There has been much written and said about the age group referred to as Millennials. The definition of who qualifies as a Millennial depends on whose definition you rely upon.
Per Pew Research, Millennials are those born between the years 1981 to 1996. Urban Dictionary defines the birth years for Millennial as ranging from about 1981-2001, just as the birth-years for Baby Boomers ranged from 1946-1964.
Merriam-Webster defines Millennials as a person born in the 1980s or 1990s —usually plural.
Per an article that I read on The Atlantic three years ago, researchers Neil Howe and William Strauss called Millennials “the next great generation,” which is funny. They define the group as “as those born in 1982 and approximately the 20 years thereafter.” In 2012, they affixed the end point as 2004.
Based on some definitions, my almost nineteen-year-old son is a Millennial. He definitely exhibits some of the characteristics commonly attributed to Millennials, some good and some not so good.
The department in which I have been employed for the past twelve years has hired on four Millennials over the past two years, so I have had a good chance to interact with and observe their work-related behavior and have picked up quite a bit on their outside of work lifestyles.
My new boss is a mere thirty-two years old which places him squarely in the Millennial category. However, besides me not appreciating him being made my boss, he does exhibit a lot of the better attributes of that cohort, being married and a homeowner with steady employment that contributes to a well-funded and well-managed pension system, IMRF. He also has a stronger work ethic than this generation is known for.
My children like to tease me because they know of my fascination and study of Millennials. When we go somewhere, and a heavily tattooed young man or lady with a very fashionable haircut, dressed in a Millennial outfit, serves us food or sells us a book or whatever, they both kid me and say “Dad, did you see that Millennial?” I reply, “Yes, and I was studying him (or her).”
As an avid and constant reader of a wide variety of books, blogs, magazines, trade publications, academic journals and whatever I can get my hands on or my eyes on, I have read much about Millennials and have come to many conclusions, a few of which I will now share.
Millennials are on the path to becoming the most educated generation in America’s history. A Mic.com article by Gregory Krieg reports that Young Americans are racking up degrees at a historically unparalleled rate, with 34% of 25-to-29-year-olds holding a bachelor’s, master’s, professional or doctoral diploma. This is undoubtedly good news, but the underlying reason for the uptick is troubling.
Why is this? One reason is that the Generation X parents and older, like Yours Truly and my wife, sometimes hover over our children and highly value their education.
It has never been more important to gain a college degree than now. Many studies show the vast difference in lifetime earnings between those that have one and those who do not.
Most Millennials do not know another world besides pursuing the best education possible without question. My own two children fit squarely into this category. Both are top-notch students and they know that both my wife and I believe that getting a good education is not necessarily the key to getting ahead, but the key to remaining relevant in the future workforce.
Workforce is most likely the wrong word, since both of our children seem to be heading toward self-employment of some sort or another, which I encourage as a long-time economic development professional. Long-term employment with one employer who provides benefits like health insurance and a funded pension plan is becoming more and more rare as the years pass.
Only dinosaurs like me and others who go to work for government agencies may be the ones who are able to enjoy that type of security and, believe me, local government jobs are not so secure these days.
None of the four Millennials in my former department are married. One is thirty-two years old, another is about thirty-three and the other two are in their mid-twenties.
Granted, the overweight and generally loud woman in the department does not appear to be prime marriage material in my own humble middle aged Middle Class Guy point of view. Maybe there is someone out there for her.
Just comparing her age-wise to my wife, we had our second child when she was thirty-three and I was thirty-two. My younger brother, my parent’s third child, was born when our mother was thirty-two and our father was thirty-one. My brother and his wife had their third child when they were both about thirty-two or thirty-three, and our sister also had her second child around that time.
Studies have shown that only one-fourth of older Millennials are married. According to “Okay Cupid, Why Aren’t Millennials Getting Married?” by Olivia Gonzalez and Erika Grace Davies on a Fee.org article, only 26% of Millennials are married now, compared to 36% of Gen-Xers and 48% of Baby Boomers when they were young. They propose (no pun intended) that the economy is to blame.
