January 7, 2010

Millennials’ Judgments About Recent Trends Not So Different

This is part of a Pew Research Center series of reports exploring the behaviors, values and opinions of the teens and twenty-somethings that make up the Millennial Generation

As might be expected, members of the Millennial generation are enthusiastic about the technological and communication advances of the past decade. They are also highly accepting of societal changes such as the greater availability of green products and more racial and ethnic diversity. What may be less expected is that, in many cases, they are not much different from the age groups that precede them. And on at least one issue — the advent of reality TV shows — their views differ not at all from those of the oldest Americans.

A recent survey by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press found that most Americans, young and old, offer a gloomy assessment of the past decade. Still, not all of the changes Americans have experienced in recent years are seen in a negative light. In particular, innovations in cell phones, email and online shopping are seen as changes for the better by most Americans with positive views reaching well beyond the youngest Millennial generation. These kinds of change are viewed at least as favorably by Americans in their 30s and 40s as they are by those in their late-teens and 20s and, in many cases, it is only those 65 and older who have less enthusiastic views of these innovations.

More than seven-in-ten (72%) among those in the 18-29 age group — the so-called Millennials — say that high-tech communications devices such as Blackberrys and iPhones represent a change for the better. More than six-in-ten (62%) of those ages 30-49 agree. Not surprisingly, smaller percentages of those in the 50-64 age bracket (51%) and those ages 65 and older (33%) see the advances in smart phone technology that way. For the public as a whole, 56% say these handheld devices are a change for the better, a quarter see them as a change for the worse and 12% say they have made no difference.

While social networking sites are seen as especially popular among the young, Millennials are no more likely than the 30-49 age group (45% each) to say that websites such as Facebook represent a change for the better. The numbers for the public as a whole indicate greater ambivalence: 35% of Americans say these sites are a change for the better, 21% say they are a change for the worse and 31% say they have made no difference. Older people express greater skepticism. Among those ages 50-64, 25% say this is a change for the better, while 33% say it is a change for the worse. Among those ages 65 and older, 21% say social networking sites are a change for the better, 21% say they are a change for the worse and 27% say they have made no difference. About three-in-ten (31%) did not give an answer.

When asked about internet blogs, a plurality of Americans (36%) say they have not made much of a difference. About three-in-ten (29%) see blogs as a change for the better and 21% see them as a change for the worse. Among those under age 30, more than four-in-ten (44%) see blogs as a change for the better, not much different from the 34% of those ages 30-49 who say the same. Still, 39% of Millennials and 40% of those 30-49 say the growth of blogs has made no difference. About two-in-ten (22%) of those in the age bracket 50-64 see blogs as a change for the better, while a smaller percentage of those 65 and older (15%) say the same.

More Green Products, Increasing Racial and Ethnic Diversity Seen As Good

Members of the Millennial generation also give generally high marks to societal changes such as the greater availability of green products and more racial and ethnic diversity. But, as was true of technological innovations, in many cases their views are not much different from those of the age groups that precede them. For example, roughly equal numbers of the youngest age group and those ages 30-49 say that growing acceptance of gays and lesbians has been a change for the better.

The availability of green products is seen as a good thing by most Americans (68%) — with strong majorities among those ages 18-29 (77%), 30-49 (73%) and 50-64 (70%) saying it is a change for the better. A much smaller percentage of those ages 65 and older agree (45%).

About six-in-ten (61%) say that increasing racial and ethnic diversity is a change for the better. About two-thirds of those ages 18-29 (67%) and those 30-49 (65%) say this, as do 58% of those 50-64 and 49% of those 65 and older.

There is, however, a large divide between how the youngest and oldest Americans view the increasing acceptance of homosexuality. Comparable percentages in the two younger age groups say that increasing acceptance of gays and lesbians has been a good thing (44% among 18-29 year olds and 45% among 30-49 year olds). More than a third of those ages 50-64 agree (37%). But people age 65 and older see this as a change for the worse, not the better, by more than two-to-one (46% to 21%).

Few in any age bracket see the growth in reality television shows as a change for the better. Just 8% overall say this, while 63% say the shows have been a change for the worse. About two-in-ten (22%) say they have not made much difference. A plurality in all age groups says these shows have been a change for the worse, including 67% of those ages 18-29 and 70% of those ages 50-64. But those age 65 and older are less emphatic: About half (49%) say these shows represent a change for the worse.

On many of the questions in this series, the opinions of those age 65 and older tend to differ more from the other age groups than the opinions of those ages 18-29 differ from the other groups.

The Millennials and the age group that precede them are less likely to express concern about the growing number of people getting tattoos than those age 50 and older. Of the public at large, 40% say this is a change for the worse, 45% say it has made no difference and 7% say it is a change for the better. Among those ages 18-29, 22% say this is a change for the worse, 61% say it has made no difference and 15% say it is a change for the better. Among those in the age range 30-49, 6% say it is a change for the better, 53% say it has made no difference and 32% say it is a change for the worse. Among those 65 and older, close to two thirds (64%) say this is a change for the worse, 19% say it has made no difference and 4% say it is a change for the better.

For more on the public’s, the Millennials’ and other age groups’ views of the past decade including opinion on the most important event of the 2000s and ratings of other recent decades — including the one to come — see Current Decade Rated as Worst in 50 Years, released Dec. 21, 2009.

Cite this publication: Tom Rosentiel. “Millennials’ Judgments About Recent Trends Not So Different.” Pew Research Center, Washington, D.C. (January 7, 2010) http://www.pewresearch.org/2010/01/07/millennials-judgments-about-recent-trends-not-so-different/, accessed on July 22, 2014.