FORECASTS & TRENDS E-LETTER
by Gary D. Halbert
March 18, 2014
Understanding The “Millennial Generation”
IN THIS ISSUE:
1. The Millennial Generation – Who Are They?
2. New Millennial Survey From Pew Research Center
3. Millennials Are Very Different From Baby Boomers
4. Millennials Definitely Lean Left on Social Issues
5. The Growing Racial Divide Among Millennials
6. My Investing Advice To Millennials
The Millennial Generation – Who Are They?
As the father of two adult children who were born in the early 1990s, I have a particularly keen interest in the “Millennial Generation” – those 80 million or so people born in the US between 1980 and 2002, the largest generation ever – and who will be running the country before too long.
America is in the throes of a huge demographic shift, and a major factor in this sea-change is the Millennial Generation, which is forging its own distinct path toward the future and will precipitate many social changes in the years to come. As a result, we all need to understand them better.
Since most of my clients and readers are Baby Boomers, many of you also have adult children who are Millennials, and I thought it might be insightful to take a closer look at this unique generation that is actually larger than the Boomer generation.
I’ve gathered a lot of really interesting info and stats on Millennials, including the findings from a new Pew Research Center survey of this under-34 generation.
Before we get started, let’s take a moment to define the generations we’ll talk about today. Let’s begin with the so-called “Baby Boomers,” those roughly 76 million of us born between 1946 and 1964. Statistics vary widely but Boomers are thought to control around 80% of all personal financial assets and account for over half of consumer spending in the US.
Next there is the so-called “Generation X” (GenX), those roughly 50 million people born from the mid-1960s to 1980. GenXers are stereotyped in many different ways (positive and negative) and account for about half as much consumer spending as Boomers.
And that gets us to the Millennials, also known as “Generation Y.” As noted above, this generation is comprised of those roughly 80 million people age 33 to 18. Earlier this month, the independent Pew Research Center released a major report on the attitudes of the Millennial Generation, and here are some of the highlights.
Millennials Are Very Different From Baby Boomers
Millennials are the most racially diverse generation in American history. Some 43% of Millennials are non-white, the highest share of any generation. A major factor behind this trend is the large wave of Hispanic and Asian immigrants who have been coming to the US for the past half century, and whose American-born children are now aging into adulthood.
The under-34 generation breaks down as follows: 57% white, 21% Latino, 13% black, 6% Asian and 3% Other – as compared to Boomers who are 72% white. Millennials are a big part of the reason the American electorate will lose its white majority later this century.
Less political and religious affiliation. According to the latest Pew survey, half of Millennials now describe themselves as political “independents,” and they don’t think particularly highly of Republicans or Democrats. Some 29% said they are not affiliated with any religion – that’s the largest level of religious disaffiliation for any generation in the last quarter-century.
Most Democrats believe that Millennials are solidly in their camp, but that’s mainly because this group voted so strongly for Obama in 2012. Yet the chart above showing that 50% consider themselves to be independents suggests that the Dems had better not take them for granted.
Fewer are marrying. Just 26% of Millennials are married. When Baby Boomers were the age that Millennials are today, 48% of them were married and 36% of GenXers were married by this age. Most unmarried Millennials (69%) say they would like to marry, but many, especially those with lower levels of income and education, lack what they deem to be a necessary prerequisite—a solid economic foundation.
Part of the reason for this gap is that Americans in general are getting married later and later. The average age of first marriage in the United States is now 27 for women and 29 for men, up from 23 for women and 26 for men in 1990 and 20 and 22 in 1960.
Deep in debt but still optimistic. Millennials are the first in the modern era to have higher levels of student loan debt, poverty, unemployment and lower levels of wealth and personal income than their two immediate predecessor generations had at the same age. Yet, they are extremely confident about their financial future.
According to Pew, more than eight-in-10 Millennials said they currently have enough money to lead the lives they want or expect to in the near future. I question this finding, especially given the weak economic recovery and all the stories we see about young people having to settle for jobs that don’t pay well.
Less trusting of others. Pew asked a long-standing social science survey question, “Generally speaking, would you say that most people can be trusted, or that you can’t be too careful in dealing with people?” Just 19% of Millennials said that most people can be trusted, compared with 31% of GenXers and 40% of Boomers.
Social Security won’t be there for them. Few Millennials believe that Social Security will provide them with full benefits when they are ready to retire, but most oppose cutting current benefits as a way to fix the system. Just over half (51%) of Millennials believe they will get no benefits from Social Security and 39% predict they will get benefits at reduced levels. This finding surprised some who read the latest Pew survey of Millennials, but not me.
Nor did it surprise me that, much like older adults, 61% of Millennials oppose benefit cuts as a way to address the long-term funding problems of Social Security.
More liberal than Boomers or GenXers. That’s especially true when it comes to social issues such as immigration and same-sex marriage. That helps explain why Obama won their votes by a 16-point margin in 2012. In fact, if Millennials hadn’t voted in large numbers for Obama, Mitt Romney would be in the White House.
While Millennials voted decidedly for Obama in 2012, the latest Pew survey found that self-declared liberals outnumber conservatives by only a small margin of 31% to 29%. While the margin is slim, that makes it the only generation with more liberals than conservatives. Among Baby Boomers, conservatives far outnumber liberals, 41% to 21%.
Millennials Definitely Lean Left on Social Issues
As noted above, when it comes to social issues, Millennials break decidedly to the liberal side. Here are some examples.
Amnesty for illegal immigrants. A majority of Millennials, 55%, believe illegal immigrants should be granted a pathway to citizenship (amnesty), and that’s true of no other age group.
Same-sex marriage. According to Pew’s latest survey, a massive 68% of Millennials support same-sex marriage, whereas among Baby Boomers and older voters, support for same-sex marriage is still below 50%.
Marijuana legalization. It’s no surprise that the numbers are similar on legalizing pot – 69% of Millennials think it’s a good idea. Among Baby Boomers and older voters, less than half think it ought to be legal.
Not always liberal. Pew found that