, and 76 million strong, they influenced everything from politics and economics to art and pop culture. That's a lot of people – one-fourth of the U.S. population, to be exact. But a much larger generation has now eclipsed the baby boomers – the millennials [sources: Fry, Pollard and Scommegna].
Depending on which source you use, millennials, aka Generation Y, are defined as those who were born between 1981 and 1997, or even 1980 and 2004 [sources: Fry, White House]. Using the latter definition, they represented one-third of the total U.S. population in 2013 and are poised to leave as big an imprint on America's economy and society as the boomers have. Millennials are a distinctive generation in many ways. Thanks to an uptick in immigration, they're the most diverse generation to date, with 42 percent identifying as a race or ethnicity that's not non-Hispanic white. They're also the most educated, with 61 percent having attended college versus 46 percent of boomers (and there are still millennials of high-school age). Millennials are also the first American generation to be plugged into the Internet from an early age [source: White House].
Exactly how this generation will influence America and the world remains to be seen. But the rest of us have already started labeling them, ascribing various characteristics to these millions of young folks that may or may not be accurate. Here are some of the things we're currently saying about millennials that aren't necessarily true.
There's no disputing it. Fewer young people can be found sitting in church pews today compared to older Americans. Further, studies show 25 percent of millennials aren't affiliated with any particular faith, fewer of them (compared to older folks) say religion is very important in their lives and fewer attend worship services than did baby boomers when they were the same age. Clearly, millennials have kicked religion to the curb [source: Pond, Smith and Clement].
Or maybe not. Religion is a broad concept, and can be viewed as something much more than simply warming a pew on Sunday mornings. Despite their absence in churches, synagogues and mosques, surveys show millennials' belief in religious tenets such as life after death, heaven and hell, and miracles is pretty similar to the beliefs of baby boomers and those in Generation X (That's the generation between the boomers and the millennials). You also have to consider age when looking at millennials and religion. While millennials report praying less often than older people, for example, their daily prayer rate (48 percent) is pretty much the same as was reported by baby boomers, Generation X and others when they were under 30. So disengagement from religion may be age-related and temporary more than generational [source: Pond, Smith and Clement].
One common criticism older people have of millennials is that they have a strong sense of entitlement, likely because their parents gave them almost anything they wanted while they were growing up. So as young adults in the workplace, millennials are looking to be handed management jobs from the start, rather than working their way up the ladder. And companies had better offer loads of amenities, too, like cafeterias with healthy food choices, gyms, yoga classes and on-site child care. Telecommuting options and flexible schedules should be a given as well.
Millennials, in contrast, generally view themselves as hardworking, dedicated and loyal young adults, according to one researcher who has surveyed this group [source: Graves]. Members of this generation entered one of the worst job markets in history; they're desperate to find employment and willing to work once they have it. In fact, it's not clear if millennials really feel more entitled than other generations at the same age. Surprisingly, a study doesn't seem to have been done on the issue [source: Foster].
If millennials expect certain work perks, it may not be because they're spoiled, but rather they're looking at the big picture. Raised with technology, for example, they may not understand why telecommuting isn't an option (and truthfully, companies sometimes refuse to offer it for no good reason). And if good health correlates to fewer sick days, why wouldn't a company have a gym or offer nutritious foods in its cafeteria? Then too, perhaps they're simply like members of previous generations when they first entered the workforce – young adults who need a little time to adjust to the realities of the office [sources: Graves, Green].
It seems pretty obvious that those belonging to the millennial generation are part of the most colorblind generation America has ever birthed. Slavery and segregation in the U.S. ended well before they were born. People are pouring into the country from all over the globe. And the U.S. Census Bureau has long predicted the U.S. will become a majority-minority nation by 2043. Race is simply a nonissue for millennials.
