— They’re known for bouncing around jobs, delaying
marriage and holing up in their parents’ basements.
recently as the "children of the Great
Recession" by Democratic presidential nominee
Hillary Clinton, millennials are the best educated and
most diverse population of young people in U.S. history.
They are also perhaps the most coddled, some would say
they emerge this year as the United States’ largest
demographic group — some 75 million strong —
millennials are taking up the mantle as the most
impactful generation since the baby boomers.
influence has started slowly, due largely to the
economic instability that has left many struggling to
find good-paying jobs and saddled with staggering
student loan debt.
millennials — adults under 35 — are certain to shape
the economy for decades to come. And their coming of age
in the midst of the worst financial crisis since the
Great Depression has bred distinct traits that could
pose special challenges for the nation’s future growth
starters, millennials are not big spenders, at least not
in the traditional sense.
tend to prefer experiences over buying things and
accumulating stuff. To them, an impressive selfie
capturing a memorable moment is, in some sense, as
enviable as a new car or fancy watch was to their
Howe, an economist and demographer who coined the term
"millennials" with co-author William Strauss,
sees it as part of a redefining of American conspicuous
of material wealth, millennials show off through their
travels, hobbies and even meals, which get photographed
and posted on Facebook, Instagram and other social
you’re a foodie, you can go out and have some
incredible dining experience, and then you can curate it
almost as if it were a thing," Howe said.
Millennials are one reason restaurants have been doing
well — and hiring so many workers.
Ardis, 29, typifies his generation. In between jobs this
year, the Tallahassee, Fla., resident scrounged money
from family and friends so he could immerse himself in
Hebrew studies this summer at Middlebury College in
Vermont. Last year it was the art of glass-blowing. And
before that he was getting voice lessons.
is such an emotional and experiential event," he
said. Ardis is interested in his career and making
money, too. It’s just that he’s got other things on
his mind, like taking a trip to Cuba next year.
priorities may well give Ardis and his fellow
millennials a more fulfilling, well-balanced life than,
say, workaholic boomers. But that may not be great for a
U.S. economy driven by consumer spending, which accounts
for two-thirds of the nation’s gross domestic product.
Americans are unusually optimistic, which could propel
purchases — and economic growth — as their
disposable income increases. But they’re still not
likely to have as much left over because so much is
going for skyrocketing rents and education expenses.
low home-buying rate of young adults already has been a
big factor in the slow housing market. The homeownership
rate for those under 35 slipped to a low of 34 percent
this year, compared with around 40 percent for young
adults in the prior three decades. And people today are
getting married and having children later, which will
weigh on home sales in the future.
don’t believe they’re going to catch up," said
John Burns, an Irvine, Calif.-based national real estate
other millennials, Summer Lollie is keenly interested in
having her own place. She wants something close to her
parents’ two-story, four-bedroom house in the Dallas
suburb of Mesquite where she grew up and currently
lives, she says. But the 27-year-old community organizer
can’t imagine how she will be able to save up for a
down payment and afford a mortgage.
Lollie’s parents never finished college, she graduated
from Washington and Lee University, a well-regarded
school in Lexington, Va. But with more than $35,000 in
student debt and a car loan to boot, she has struggled
to make ends meet. She moved back with Mom and Dad in
April 2015, paying a little rent to them.
more than economics behind the living-at-home
phenomenon, however. Lollie doesn’t mind the
arrangement at all because she likes being with her
parents — something more common among millennials than
people of their age in previous generations. Experts
think that reflects their protective upbringing and
more-frequent exchanges, thanks in part to the rise of
texting and social media.
have loving parents here," Lollie said.
key difference with their predecessors, particularly
Generation X, is that millennials are not big risk
takers. That seems especially true when it comes to
rate of new startups is higher today than 10 or 20 years
ago for every major age group — except those between
20 and 34 years old, according to the Kauffman
Foundation’s latest annual study of entrepreneurship.