When they were between 18 and 33, Gen-Xers had a median household income of $64,949 — enough to support two adults, according to Economic Policy Institute’s budget calculator. At the same age, a Millennial today can expect to earn only $62,528. A difference of $2,000 may not seem significant, but rising costs of living and a more competitive job market place increasing pressure on Millennials’ budgets, leaving little room to support a family.
They Want to Make an Impact
Millennials want to make a difference in the world. Three out of four Millennials believe it is their role in life to serve others.
Although specific forms of engagement vary, millennials have matched older generations in volunteering and consumer activism. In addition, we want to make a difference: Eighty-eight percent of millennials females and 82% of millennial males reported that it’s important to be engaged in work that gives back to the community.
A 2006 UCLA study of hundreds of thousands of college freshmen found that 66.3% thought it was important to help others, an increase from 62.4% in 2004 and the highest percentage recorded in 25 years.
Most Millennials whom I have interacted with seem to think that they will make some great contribution during their lifetime. Like my wife and I have, their parents have instilled the belief that they can do anything. Teachers repeat the mantra that they can accomplish anything they want to so long as they put their minds to it.
Undoubtedly many Millennials will contribute a lot to the world over the next few decades. However, sending selfies to one another, re-posting funny pictures on Instagram and sexting to one another is not quite the way to change the world.
Some of them are bound to make significant contributions, much the same way that every previous generation has since the discovery of fire and invention of the wheel.
New apps just don’t seem to carry the same weight to middle aged guys like me, but I am moving closer to being an old fuddy duddy than an up-and-coming developer.
Sometimes I think that Millennials should have their cell phones surgically attached to their bodies. The pervasiveness of cell phones has led to them as the primary mode of communication for Millennials.
The most accessible way to reach a Millennial is by text. Millennials have learned to be brief in conversations, eliminating the need to spend long amounts of time with other forms of communication.
This means that, on an average day, Millennials — defined here as being ages 18 to 34 — “interact with their smartphone more than anything or anyone else,” the survey concluded.
This may not surprise anyone who has looked at millennial smartphone usage. More Millennials (77%) own smartphones — and spend more time on them (over two hours a day) — than any other age group, according to a 2014 report that examined the behavior of more than 23,000 adults, and was released by Experian.
“In fact, millennials spend so much time on their smartphones that they account for 41% of the total time that Americans spend using smartphones, despite making up just 29% of the population,” the report concluded.
There are more financial sites now than ever. You could read a hundred posts about why gold or the stock market or the bond market are set to implode any day, and then you can find a hundred more predicting that gold, stocks and bonds are just about to go on a great surge.
There are literally hundreds of financial websites, blogs and ways to invest. With so many choices and conflicting advice, Millennials do not know where to begin.
I recently read the millennials: Connecting to America’s Largest Generation by father and son Thom S. and Jess. W. Rainer.
The Rainers define Millennials as the 78 million people born between 1980 and 2000, a definition that I am comfortable with, the year 2000 being a memorable and nice round number that I feel is as good a dividing point as any.
They conducted 1,200 interviews with Millennials and compiled the data to come to the conclusions in this book.
Regarding financial savvy, they write that four out of ten surveyed stated that they are financially confused.
In an article titled “Degrees don’t make millennials financially literate” by Kate Gibson on MoneyWatch, the author reports that in the past five years, 42 percent of Millennials used an alternative financial service, such as payday loans, pawnshops, auto title loans, tax refund advances and rent-to-own products, according to the study conducted by the Global Financial Literacy Excellence Center at George Washington University and supported by PwC.
Broken out, among those using alternative services 50 percent had a high school degree or less and 28 percent had a college degree. But Millennials are in too much debt regardless of their education, with two-thirds overall and 81 percent of the college-educated carrying at least one outstanding long-term debt.
Nearly 30 percent of millennials are overdrawing on their checking accounts, and more than 20 percent with retirement accounts took loans or hardship withdrawals in the past year.
Millennials are the age group with the lowest level of financial literacy among the overall population: Only 24 percent demonstrate basic financial knowledge, and just 8 percent show high financial literacy.
The Rainers write that Millennials are the least religious of any generation in modern American history. Only one out of three Millennials attend worship services regularly and only one out of five is involved with a small-group Bible study.
