Who Are the Millennials?

It’s the never-ending cycle of generational clashes, mocks and complaints about “kids these days” that makes us hyped about today’s generation – the millennials.
Markets and business leaders are especially anxious to understand them as they are far from only being a marketing niche group. Just the immense size of the millennial cohort indicates that this up and coming generation will have a great impact on business, politics, the workplace, schools, and many more organizations

Who are the Millennials?

  • “Millennial – (noun) a person reaching young adulthood in the early 21st century.” Oxford dictionary
  • “The term Millennials generally refers to the generation of people born between the early 1980s and 1990s”. Merriam-Webster Dictionary
  • Many researchers also include the early 2000s as the ending birth years of Millennials. These are today’s 18-34 year olds.
  • Popular nicknames – generation “Y”, Peter Pan generation, Boomerang generation, “Me” generation, the Facebook generation
  • The last of the adult millennials turned 18 in 2014

Millennials have a different world, and with that comes a whole different world view. This generation is growing up fast, always online, and is quite status crazed. Millennials have expectations and priorities rather different from previous generations.

This generation has experienced a time of technological change, globalization, and an economic disruption due to the Great Recession (during the late 2000s and early 2010s). Millennials are now entering their prime working and spending years. They are the ones taking more time to marry and move out on their own. They speak the digital language, and they breathe technology. They are the ones creating fast trends; from fast foods, drinks, to speedy fidget spinners and quick fashion.

Keep in mind that the millennial generation is bigger than the Baby Boom one was (born from 1946-1964). Millennials are in fact the largest living generation today. Even though each country has its own mix of millennials, due to social media, globalization, and the powerful impact of Western culture, millennials worldwide are now more alike to one another than they are to the previous generations within their own country.

A decade of sociological and psychological research now allows us to cover some of the basics of the typical millennial: housing, marriage, family, brands and retail, and workplace trends.

Housing – millennials are entering their peak home-buying years but still remain reluctant. They are half as likely to own a home at the age of 30 as the Baby Boomers did. One explanation is purely economic – jobs, or the lack thereof, higher prices in bigger cities (particularly noticeable in cities such as NYC, San Francisco, London, Moscow), and tighter credit rules. Other significant reasons for low homeownership include delayed marriage and postponed parenthood.

However, once millennials do become ready, we expect the housing market to change with an exponential growth in sales. Opposed to the popular belief that millennials enjoy living with their parents, many actually do want to become independent. As a result, even though home ownership is currently low, millennials have created a boom in the rental market. However, if you rent you also invest less (compared to buying/building a home) and this always brings a share of uncertainty to our economies.

Therefore, we need to be prepared for the biggest generation by far to impact the housing market soon, a market directly driven by household formation. This brings us to the next question, on marriage and family. Where are all the married millennials with children?

Marriage – Millennials are putting off significant milestones such as tying the knot and having children, thus waiting longer than any generation before them. Many factors are to blame: the economy, dating apps (dating culture has changed too), drawn out divorce mess, student loan debts, being a less religious generation than previous ones (less identification with big institutions), and the ability to delay parenthood (technology which allows women to get pregnant in their 40s). There’s no surprise why the ritual of the bridal bouquet toss at weddings isn’t as exciting as it once used to be.

It seems that millennials just take more time. In the U.S. in the 1970s the median marriage age range was 20-24 years old, whereas in the 2010s the median marriage age is 30 years old. More millennials are currently single/never married than was true for older generations. They cohabitate unmarried longer, but on a positive note, their divorce rates remain lower (for now). Alternatively, this generation strongly believes in domestic partnerships. You live together, share a domestic common life, and you are not married. You may or may not have a non-marital relationship contract, and you may or may not register in domestic partnership registries. In the 1960s only an estimated 10% of the Boomer generation cohabitated like this, at least once before marriage, whereas today 65% of young adults cohabitate prior to tying the knot.

This type of millennial outlook on lifetime marriage will affect other generations, especially their children. Furthermore, millennials are the first generation to show slow but steady rising trends among consensual non-monogamous relationships. It could become somewhat like the political hot topic of “same-sex marriage” they have stirred up. Are the Boomers trying to change the rules of matrimony?

Family – First comes marriage, then comes…? Millennials are not only delaying marriage, they are also waiting longer to become parents. For most educated women motherhood now begins in their thirties, reproducing at the slowest pace of any generation in the U.S. history. This “me” generation declares they have certain personal and financial goals that they want to accomplish before embracing parenthood.

As a consequence, smaller families seem to be on the horizon. The largest percentage of millennials believe they will have two children. Trends are also showing that they want to be the “involved” type of parents, and they want this involvement to be reciprocal. Communication through technology (internet, cell phones, and social media) is becoming the glue of the modern millennial family. Since many millennials themselves are the children of divorced or absent parents, they want to break the trend of broken families. Perhaps this explains why around 80-90% of U.S. millennials want to either marry only once, or not at all.

However, demographers still worry about the (after)math of millennial family values. If women are becoming mothers at a much later age, it is unrealistic to expect an increase in births in this cohort which will make up for all the declines in the younger age group. Consequently, if too few babies are born, who will support the growing number of retirees?