Isn't it? Yes, millennials say they support interracial marriage in larger numbers than previous generations. And they're more in favor of immigration, too, than previous generations. More millennials also agree everyone should be treated equally, no matter what their race. But these are self-reported beliefs. When Syracuse University professor Spencer Piston examined the 2012 American National Election Studies racial stereotype battery, he found white millennials were as biased as their parents when it came to viewing themselves as more intelligent and hardworking than African-Americans. And although only 13 percent of white millennials responding to a Pew survey said they didn't think whites and African-Americans got along very well, a full 30 percent of nonwhite millennials thought the two groups had issues. So while millennials say they're racially tolerant – and many do believe they are – there's definitely some prejudice hiding beneath the surface [source: McElwee].
They say it's the fault of the older generation. Because parents coddled their baby millennials, showering them with praise for everyday accomplishments and handing out trophies just for showing up, young-adult millennials now are spoiled, constantly fishing for approval and praise. It's true that members of this generation tend to look for a nod that they're doing well, but not necessarily because they're spoiled.
Millennials were raised in an era where kids had a say in what they did both in school and afterward. They were constantly evaluated in school and during sports and other after-school activities, and instructed on how to best improve their skills. They were also encouraged to aim high and take on as much as they could. (For instance, it wasn't enough to just play on a high school team – they had to play on a year-round traveling team as well.) As adults, this can translate to employees seeking feedback and affirmation; research shows 80 percent of millennials want regular feedback from their managers, and 80 percent preferred on-the-spot recognition to formal reviews [source: DeMonte]. Yet their affirmation-seeking isn't necessarily because they're looking for an unwarranted pat on the back – they're just used to immediate feedback. On the positive side, this upbringing also means millennials tend to accept guidance if they're on the wrong track, which is a big plus in any employee [source: Graves].
Ever heard someone say, "We need to hire a young person to handle our social media"? That's a big generalization. It's true that millennials grew up right along with the technology revolution: the Internet, email, instant-messaging, cell phones, texting and social media. And a common complaint from members of older generations is that millennials are glued to their smartphones and tablets. Because of their addiction to their devices, and their penchant for social media (Facebook, Instagram and the like), it must follow that millennials are social media pros and junkies.
Sure, millennials as a whole are savvier than other generational groups at social media. A full 75 percent of them have at least one social-media account, while only half of Gen Xers do. (And baby boomers? Less than one-third!) [source: White House]. Yet, don't assume this makes any individual millennial automatically adept at social media or able to use it for business purposes. Marketing strategy goes beyond the ability to "tweet." Plus millennials aren't necessarily using the social platforms that match a company's needs. Of the top 15 mobile apps used by millennials, Twitter was 14th in popularity [source: Dua]. Finally, one 2013 workplace study showed millennials find today's always-plugged-in work environment stressful – more stressful than reported by Gen Xers and boomers [source: Cornerstone OnDemand].
Remember a few decades back, when everyone was fleeing the city and settling in the suburbs? Then, when millennials came along, they began flocking back to America's newly redeveloped inner cities. Who wants to own a house with all of the work it entails? It's much more fun to rent a hip downtown apartment, with its easy access to funky shops, great restaurants and lots of entertainment venues. Yet dreams of home ownership remain strong for millennials – even more so than for their elders. A 2014 survey by Zillow Real Estate Research found nearly two-thirds of those aged 18 to 34 felt owning a home was critical to living "the good life" compared to 56 percent of people aged 35-49 [sources: Davidson, Terrazas].
It's really not surprising that today's millennials largely are renters. Remember, they began diving into the job market when unemployment rates were high. This meant they often had to take lower-paying jobs, which equates to less money available to stash away for a down payment. Plus, members of this generation are delaying marriage until they're older; it's a lot harder for a single person to scrape together enough money to purchase a home than it is for two people to do so. While their homebuying may be delayed, it should occur eventually [source: Davidson].
Pew Research projects a full 25 percent of millennials will still be single by the time they've hit their mid-40s to mid-50s. People who were the same age (25 to 34) back in both 1960 and 1970, in contrast, married at much higher rates. When these two groups of people hit their mid-40s to mid-50s, only 5 percent remained single. Further, Pew reports 24 percent of never-married millennials are currently living with a partner, choosing cohabiting over marriage [source: Wang and Parker].