They conclude that Millennials are no longer choosing to identify themselves with religion. Most of their generation has decided to remain content with calling themselves spiritual.
The phrase “spiritual but not religious” has gained so much popularity over the years that it has evolved to become one of the main identifiers of the Millennial generation, aged 18 to 34.
According to University of Central Florida student and Millennial Payton Ramey, studies conducted within the last two years reveal that, compared to their parents and grandparents at the same age, Millennials are considerably less likely to be attached to ideals of organized religion.
Only about 40 percent of Millennials consider religion to be an important part of their everyday life, yet 80 percent of the individuals in the same survey say that they have spiritual beliefs, identifying with statements like, “I feel a deep sense of spiritual well-being” and “I experience a sense of wonder about the universe.”
The Rainers’ study of Millennials showed that they learned the importance of relationships, particularly family relationships, from their families.
Their parents connected with them to the point of becoming overbearing at times. Now, Millennials typically stay in touch with mom and dad several times per week via cell phone, text message, email, Twitter and Skype.
Of course, as numerous reports have recently shown, so many Millennials still live at home with their parents that they see them on a daily basis.
Millennials have come of age with twenty-four hour news coverage and a plethora of social media sites that make them see the world as a much smaller place than previous generations.
In the past, if I had a friend move out of state, I never had the opportunity to speak with them again. For any younger readers, there used to be something called a long-distance call and it may run your folks ten or twenty cents per minute, which was like a dollar or two per minute now.
Our daughter has a friend who she met at band camp who lives several hours away from us in southern Illinois. She keeps in touch with this girl quite a bit via social media and FaceTime.
Our daughter is on FaceTime some evenings to the point where I watch what I am wearing or not wearing and what I say for fear of some teenage girl hundreds of miles away from us seeing me shirtless and hearing me say something that I would only say in the comfort and privacy of my own home.
The Millennial generation (and younger) does well with their desire to stay connected to others. The Rainers write that this generation “is truly a relationship generation. If anyone fails to grasp that reality, they have failed to understand the Millennials.”
Show Millennials the Money!
While it is commonly said that Millennials seem to have less interest in material items than the desire for flexibility and connecting socially, the Rainers’ research showed that income is a major factor in both job selection and retention among this generation. It is second only to work/life balance.
While Millennials may not want to or be able to purchase big-ticket items that my own Generation X has for many years, like houses and cars, they do want to make a lot of money to purchase smart phones, powerful computers, and spend time traveling and dining out and generally having a good time with their friends. By the way, I personally do not find wanting to spend money on those things particular to Millennials whatsoever.
Millennials may have different motivations to make money, but it is ultimately just as important to them as it was or is to any other generation.
In case you have not noticed, the gap between the haves and the have-nots continues to widen year after year, and things are not getting any cheaper.
On YoungAdultMoney.com, David Carlson wrote that the reality is that most Millennials don’t see the need to grind out a decade of “paying dues” before they can take home a reasonable income. With technology today it’s easier than ever to see what skills are in-demand as well as develop and improve those skills. In many cases millennials are the ones with the in-demand skills, such as programming.
Millennials want to increase their income, and they want to do it as quickly as possible. If another company is going to give them a 25% raise to come over, they are going to take it. With tools like glassdoor it’s easier than ever to see which companies pay more – or less – for a given job.
Millennials Wanna Have Fun at Work
Millennials have grown up with life-like video games, state-of-the-art amusement parks, 3-D movies and powerful computers.
They can watch video clips, listen to music on demand and communicate instantaneously with their friends.
Some organizations, like the one where I am employed, act like all their employees were born before 1960. The culture is slow-changing and devoid of humor or innovation. This leads to culture shock for the Millennials who join such an organization and declares that things are done stupid and old-fashioned, like I have heard from all four Millennials hired over the past two years in my department.
As Bob Kulhan writes on the Stanford University Press blog, as work environments continue to evolve, one elementary truth holds constant: As long as there has been an aging workforce, there has been a need to find, engage, cultivate, and retain great, young talent. There has also been a struggle to bridge the communication gap between generations in meaningful ways—which can prove to be a significant hurdle.
