Who are the millennials?

millennialsWho are the millennials? It’s always a difficult challenge to define a generation, but most date them as people born around 1980 to the present. The age of the oldest of this generation would be in the low to mid 30’s.

Though the defining characteristics of this generation differ depending on who is consulted, and not everyone born during this time period will fit these characteristics, they are generally characterized in the following way:

1. Socially active
They are heavily involved in community service and they focus on larger societal needs rather than individual needs.

In their book Millennial Makeover: MySpace, YouTube, and the Future of American Politics, the authors provide us with an expansion of what this means:


  • Identification with specific political parties and straight-ticket voting
  • Rising voter turnout and/or maintenance of turnout at high levels
  • Positive attitudes toward politics and political institutions
  • Focus on broader societal and economic issues
  • Greater ability of the political process to deal with major concerns and institution building
  • Greater economic equality and relatively small income and wealth disparities

2. Compassionate
Millennials volunteer mainly because they want to help people. They want to be a part of changing and improving lives. They have quite a bit of disdain for selfishness, even though as individuals they are quite selfish. This compassion does, however, reveal itself in their social activity.

3. Confident
Millennials have been raised to believe that they can accomplish anything. Their parents, teachers, counselors, coaches and all adults who have been a part of their lives have drilled it into them that “if you believe you can achieve.” And it is that sense of “specialness” that drives their confidence. They really do believe that things will get better.

But this confidence comes from sheltered lives. They were highly protected as kids, spared conflict and even spared losing. They have grown up with what one called “helicopter parents.” This term describes the extreme involvement many parents have in the lives of their children, hovering overhead to make sure everything is okay and intervening the moment it isn’t.

4. Large
Millennials are the largest generation in American history. There are an estimated 95 million millennials in the US. And they are the most diverse generation in American history.

5. Team-Oriented
Millennials were raised in an environment that emphasized teamwork. As a result, most Millennials like working in groups. They prefer a sense of unity and collaboration over division and competition. In addition, they seek support and reassurance from their friends and peers. In this, they are highly social.

6. Less religious
About 25% of Millennials are unaffiliated with any religion. But not belonging does not necessarily mean not believing. Millennials pray about as often as their elders did in their own youth.

7. Narcissistic
One study says that Millennials are more narcissistic than their elders, and increasingly value “money, image, and fame more than inherent principles like self-acceptance, affiliation, and community.” While college students in 1971 ranked “being very well off financially” as their number-eight concern, for Millennials it’s consistently at “the top of the list.” (Yahoo News)

8. Spend on luxury items
Despite being unemployed, owe on student loans, live off their parents, have degrees in things like English and Philosophy, Millennials increased spending on premium fashion and services by 33 percent in 2011. How do they do it? Some skimp in other areas, like rent, food, and long-term fiscal management plans, while others buy on their parents’ dime. (Yahoo News)

A Wells Fargo study shows that while 61% of Millennials see themselves as “savers” their actions don’t support it. They also see debt as their biggest financial concern. Forty-two percent of millennials say their debt is “overwhelming,” twice the rate of baby boomers who were also surveyed for comparison.

At the same time, another study indicates among Millennials making between $50k and $250k per year, more are saving for retirement.

9. Stressed out
According to a report by the American Psychological Association, the Millennial generation has more stressors than generations before. At the same time, they are also less able to cope with them effectively.

The source of their stress? Money, work, and the cost of housing.

Millennials were more likely to pursue yoga or to meditate to deal with stress. Both the Millennials and Generation Xers were more likely to play video games or get online when they were stressed. They were also more likely to smoke and drink alcohol in response to stress, although Generation Xers engaged in both considerably more than the Millennials.

10. Well Educated
Millennials are on track to become the most educated generation in American history. 19 percent of Millennials have a college degree compared to 35 percent of Gen X, according to a February, 2010 Pew Research Center survey. But 40 percent of Millennials are still in school, and of those who are of college age but not in school, 30 percent say they plan to go back at some point to get their degree.

There are important discussions to have about how to interact with this generation from a business, religious, and cultural perspective. Check out the other blogs to learn how this impacts the different domains in life.

David has been a systems thinker most of his life. He has started three businesses as well as designed and developed systems and processes in existing organizations. He has a Doctorate in Leadership and has also done additional post-graduate work in communications.

He has also pastored 3 churches and loves to think about, write about and podcast about scripture, theology, and leadership.

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