Portrait of the Millennials
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
At a conference at the Newseum in Washington, D.C. on Wednesday, Feb. 24, 2010, Pew Research Center analysts and outside experts discussed research findings about the Millennial generation, the American teens and twenty-somethings now making the passage into adulthood. This first of three sessions provided a broad overview of the Millennial generation, examining their demographics, values, attitudes and behaviors, and discussing the results of the new study.
Judy Woodruff, Senior Correspondent, PBS Newshour
Andrew Kohut, President, Pew Research Center
Rebecca w. Rimel, President and CEO, The Pew Charitable Trusts
Paul Taylor, Executive Vice President, Pew Research Center
David Campbell, Associate Professor, University of Notre Dame
Neil Howe, Founding Partner & President, Lifecourse Associations
Mark Lopez, Associate Director, Pew Hispanic Center
Allison Pond, Research Associate, Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life
In the following excerpt, ellipses have been omitted to facilitate reading. Find full transcripts, including audience discussion, and video of the full event at Millennials video page.
ANDREW KOHUT: For a long time, it’s been my view that young people were out of fashion. When the Baby Boomers began to slip into middle age, there was less interest in young people. That was until this generation showed up. And over the past decade, the young people who came of age in the first decade of the new century, the Millennials really made their presence known pretty quickly socially, culturally and very distinctively by being always connected to the new media and the new information technology. Politically, they were the first generation of young people since the 1970s to vote quite differently than older people. Their votes were of consequence to the “change election” in 2006 and Barack Obama’s victory in 2008.
Now, as to their consequence, I might add that while their Boomer parents made a lot of noise in the ’60s and ’70s, they never elected anyone except Richard Nixon. And I don’t think that’s what they had in mind. But this generation did have consequence and did get its way politically, at least for two elections.
Our search on this generation began mid-decade in surveys and analysis we conducted in association with Judy Woodruff and the NewsHour for its “Gen Next” series. The research that we’re going to be talking about was built on that seminal work. Our discussion today draws on a couple of things: First, a new public opinion survey that contrasts the attitudes and behaviors of 18- to 29-year-olds to older generations. But we’ve also mined more than two decades of Pew Research Center surveys and supplemented this by analyses of Census Bureau data and other relevant studies.
Now, before I go any further, I’d like to introduce the person who made all of this possible: Rebecca Rimel, president and CEO of The Pew Charitable Trusts. Rebecca is a rare combination of things. First of all, she’s super smart, she’s entrepreneurial, she’s focused on the big issues of our time, and she is an agent of change — believe me. She is also my long-term friend.
REBECCA RIMEL: Andy, thank you for that overly generous introduction. I’m here to do three very important things. First of all, to welcome you to this discussion of a seminal report on the Millennial generation. Second, to be the first I think publicly to salute Andy Kohut on the new addition to his family yesterday: Rosco, a four-legged new friend. And third, to be able to stand here and tell you how proud I am of the 15-year anniversary of the Pew Research Center.
So I thought I’d just spend a minute and tell you kind of how it started. It was 15 years ago and one of my staff came into my office completely dejected. He said, you know, I was really hoping that we would be able to get a speaker from the Times Mirror Center to come in and to talk about their work and help us with ours. And I said, great idea, I read about them all the time in the press. He goes, they’re put out of business. I said, really? That’s hard to imagine given their reputation. And he said, well, yes, it’s cost-cutting. So I think remembering that there was serious cost-cutting going down in journalism even 15 years ago. So after about one minute of soul-searching, we reached out to Andy, and as they say, the rest is history.
KOHUT: Now, let me turn the proceedings over to Judy Woodruff, distinguished journalist and senior correspondent with the NewsHour [who] got us going on this path with her insightful proposal many years ago to Pew and PBS that this was a generation well worth looking into in considerable depth. But before I do that, I just want to remind you that at some point you might want to see how Millennial you actually are. We have a little quiz on our internet site which asks you some questions and classifies you on a scale of 1 to 100 in terms of how much your behaviors and attitudes are Millennial-like, if there is such a term. I scored 5. Paul Taylor scored 8. But nonetheless, we’re going to tell you about Millennials. (Laughter.)