So does that mean marriage is dying out among millennials? It's true Americans are waiting longer to get married. In 1960, the median age for a woman's first marriage was 20; for men, it was 23. In 2015, it is 27 for women and 29 for men – a trend that's been going on for some time [source: Raphelson]. Yet delaying marriage doesn't mean no interest in marriage. Some millennials are waiting to marry until they're more financially secure, while others want to be more advanced in their career. Many haven't found the right person yet. When they were high school seniors, 80 percent of millennials said they wanted to marry someday – a larger percentage than reported by Gen Xers and baby boomers at that age [source: White House]. So yes, millennials do care about marriage. They just aren't in a rush to tie the knot.
It's been a joke for a while – millennials are boomerang kids who move out of their parents' homes one day or month or year, only to move back in again a little later. In 2012, 36 percent of them were living at home – the highest percentage in at least 40 years [source: Fry]. What happened to the good, old days when kids packed their bags at age 18 and never looked back? Where is the drive for independence among this generation? Why are they happy to have their aging parents continue to support them?
One of the reasons so many millennials are living at home is a positive one: More young people are going to college today than in the past, often living at home to save money. Unfortunately, many of these same young adults graduated with staggering amounts of student-loan debt, then were faced with a tight job market, courtesy of the 2008 Great Recession. This double whammy all but necessitated a move back home in many cases. Add to that a generation that is delaying marriage, and has closer ties with its parents than those of the past, and moving back home almost seems a given [sources: Weissmann, White House].
Millennials are widely viewed as job-hoppers for various reasons. One is that they're strictly out for themselves – they're not interested in being team players – so they'll grab hold of whatever deal is the best, even if it means switching jobs every year. Another theory says they've seen employers lay off their friends and relatives with no qualms, and assume they'll be treated the same. Thus, if their employer has no intention of being loyal to them, why should they consider being loyal to their employer? Interestingly, millennials aren't really job-hoppers at all.
When millennials leave a job, it's usually due to a lack of job advancement potential. If they felt there was the possibility of upward mobility in the company, one study showed millennials would stay in their job for five years [source: Hecht]. Other studies showed that overall, millennials are actually sticking with employers longer than Gen X workers did when they were the same age. They're also optimistic about finding a stable career; 80 percent of respondents in one survey said they felt they'd work at four companies max throughout their entire career [sources: Fallon, White House].
Just as not all Irishmen, actors or Protestants or dog-lovers are alike, every generation is filled with members who think and act outside the stereotypes, as well as those who conform to them. This holds true for millennials as well. More than a few probably don't care about marriage, are happy to live with the folks indefinitely and feel the world must revolve around them. Others are independent, ambitious and can get the job done without constant praise. (Did you know one in 10 millennials makes over $100,000 [source: DeMonte]?)
Yet we can still ascribe certain principles to them as a group. Half of all millennials, for example, don't identify with either political party. More than 80 percent are optimistic about their financial futures, despite coming of age during a terrible economic time. And here's one stat that won't surprise you: 55 percent have snapped a "selfie" and posted it on a social media site – a far higher percentage than even those in the relatively young Generation X [source: Pew Research Center].
HowStuffWorks looks at the greeting card industry and why millennials like to give and receive birthday cards.
Author's Note: 10 Misconceptions About Millennials
I gave birth to three millennials, and I can tell you from personal experience that you certainly can't stereotype this generation. Unless it's to say that millennials are really awesome people!