This desire for connection is human, and it is especially compelling for the socially conscious Millennials, who thirst for a diversity of perspectives. Driven by access to a global community, this eagerness for divergent viewpoints is influenced and enlightened by many circumstances: education, family and friends, habits and rituals, geographic location, access to a variety of media and mediums.
Arguably, Millennials now dictate how we communicate with each other like no other generation before theirs has. (Consider the tremendous power of social media, crowdsourcing, and the internet.) The corporate takeaway: leaders must embrace this change.
Kulhan writes that here is where improv comes in. Improv? Yes, improv. Improvisation is a communication-based art form that inherently connects people in the workforce because, when applied thoughtfully, the tenets of improv create a culture of acceptance that is relaxed and (dare I say) fun.
They Have Resentment
The Rainers write that Millennials resent their unused potential. They are ready to take over and make great contributions, but do not want to pay their dues.
Rightly so in my new boss’s case, who at thirty-two was hired as an intern eight short years ago, elevated to a full-time assistant position about five years ago, and is now the boss of several employees with decades more of experience.
In this case, it is a middle aged Middle Class member of Generation X who resents a Millennial.
In the Rainers’ survey, about one-half of the Millennials believe that Baby Boomers who knew them doubted their abilities because of their youth and are holding them back from accomplishing their goals.
The Millennials with whom I work spend a good portion of the workday on their smartphones on social media sites. I am not saying that they do not get their jobs done, I’m just saying that they spend anywhere from an hour or more per day at the taxpayers’ expense on their social media accounts.
In a recent survey, 41% of millennials still use Facebook every day, however, Facebook was found to be more popular with non-millennials. Every other measured social media platform (YouTube, Instagram, Snapchat, Pinterest, Twitter and LinkedIn) was found to be more popular with millennials than non-millennials.
Another reason for this shift could be that Facebook actually makes us unhappy, and millennials are tired of it. Comparing ourselves to our friends’ highlight reels is no longer as exciting as it once was. Longtime Facebook users — millennials — are growing older and, in many ways, wiser.
Most of the studies show that my own generation of (now) middle aged Gen Xers are actually the biggest users of Facebook. Judging by my wife’s two or so hours per day on the site, I can vouch for that since nearly 100% of her “friends” are also in our age group and seem to be posting things several times per day.
Per a Nielsen study published in early 2017, Generation X, a cohort of people loosely defined as being currently between the ages of 35 and 49, spend more time on social platforms during an average week than any other US adult age group, a new study by Nielsen (pdf) found.
They spent an average of 6 hours and 58 minutes per week on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and other platforms, on average 39 more minutes than Millennials.
Millennials, just like any other generation, are responding to their rapidly changing environment and experiences. They are a generation who has experienced massive unemployment, a housing market crash, a Recession with a capital R, and they have a frickin’ ton of student debt. Any piece of information that they want or need is at their fingertips instantaneously, they can video chat with their friends via their phone from several states away, and they want to do good in the world, make lots of money, and they want it yesterday, not five years from now.
It has shaped how they approach every major milestone in our life, from college to getting married. And their approaches are varied.
But they are also children of change, which may be their strongest feature. I have read dozens of articles about them, I have worked with them for several years, I have observed my five cousins in that age category, and I now have a new boss who is a Millennial.
I could probably write my own book or at least a very long article about Millennials, and maybe I will. I probably won’t. This post is over 3,600 words, and I doubt that it will be my last about them.
My overall, final conclusion about Millennials is that they are just like any and all generations before them, and like any and all that will follow. What seems like rapid and transformational technological changes in 2017 will seem downright antiquated twenty years from now. Like the rotary phone that I used as a kid.
My children’s generation is even more cued in and more ambitious in changing the world than the Millennials who I know.
Some day the Millennials will be running everything. They’ll be mayors in your community, company executives, university professors, doctors, lawyers, military leaders, authors and even common laborers like ditch diggers, guys who stand under your car to change the oil at Jiffy Lube and people who mow your lawn.
When that day comes, they will feel older and wiser and will most likely lament the work ethic of those younger than they are.