No Faith. No Country. No Marriage. Still, Millennials Are Optimistic

Photograph by Bonnie Jo Mount/The Washington Post via Getty Images

Millennials don’t seem to take comfort in the same things as their elders do. A new study from the Pew Research Center called Millennials in Adulthood finds that far fewer of them identify with a religion or a political party. They’re less likely to be married than previous generations were at the same age. Only half call themselves patriotic, and a scant 1 in 5 thinks that most people can be trusted. Just a handful expect that Social Security will pay in full when they need it.

Is alienation from these most traditional pillars of society getting them down? Not in the least. Millennials are more likely than their elders to believe that the nation’s best days are ahead of it and to trust that they’ll have enough money to lead the lives they want.

What’s going on here? One factor, apparently, is that millennials, currently 18 to 33 years old, find satisfaction in entirely new sources. Their digital lives are hugely important to them, for example. So they may be less alienated than they appear—they just live in different kinds of communities.

Another reason for millennials’ optimism is undoubtedly what Pew calls “the timeless confidence of youth.” After all, Pew notes, Gen X was equally confident when it was younger. Gen X’s positive outlook has receded. Maybe millennials’ will, too.

That said, there’s something different about young adults’ confidence today. In 1974 a Gallup survey found that the young felt less secure than the old. Only about half of adults under the age of 30 said they had “quite a lot” of confidence in America’s future, compared with 7 in 10 of those 30 or older. Today, the reverse is true. Pew found that almost half of millennials think the country’s best days are ahead of it, vs. fewer—42 percent of Gen Xers, 44 percent of boomers, and 39 percent of the Silent Generation—of their elders.

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