Millennials are lazy and entitled; they’re workaholics. They’re bad at saving; they’re good at saving. They’re gloomy and optimistic. Maybe they get too much press. So who are they? And who cares? You do (so we’re told) if you manage one, or want to sell things to one, or gave birth to one, or are one.
Millennials all over the world are connected through the technology that they grew up with. In the U.S., they are the largest generation, at 89 million. That’s the number you get if you define millennials — and there’s no consensus on this — as people born in 1981 to 2000, so those 17 to 36 years old this year. Their early lives have included both economic expansion and a brutal recession, the Apple revolution, the mayhem of 9/11 and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Millennials are racially diverse, well-educated and laden with student debt. They aren’t getting married as young as their elders did, and quite a few still live with their parents — although, just like real human beings, they’re also buying their own homes.
With all the prating over them, it’s worth remembering that “millennial” doesn’t equal “young person.” A generation is a loosely knit society of people born around the same time who will grow old together. Its attitudes may depend on age (you’re less likely to vote when you’re young), shared experience with other generations (9/11), and unique experience as a cohort (coming of age in the Great Depression). Perhaps the best defined group in the U.S. is the baby boom generation, those born in 1946 to 1964, including many parents of millennials. “Millennial” was used a quarter-century ago in “Generations: The History of America’s Future, 1584 to 2069,” a book by William Strauss and Neil Howe. They wrote that these young people becoming adults in the new century “show every sign of being a generation of trends — toward improved education and health care, strengthening families, more adult affection and protection, and a rising sense that youths need a national mission.”
Today’s young adults are capable of being a robust political force, but they don’t always vote. Millennials played an important role in the Arab Spring movement that began in 2010, helping fuel uprisings in countries such as Egypt and Tunisia. In the 2016 U.K. referendum on whether to remain in the European Union, most 18- to 24-year-olds supported staying in the EU. Almost two-thirds of millennials in that age bracket who were registered voted. (Overall U.K. turnout was 72 percent.) Still, an estimated 90 percent of registered voters 65 and older turned out, and a majority of that age group favored exiting. “Leave” won the day. U.K. millennials may have a greater impact in the general election on June 8, with more young adults trying to register to vote in advance of it. The 2016 U.S. presidential election marked the fourth consecutive one in which most 18- to 29-year-old voters went for the Democratic candidate. Yet while millennials are neck and neck with baby boomers as the biggest share of voting-age U.S. citizens, only 46 percent of 18- to 29-year-old citizens reported voting in the November election, according to U.S. Census Bureau data. The question remains: Will today’s political turmoil spur millennials around the world to become more engaged?
The Reference Shelf
- Bloomberg View’s graphic profile of millennials.
- The Pew Research Center has done a tremendous amount of work — and has lots of data — on millennials.
- Gallup has surveyed millennials.
- A U.S. Census Bureau report on young adulthood.
- The Institute of Politics at Harvard University regularly polls young Americans, and the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement at Tufts University looks at youth voting.
- Bloomberg data visualization on the small number of millennials in Congress.
First published Nov. 4, 2016
To contact the editor responsible for this QuickTake:
Anne Cronin at firstname.lastname@example.org