JUDY WOODRUFF: I fell in love with this endlessly interesting generation, something you might say was preordained since I was already curious about their political behavior, and I am the mother of three in this age cohort. They fascinated me then; they continue to fascinate me. And I jumped at the chance when Andy brought up the idea of this prospect of doing this a few months ago and asked if I’d be interested in being involved in some way.
I see my job today as getting out of the way so that a dozen or so really smart people can enlighten the rest of us about today’s generation of teens and twenty-somethings. And before I introduce our first outstanding panel, who are going to give us a portrait of the Millennials, here is a one-minute video peek at what some members of this younger generation had to say when I talked to them back in 2006 and 2007, and then in some follow-up reporting last summer, about how they see themselves. Look at these screens.
(Begin video segment.)
Millennial Interviewee 1: We have all these skills. We can type faster; we’re more proficient with computers and stuff. Change is scary. And the older generation is, like, already set and settled on their ways. And they’re like, we don’t want to change, this is good, why mess with it?
Millennial Interviewee 2: I have this job and I’m going to go into it with a mindset that if I do a good job, I’ll be capable of staying there and learning. And if not, then that’s not what’s meant to be and another opportunity will arise.
Millennial Interviewee 3: Not to say it’s the right thing but, you know, to be a single mom and to have kids and work and go to school is kind of a typical thing. You make a compromise because the things that you want and the things you have to do and you figure out how to get it all done.
(End video segment.)
WOODRUFF: And you do. You figure out how to get it all done. And now I want to move to this especially distinguished panel to kick off the conference.
PAUL TAYLOR: We call this report “Confident, Connected and Open to Change,” and over the next few minutes, I’m going to try to tell you why we chose those words.
This is the most diverse generation racially and ethnically in our history. By the middle of the century, we will no longer be a majority-white country. Hispanics are the biggest driver of that change. In this generation, they account for 19%. But they’re only the leading-edge of a much bigger demographic bulge. One-quarter of all children born in the United States today are Hispanic. Never before in our history has a single minority ethnic group made up this large a share of our young population.
This generation, like all Americans, but particularly this generation, has been hammered by this recession. Iin the first report we did with Judy, we asked if you are employed fulltime, and 50% said yes. Now it’s down to 41%. We looked at how many 18- to 29-year-olds are either unemployed or not in the workforce. And we find [in Bureau of Labor Statistics data] that 37% of this generation today is either unemployed or not in the workforce. This is the highest share for this age group in nearly 40 years.
This generation has grown up in a decade when our country has been fighting two wars. And yet, it has far less exposure to military service and all the responsibilities and burdens that implies than any previous generation in American history. Today, 2% of the males in this generation of 18- to 29-year-olds are military veterans. If you look at the Xers, same stage of life, 6% [of males] were military veterans. The Boomers, same stage of life, 13% were military veterans. The silent generation, 24%. So a profound shift here in one of the classic pathways to adulthood.
Another important institution where there has been a profound shift is religion. One-quarter of this generation say I’m not affiliated; I have no formal association with religion. That is about half the share of their parents’ generation, the Boomers, at the same stage of life. Now, we know many people typically become more religious over time and if you look at various practices — daily prayer, spirituality and other things — actually this generation is not that dissimilar.
As I said earlier, this is the most unemployed or out-of-the-workforce generation in modern history. There is a positive side to this coin. They are also the most engaged in college, community college or graduate schools. The highest share in modern history of 18- to 24-year-olds in this case are now enrolled in college. It’s a tick under 40%. A modern knowledge-based economy sends a message to everybody — you want to get ahead, you better get some credentials. But that trend has been clearly accelerated by the recession. Can’t find a job anyway, might as well go get a degree or another degree.
[D]espite this situation, this is a generation that is very confident about its economic future. Nine in 10 of this generation say, yes, I’m going to eventually have enough money, or, I already do. They are much more optimistic about their own economic futures than older adults are about their economic futures.
