Who are Millennials? Ask a Baby Boomer or Gen X-er, and chances are they’ll tell you we’re a bunch of entitled adult adolescents who, despite our chronic laziness, tend to whine about not being handed everything we believe we deserve.
Or perhaps they would respond with some combination of the following: We (yes, this writer is a Millennial) are highly likely to sleep in our childhood bedrooms surrounded by our countless participation trophies until we’re 40. We’re ruining how society communicates. Half of us will probably die attempting to cross streets while texting. We won’t have a conversation with you unless you guarantee us a designated safe space and promise to use the phrase “trigger warning” before any sentence that contains even a lilt of negativity.
And worst of all? We’re never going to give you any grandchildren.
A TIME Magazine article in 2013 called Millennials the “me, me, me” generation. A May 2016 article in the National Review proclaimed that the Millennial generation is characterized by a “laughable fragility.” The New York Times called us “Generation Nice.” But at the risk of sounding existential here . . . who are we, really?
That’s precisely the question the Business Journal will examine in our new ongoing series, Millennial Pulse – an idea conceived by our Baby Boomer publisher. Each issue, we will look at the Millennial generation from a new perspective. We will present data, interviews and personal perspectives to dig in to this generation, which is now the country’s largest living age cohort.
This time, we’ll start with the need-to-knows.
Research institutions have slightly varying age parameters for Millennials. Most have settled on those born from 1980 to the mid-1990s or early 2000s. Roughly speaking, typically included is anyone aged 17 to 37, although some use a more narrow age range.
Generally speaking, the idea behind these parameters is that those among this generation came of age during or after the new millennium. Millennials grew up using technology far more advanced and portable than prior generations. And, it should be noted, we all came of age in a post-9/11 society.
But consider this. On 9/11, the oldest Millennial was 21 years old. Based on the broader definition of our generation, the youngest Millennial was not even born yet. Older Millennials vividly remember the events of that pivotal day in history. The youngest of our generation learned about it in history books.
My age group entered the training ground for adulthood that is high school just as a new world began taking shape. Having grown up in the Clinton era, we experienced a pronounced shift in the anxieties plaguing our nation – from worries about the occasional homegrown bomber and school shooters to the incessant deluges brought on by the Taliban and Al Qaeda, and then ISIS. We experienced the sudden shift from a time when traveling was fun to an era in which it’s often stressful, and, on the most unfortunate of days, scary.
The youngest Millennials today, on the other hand, did not experience this rude awakening; they grew up after it had already sunk its teeth in. It’s a disparity perhaps comparable to the divide between Baby Boomers who remember the death of John F. Kennedy and those who were too young to recall it.
We’re also a generation vastly separated by the technologies we grew up with. I, for instance, learned how to work a computer by playing simple math games on blue and white screened IBMs in my school’s computer lab. Younger Millennials grew up with laptops and started texting as kids. Smart phones didn’t even exist until I was in college.
My perhaps long-winded point is this: the Millennial generation may be defined by some lifestyle trends and certain demographic consistencies. But the experiences that shaped our lives and realities have, at least in this writer’s opinion, created clear subgroups within our own generation. Trying to paint us with one broad stroke isn’t going to work. I think it’s safe to say we wish the media, and older generations, would stop trying to do just that.
That being said, we’re one generation for a reason. And if you want to find our commonalities, your best bet is to look at the research.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Millennials – which it defines as those born from 1982 to 2000 – make up more than a quarter of the country’s population and have surpassed Baby Boomers as America’s largest living age cohort. There are 83.1 million Millennials in the United States.
Millennials are more diverse than previous generations – 44.2% of Millennials are minorities. According to Pew Research Center, just 28% of Baby Boomers in the U.S. are minorities.
We also have higher rates of college-level education than previous generations. According to Pew, in 2014, 27% of Millennial women and 21% of Millennial men between the ages of 18 to 33 attained a bachelor’s degree. When Generation X-ers were the same age, 20% of women and 18% of men in their generation had achieved the same level of education. When Baby Boomers were that age, just 14% of women and 17% of men had earned a bachelor’s degree.
In 2015, Millennials overtook Generation X as the largest generation in the U.S. labor force, accounting for 53.5% of American workers.
According to May figures from Gallup, which more narrowly defines Millennials as those born between 1980 and 1996, 59% of Millennials are single and have never been married. That’s a higher percentage among young adults than ever before.
Millennials are less religious than prior generations, according to Pew. The organization’s 2014 Religious Landscape Study found that 44% of older Millennials (born 1981-89) and 38% of younger Millennials (1990-96) say religion is very important in their lives. By contrast, religion is very important to 53% of Gen X-ers and 59% of Baby Boomers. However, more than 80% of Millennials believe in God.
This is just some of the demographic data that provides a baseline for understanding our generation. The Business Journal’s endeavor with this column is to provide a glimpse into what makes Millennials tick, and maybe even to see if we really are as obnoxious as those Google search results say we are. In doing so, we don’t intend to find a big enough box to cram the whole generation into. But maybe we’ll stumble on its pulse.