result is that the composition of new business
formation, already turning grayer with the aging of baby
boomers, has shifted even more sharply to older adults
in recent years.
decades ago, a little more than 34 percent of all new
entrepreneurs in the U.S. were younger than 34 years
old. Today it’s just 25 percent.
could be really troubling," says Arnobio Moreli, a
senior research analyst at Kauffman.
represent dynamism in the economy. New and young
businesses have long created the bulk of new jobs in
America, and are critical for productivity growth, too.
believes some would-be entrepreneurs are being held back
by their heavy student debt load. Nonetheless, he finds
it puzzling that there seems to be relatively less
entrepreneurial zeal among millennials, particularly
since they grew up in an era when people like Facebook
founder and millennial Mark Zuckerberg, 32, have been
celebrated in business schools and popular culture.
fact, however, there’s evidence that young adults
today would rather work for big companies than take
their chances at budding firms or in their own garages.
Compared to boomers, millennials are more interested in
having the same job through most of their life, says
Jean Twenge, a San Diego State University psychologist
and author of "Generation Me."
relative risk-aversion may have something to do with the
protective environment that parents and schools created
for millennials, emphasizing participation over winning.
Said Twenge: "Everybody got a trophy."
because of such pampering, Twenge argues, millennials
are more self-absorbed than prior generations, even
narcissistic. But at the same time, research suggests
that young adults today are also very community-minded.
baby boomers were known as the "me"
generation, millennials might be called the
have found that millennials, while less interested in
traditional politics, care deeply about their
communities and are volunteering more than earlier
generations of young people.
do sense that public service, community service is in
their DNA," said John Della Volpe, director of
polling at Harvard University’s Institute of Politics.
He thinks that’s partly because many high schools,
starting in the 1990s, mandated community service hours
also came of age in a more racially diverse and
economically stratified America, which has made them
more sensitive to social issues and things like gender
and income inequality. Gay rights are a given.
in 1990, whites made up 73 percent of young adults age
18 to 34. That share dropped to 63 percent in 2000, when
millennials were just entering adulthood, and it’s now
down to 55.8 percent, according to William Frey, a
Brookings Institution demographer.
the face of prime-age workers in the U.S. are people
like Lionel Mares of the Sun Valley neighborhood of Los
second-generation Mexican American who grew up watching
news of school shootings and inner-city violence, the
30-year-old pursued a degree in sociology from Cal State
Northridge. Mares, too, has struggled to find a good
job, and in recent months has been volunteering at a
local legal aid center.
heroes aren’t Zuckerberg or athletes like Michael
Phelps. He gets inspiration from people like Eleanor
Roosevelt, the first lady known for her social reform
work and spirit of volunteerism.
is the first in his family to graduate from college; his
dad was a handyman, his mom a seamstress. He plans a
career in the public sector. "I want to give back
to the community," Mares said.
emphasis on community and social causes is starting to
be felt on Wall Street, too. Beyond their outsized
participation in the Occupy Wall Street movement a
couple of years ago, millennials already are
overrepresented in investments focusing on so-called
environmental, social and governance issues, said Amy O’Brien,
managing director and head of responsible investment at
TIAA Global Asset Management.
notes that many millennials were in high school and
college when the financial crisis struck, and that’s
had a lasting influence. "They put a large value on
business ethics," O’Brien said.
sense of community has also made millennials more
progressive when it comes to public assistance programs,
from Obamacare to student debt relief. And far from the
antigovernment spending mantra espoused by many of their
parents, millennials have largely embraced liberal
ideals about government, explaining why Democratic
nominee Hillary Clinton (and her former rival Sen.
Bernie Sanders) have put forward programs to subsidize
college tuition and raise the federal minimum wage.
actually trust big institutions like government more
than older people (do)," said Howe, the
generational trends expert. "They believe we could
put in a strong set of community and national
organizations that would assume a high degree of
dependence on these institutions …. We would all give
more to the community and the community would give us
back in an equitable way."