On top of that, they are also feeling more upbeat about the country as a whole. A classic question that pollsters have been asking since the beginning of time is: Are you satisfied or not with the way things are going in America? Over 20 years, [those under 30 are] always a little bit more optimistic than are those 30 and over. But the gap is now the biggest that we have seen it in the 20 years that we’ve been asking this question. So whatever toll on the national psyche the current circumstances have taken it has left a much bigger dent on older adults than it has on younger adults.
We asked people of all ages in this survey, do you think your generation is unique and distinctive? And all four generations, one-half to two-thirds said, yes, our generation is unique and distinctive. And then we asked, why? And the Millennials more so than any [other] generation cited technology. (By the way, this was an open-ended question. Had we asked this in a closed-ended way, those numbers would have gone way up.) Fully 24% said something about technology is what makes our generation unique.
The Silents talk about their historic moment of coming-of-age, whether World War II or the Depression. And let me take a pause to observe the Boomers’ definition of their generational identity — work ethic and respectful. I look at that as a Boomer and I say to myself incredulously, Dude! (Laughter.) Either we’ve had a big personality change over these last 40 years or there’s a whole lot of selective memory going on.
But let’s return to the Millennials. Clearly they are the leading adopters of [new technology], so it’s their window on the world, it’s their window for information, for entertainment. It’s the platform for their social lives. Teenagers and twenty-somethings need to be where other teenagers and twenty-somethings are. And way back in the distant mist of history before the digital revolution, that place was the suburban mall or the soda shop. Now, that place is Facebook. They need to be there because everybody else is there. You see it here in terms of social networking profiles where fully three-quarters have one.
Everybody really has the ability to share their lives with everybody they want to share it with. It raises interesting privacy issues and norms around privacy. But it has been dubbed the look-at-me generation — they take it for granted that everybody wants to look at them, and they have the power to be looked at.
In this generation, they exhibit those behaviors not only online but offline as well. [S]omething as a generational badge are tattoos and piercings, perhaps in the way that long hair was for those of us who grew up in the ’60s — 38% of this generation has a tattoo. And for most, one is not enough — 50% of those who have tattoos have two to five, and 18% have six or more. Also, 23% [have a] piercing in a place other than the earlobe [though] 70% are hidden beneath clothing.
We’ve talked a lot about how these young adults are different. Let’s talk a little bit about how they’re similar. Here’s a classic: We gave folks seven or eight things, said, look, here are big, important things in a lot of peoples’ lives. Tell us what are the most important things in your life, and rank them. So here are the Millennials, and it’s parenthood and marriage on top of career success, helping others and other things. If you look at the same list and you compare how 18- to 29-year-olds and 30-and-aboves answered those questions, there’s almost no variance whatsoever. So in terms of life priorities, they are in the same place.
But then let’s look at behaviors. How many of this generation are currently married? Twenty-one percent. At the same stage of life for Xers and Boomers, twice as many of their parents’ generation was married at this stage in life. So they value marriage [but] they are not rushing to the altar. Only six in 10 [Millennials] grew up — with both parents. So broken homes, never-formed homes, re-formed homes — it’s part of their life experience, and judging from this, they are repeating that pattern, perhaps even more so.
[Our study] also tries to look at their attitudes toward changing cultural and social and family values. [I]n every case [Millennials] are more receptive to these newer modes of family arrangements and parenting arrangements than are older adults. That doesn’t mean they are approving of them. And interestingly, on single mothers raising children — the majority are disapproving. Only 6% say this is a good thing. But they are more receptive to change, to immigration, to interracial dating, et cetera.
Back in 1969 at the height of the kind of age-based social conflicts of the 1960s, Gallup asked the generation gap question: Do you think there’s a big generation gap between young and old? And 74% of all adults said, yeah, there’s a big generation gap. We asked the exact same question last year, and, to our shock, we found the number hadn’t gone down. If anything, it had gone up slightly, 79%.
