Every day 12,000 Millennials turn 30. They’re an enormous generation with tremendous market potential. And their needs are changing. They’ve been studied and have been the subjects of trendy thought pieces at a rate of about one per Millennial. But have those articles all been correct, or have we rushed to judgment? To find out, GenPop talked to experts and combed through reams of data from Ipsos and other sources. Here then, is our quick guide to the myths and realities of Millennials.
- Millennials don’t drive: One of the most persistent myths is that Millennials never got a driver’s license, never bought cars and will never drive so long as they have bikes and apps such as Uber. During the recession, the total number of miles people drove in the U.S. declined for the first time. This led some to declare we had reached “peak car” with the assumption that Millennials, um, drove this trend. “We never believed it. That was a myth from day one. What was true was that Millennials were behind in getting their license and buying vehicles. “It was all economic,” said Michelle Krebs, senior analyst for AutoTrader. By 2020, Millennials will rise from 25% of new car buyers to 40%, according to their research. The iGen, coming in behind the Millennials, are already excited to get their license, get a car and get out on the road. Cars have become more of a practical necessity than a fun purchase. “It’s certainly not the love affair that the Boomers had.”
- Millennials have “failed” to launch: This is a judgmental label for a trend that implies Millennials haven’t yet “adulted.” Millennials are absolutely still living with their parents at a rate we haven’t seen since the 1940s. It’s a rate that’s increased over the years. The fact that it remains steady indicates it’s likely not a recession-related trend. Today, more Millennials live with their parents. In 1975, the same age range of people had a different status in terms of living with parents. Back then it was totally flipped, with more than two-to-one living with spouses. More are also living alone, or with unmarried partners. GenPop spoke with Neil Howe, a demographer and historian who coined the term “Millennial.” He said, “Multi-generational living was the norm for 99.9% of history. What was unusual was the one or two generation experiment after World War II with the nuclear family.” Howe doesn’t see “failure to launch” as a sign of immaturity. “In the ‘70s when the long-haired Boomer would say ‘up yours’ to his parents and storm out. Yeah, that’s mature. What’s immature about getting along with your parents and planning a life when you’re closer together?”
- Millennials aren’t buying homes: This one’s true, to a point. Home ownership rates are down from pre-recession times but have climbed back around 64%. Today, roughly one third of homebuyers are Millennials, and about 37% of older Millennials own a home. However, more than half of their Boomer parents owned a home when they were this age.
- Millennials are all the same: It’s easy to equate “Millennial” with “urban hipster” but that’s just not the whole story. For instance, Millennials are the most educated generation, but 63% don’t have a college degree. Forty-five percent of Millennials have never posted a selfie. Millennials are the most diverse generation — for now. Forty-four percent are non-white. But the iGen is even more diverse. Some 20% of Millennials live in poverty. In short, we shouldn’t be so quick to generalize 75 million people.
- Millennials love technology: The Millennial relationship to technology is complicated. On one hand, “tech savvy” is the phrase used most to describe this generation, according to the Ipsos Global Trends study. The same study found that 82% say they can’t live without the Internet, but they’re also the only generation where a majority agree (57%) that technology is “destroying” our lives. This kind of bifurcated stat isn’t uncommon with this generation.
- Millennials are all super liberal: Millennials are more liberal — at least socially — but it remains to be seen if that’s just a function of age. People tend to trend conservative as they age. Still, 39% or so of Millennials voted for Trump, although turnout in this age group was slightly lower than in recent elections.
- Millennials are optimistic: To an extent, this is true. The Global Trends study found that Millennials, on the whole, are more optimistic than other generations — but that doesn’t mean they think everything is wine and roses. Some 66% wish their lives were simpler (similar to other generations).
- Millennials inherited a big mess: One can argue about the state of things, although coming of age during the recession could perhaps be seen as a bad thing. What is important is their perceptions. They don’t think they were dealt that bad of a hand, entirely. Almost half think they will have better economic success than their parents, the highest rate of any of the generations surveyed.
- Millennials are poised to change the world: Eventually, yes. The question is how. Bruce Gibney, the author of a recent book about the Boomers, “A Generation of Sociopaths,” thinks Millennials were definitely dealt a bad hand, they just haven’t totally realized it yet. When they see the eventual writing on the wall, there are two possible answers to how they will change the world. “In 2034 when Social Security is insolvent and the Millennials realize that they’re not going to get what they were told they were going to get… One reaction will be to double down on the concepts of society and say ‘we’re going to bail out the system and bear the brunt for this generation and fix it on a going-forward basis.’ Or maybe they just say, ‘It was a lie all along and we’re going to shut it down.’” Howe isn’t so sure the Boomers won’t beat the Millennials to it. “Maybe Boomers will blow up [the political system] so that the young generation can create something new. At least that way we can open it up for new technologies, new living patterns, new ways of dealing with health care.”It might sound dystopian, but he takes a historian’s long view. “Political renewal is great,” says Howe. “What could be worse than having the kind of dysfunction you see around you just proceed indefinitely. Majors reforms and overhauls in the public sector are never made on a comfortable sunny spring day. That’s never the way it happens.”