More Great Links
- Cornerstone OnDemand. "Cornerstone OnDemand's The State of Workplace Productivity Report." (April 16, 2015) http://www.cornerstoneondemand.com/resources/research/state-of-workplace-productivity-2013
- Davidson, Jacob. "What Everyone Gets Wrong About Millennials and Home Buying." Money. Nov. 12, 2014. (April 13, 2015) http://time.com/money/3551773/Millennials-home-buying-marriage/
- DeMonte, Adena. "Infographic: The Rise of the Millennials." Badgeville. Dec. 18, 2013. (April 22, 2015) https://badgeville.com/2013/12/18/infographic-the-rise-of-the-millennials
- Dua, Tanya. "Millennial media-consumption habits explained, in 5 charts." DigiDay, Oct. 21, 2014 (April 23, 2015) http://digiday.com/brands/millennial-media-consumption-habits-debunked-5-charts/
- Fallon, Nicole. "3 Millennial Myths Employers Still Believe." Business News Daily. Dec. 16, 2014. (April 13, 2015) http://www.businessnewsdaily.com/7587-millennial-myths.html
- Fry, Richard. "A Rising Share of Young Adults Live in Their Parents' Home." Pew Research Center. Aug. 1, 2013. (April 13, 2015) http://www.pewsocialtrends.org/2013/08/01/a-rising-share-of-young-adults-live-in-their-parents-home/
- Fry, Richard. "This year, Millennials will overtake Baby Boomers." Pew Research Center. Jan. 16, 2015. (April 17, 2015) http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2015/01/16/this-year-millennials-will-overtake-baby-boomers/
- Graves, Jada. "Millennial Workers: Entitled, Needy, Self-Centered?" U.S. News & World Report. June 27, 2012. (April 14, 2015) http://money.usnews.com/money/careers/articles/2012/06/27/Millennial-workers-entitled-needy-self-centered
- Green, Alison. "5 Workplace Stereotypes About Millennials That Aren't True." U.S. News & World Report. March 16, 2015. (April 13, 2015) http://money.usnews.com/money/blogs/outside-voices-careers/2015/03/16/5-workplace-stereotypes-about-Millennials-that-arent-true
- Hecht, Jared. "Millennial Misconceptions: How You're Totally Wrong About This Generation." Entrepreneur. April 2, 2014. (April 13, 2015) http://www.entrepreneur.com/article/232723
- McElwee, Sean. "Millennials Are Less Racially Tolerant Than You Think." NY Mag. Jan. 8, 2015. (April 13, 2015) http://nymag.com/scienceofus/2015/01/Millennials-are-less-tolerant-than-you-think.html
- Pew Research Center. "Millennials in Adulthood." March 7, 2014. (April 16, 2015) http://www.pewsocialtrends.org/2014/03/07/millennials-in-adulthood/
- Pollard, Kelvin and Paola Scommegna. "Just How Many Baby Boomers Are There?" Population Reference Bureau. April 2014. (April 17, 2015) http://www.prb.org/Publications/Articles/2002/JustHowManyBabyBoomersAreThere.aspx
- Pond, Allison and Gregory Smith and Scott Clement. "Religion Among the Millennials." Pew Research Center. Feb. 17, 2010. (April 13, 2015) http://www.pewforum.org/2010/02/17/religion-among-the-Millennials/
- Raphelson, Samantha. "Amid The Stereotypes, Some Facts About The Millennials." NPR. Nov. 18, 2014. (April 13, 2015) http://www.npr.org/2014/11/18/354196302/amid-the-stereotypes-some-facts-about-Millennials
- Terrazas, Aaron. "Zillow's Housing Confidence Index: Will Youthful Exuberance Today Mean More Sales Tomorrow?" Zillow. Sept. 22, 2014. (April 16, 2015) http://www.zillow.com/research/housing-confidence-index-sept-2014-7698/
- United States Census Bureau. "U.S. Census Bureau Projections Show a Slower Growing, Older, More Diverse Nation a Half Century from Now." Dec. 12, 2012. (April 14, 2015) https://www.census.gov/newsroom/releases/archives/population/cb12-243.html
- Wang, Wendy and Kim Parker. "Record Share of Americans Have Never Married." Pew Research Center. Sept. 24, 2014. (April 16, 2015) http://www.pewsocialtrends.org/2014/09/24/record-share-of-americans-have-never-married/
- Weissmann, Jordan. "Why Do So Many Millennials Live With Their Parents? Two Theories: Marriage and Debt." Slate. Feb. 10, 2015. (April 13, 2015) http://www.slate.com/blogs/moneybox/2015/02/10/Millennials_living_with_parents_it_s_harder_to_explain_why_young_adults.html
- White House. "15 Economic Facts About Millennials." October 2014. (April 13, 2015) https://www.whitehouse.gov/sites/default/files/docs/Millennials_report.pdf