We’ve asked a body of questions since then to try to tease this out. And in sum, what we find is, yes, this is a gap, but it’s not a war. It’s a much gentler generation gap. These younger adults are respectful of their parents and their grandparents. When we asked them, what’s the source of this gap, they all talk about technology. Also we have different moral values — young and old alike say that. And then we ask them, well, whose moral values are better? And the younger adults agree with the older adults that ithe older adults’ moral values that are better. It’s hard for me to imagine 40 years ago, the Boomers saying, ah yeah, we’re sort of different from our parents, and they sort of had it right, and we sort of had it wrong.
We asked adults of all ages, when you were growing up, did you have a lot of fights with mom and dad? And the young adults [report] about half the number of fights that the older adults report they had with their parents when they were growing up. They clearly see the family as the ultimate social safety net. One in eight of them in their twenties has moved back in with mom and dad because they can’t find a job. And mom and dad, for a lot of them are not just parents; they’re actually buddies.
And when we asked them about grandma — if grandma is in a situation where she might need to move in with the family — is that a family responsibility to take in an elderly parent who wants to move in? The younger adults are much more likely than the older adults or the elderly themselves to say, yes, it’s a family responsibility.
So to sum up, this is a generation that I think has been dealt a lousy hand. They’ve got a bad economy. Their family situations started broken, became broken, got recombined, whatever. The political system is looking pretty dysfunctional these days. There are mountains of debt that we’re piling on this generation. And if you read the cover of the Atlantic magazine, you will see that a lot of economists worry that this jobless recovery is going to last a long time. And it will have a lingering effect on these kids in terms of their earnings and their careers for 10, 15, 20 years. That was the case in the early ’80s.
These kids are not worried about that. What they are not doing is pointing fingers at their elders and saying, you know, this is a pretty unholy mess you’ve given us. What they are doing is putting one foot in front of another and saying, we’re going to get on with it because it’s our future. There you have it.
WOODRUFF: A lot to chew over there. And I encourage everybody here to read the full survey, the full report because there’s so much material there that Paul has very deftly woven together for us to kick off our discussion.
Neil Howe, I want to come to you first because you really are the person more than anybody in the country, who has studied generations and especially this one. What are some of the main ways this younger generation is different from Boomers when we were younger, Gen X when they were younger and the others?
NEIL HOWE: First of all, I just want to thank Pew for doing this study — social scientists talk about the cohort effect all the time, but they don’t often talk about entire generations. And [thank you] as well, that you use the name Millennial generation.
I recall it was in the late 1980s when Bill and I were writing our first book, “Generations: The History of America’s Future,” which is sort of a generational biography of America going back to the 17th century. And we’re wondering what to name the 14th generation. And Bill said, well, you know, the first one of them is coming along in 1982. They’re going to be the high school class of 2000. And I bet you ABC and all these networks are going to have big shows about the high school class of 2000. What do you say we name them Millennials. So anyway, that’s how the name was invented once upon a time, and I think it was around 1980.
We made some predictions at that time about Millennials that no one believed. We said that due to their location in history, this generation by the time it became teenagers would cause a huge decline in many of the measures of social pathology associated with youth. We said that the crime rate would go down. Teen abortion, teen pregnancy, some of the most dangerous measures of drug use would go down. And indeed, I think that was kind of amazing that by the late 1990s and shortly after the year 2000, we saw all of those indicators shift.
And I think that’s one of the things to keep in mind about Millennials. They may say that the Boomers have all these values, but it’s useful remembering that when Boomers were coming of age, we had 17 uninterrupted years of declining SAT scores, rising drug use, rising teen pregnancy, rising suicide, rising rates of self-inflicted accidents, rising crime — of that crime, the share that was violent was rising. Millennials have been moving most of these indicators in the opposite direction. And that’s truly remarkable.
Location in history is what shapes a generation. And I think it’s very useful to think about that period from the mid-1960s maybe all the way to the early 1980s, what some historians call America’s fourth or fifth great awakening, what Francis Fukuyama calls the great disruption in American culture over recent decades. Boomers came of age, during that period. And that’s when we acquired our reputation for reshaping values, reshaping the culture. We were the counterculture. We were Consciousness III, the greening of America. And now that we’re in midlife, we still think that all values revolve around ourselves. So back then any discussion of values — back in the 1970s — was a discussion about college kids. Older people back then apparently didn’t have any values. We never talked about them.