Access over ownership – think about the redefining industries, companies like Uber, Lyft, Couchsurfing, Airbnb, Zipcar, Bike share, etc. This is all what we call a “sharing economy”. Millennials are creating it and technology is enabling it. A sharing economy (collaborative consumption) is a set of services that provide access to products without the burdens of ownership. It is the biggest change since the Industrial Revolution. For many millennials, doing something is preferable to owning something. Have less, experience more, and even more so, it is all very pocket-friendly. Along with the “sharing economy” trends, the “on-demand” services like Google, Amazon, and Netflix, aren’t adding onto our patience either. Millennials simply crave instant gratification.

“25 years from now car sharing will be the norm, and car ownership an anomaly.”
– Jeff Rifkin, author of The Economist

Brands and retail – who are millennial shoppers? They are the largest buying cohort in existence, the ones reshaping consumer behavior with the help of technology and online clicking. This type of savvy online customer even buys food using grocery retail apps. With product information, reviews, and price comparisons available with a mere couple of taps on a touch screen, a true millennial will do online research before making a purchase decision. Millennials are the informed shoppers, they live online and they buy online. They invented online-multi-channel shopping, and they practice “showrooms” – trying out products and then going online and buying them at a lower cost.

A positive example is the Spanish fashion brand Zara. To improve the shopper’s overall in-store experience Zara has incorporated technological advances such as interactive fitting rooms and self-check-out registers. The interactive fitting room has a tablet-style screen linked to the fitting rooms entrance counter. You can use this screen to request another size, color or garment, look up product information, product inventory, and also where to find it in the store. The fitting room recognizes RFID tags, and the RFID mirrors analyze the size and take photos which you can share with others for fashion advice. For now, this is what makes Zara ahead of the game when it comes to millennial customers.

The workplace – the information revolution has empowered millennials to use technology to compete against organizations. We see hackers vs. corporations, bloggers vs. newspapers, YouTube channels vs. studios, and apps vs. entire industries. Hence, older generations feel like the youngsters don’t really need them anymore.

However, millennials have boldly started implying that companies can’t provide just money anymore. Often quoting Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, millennials are now talking about a working environment that helps promote “self-actualization” too. This approach to work that today’s young adults have is simply different. For senior workers the office is for work and home is for fun. Millennials are pushing these boundaries, many want the workplace to function as a kind of second family. They have a pro-social set of values, and thus demand a more social understanding of employment, and business in general.

Therefore, feeling included at the workplace is key for the typical millennial. Give the worker a voice in some type of decision-making process and employee performance and job satisfaction will rise. It is classic psychology – be involved in the decisions and it empowers you to engage even more. Hence, your average millennial wants to be asked to sit with the leaders at the big table. They will feel more valued, could save the company time and money, increase productivity and reduce the need for outsourcing. Millennials love this type of “collaborative leadership” in which they are looked at as partners in the business management process, and not just employees.

Let’s have consideration for the youngsters who are now starting to mature into older and higher ranking professionals. After all, in 10 years, 75% of the workforce will be millennials!

Other trends

  • The 10 year narcissism debate. The incidence of narcissistic personality disorder is said to be considerably higher for people in their 20s (millennials) compared to the generation that’s now 65 or older. However, researchers are still arguing over which surveys to use, the statistical methods, control groups, and whether or not such old narcissism surveys hold realistic value. Caution, labeling millennials as narcissists can also create a harmful bias.
  • “Phantom vibration syndrome” is becoming a real thing – the perception that one’s mobile phone is vibrating or ringing when it is not. Many millennials are discussing it. However, in the last edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, the American Psychiatric Association has not yet included excessive cellphone use as an addiction disorder.
  • In 2008, the millennial generation was the primary reason why Barack Obama triumphed in the Democratic nomination during the primary season.
  • Millennials are predicted to be the first generation that will live to a ripe old age in such large numbers
  • Compared with previous generations millennials spend the least amount of time in the kitchen. They are more likely to eat out, buy prepared meals, or order delivery.
  • As reported by a LinkedIn study, it’s common for millennials to change jobs about three times in the first five years after graduating from University

Overall, with the millennial generation on the rise, we are witnessing an important change in social norms within our society. Millennials made the conversion from analogue to digital, from local to global, and are now creating collaborative lifestyles (sharing consumption). Additionally, this generation demonstrates high social media competencies, has strong purchasing power, and is slowly but steadily becoming established in the workplace. It will not be too long until millennials take over the scene, e.g. in business and politics.

We need to understand how this large group of young people approaches the world and how will they redefine our ways of living. What type of citizens, employees, customers, and parents will this generation create? We should also embrace the benefits of the millennial generation and not hold them back with stereotypes or nostalgia about the hopeful ways from a previous time. Maybe every generation is the “Me generation”? In many ways we are criticizing millennials for the technology that happens to exist right now. Imagine if the Baby Boomers had Facebook at the time of Woodstock? Or just imagine standing in line without looking at your smartphone?

Eva Berkovic, MSc Psychologist, Student Counselor


Who Are the Millennials? was last modified: August 27th, 2018 by MIUC
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