And today, most discussions of values today are about midlife people. It’s red zone/blue zone, it’s culture wars, it’s Boomers arguing with each other. So if Boomers always go through their life telling other generations what’s good and what’s bad, what’s right and what’s wrong, that’s just — that’s how they’re wired. But that was the result of that location in history.
Generation X were the children of that period, and that hugely influenced them. They were the throwaway kids, the latchkey and self-care guide kids. They grew up at a time when children were basically not wanted. They’re also the result of the lowest fertility rate in American history. And they grew up in a time when childhood was devalued. I don’t know if you recall all the child-was-devil horror movies of the 1970s — “Rosemary’s Baby” and “Omen” and “Damien” and “It’s Alive” — they packed theaters back then. That was our image of childhood.
The Millennial generation arrived when the Consciousness Revolution was over. And I think that is how you define its location in history. Woodstock is as remote from them as talk about the New Deal is from a Boomer like myself. And in fact, when they came along was precisely a time at which childhood was revalued again in America. This was a period — the early 80s — when suddenly things began improving for children. Alcohol consumption per capita among all Americans has been gradually declining since about 1981. Drug use has been gradually declining. The abortion rate, the divorce rate have all been gradually declining.
I don’t know if you recall the early 1980s; it was the year of the yuppie finally settling down. It was family values. It was cocooning. In 1982, when the first Millennials were born, we saw the appearance of baby-on-board bumper stickers all across America. Right? And suddenly all those child-as-devil movies — no one wanted to watch them. It was all these cuddly baby movies. You remember, “Baby Boom” and “Parenthood” and “Three Men and a Baby” started coming out.
And today, in fact, a very common kind of movie — ou see this all the time — these are kids who basically inspired their parents to become better people. A typical plotline now is, you know, Millennial kid puts Xer dad into rehab or something like that. (Laughter.)
At the same time this happened — this new image of childhood — came a new protection of children. Things like child abuse and what was in their Halloween bags and bicycle helmets and protective playground materials — all of this came into fashion. Fathers present at the birth of their children. Even in the late 1970s, only about 20%. By the late 1980s, thanks to the Lamaze movement, about 65%. Today it’s over 70%.
So these were huge shifts. The entire home protection industry — all those gadgets you put on your plugs and your stoves and so on. Those were self-made devices back in the 1970s. Parents just kind of made those themselves. That became a multi-billion-dollar industry by the late 1980s.
And when parents couldn’t protect kids personally, they started deputizing government to step in. The last 25 years have seen one of the great child protection movements in American history — every bit as big as what happened during the Progressive Era in the first two decades of the 20th century under Roosevelt and Taft. You think of all of the laws now even named after Millennials, you know, like Megan laws or there’s now a Code Adam — you know, some kid is lost at a Wal-Mart. Bam, all the doors shut, no one gets in or out until that one child is found. But we’re very used to this now — throughout our society and culture — this new protection.
So what are the basic ways that it really differs — this new location in history? One is this sense of specialness. They’re special in the eyes of the media, politicians, their community and, above all, their parents. These kids have been raised with William and Martha Sears’ attachment parenting. The parents are always around. We’ve looked at a lot of surveys comparing parents, saying do I spend more time with my kid than my parents spent with me? Back in the 1980s, those surveys showed that parents generally said, no, I don’t spend as much time. Today, decisively, particularly with parents of the younger Millennials, they say overwhelmingly, I spend much more time with my kids than my own parents spent with me.
Teachers, K-through-12 teachers, according to the last 6 years of the MetLife survey, say that parents are their number one professional problem. (Laughter.) These parents are in their face constantly. And one of the things I do when I talk to groups about dealing with parents is you can’t say to these parents, get out of here, I’m the professional. You’ve just made your worst enemy if you do that, OK? (laughter).
What you have to do is you have to channel the energy. You have to basically say, OK, together we’re going to raise this great child. You have to partner it. This is what colleges are now doing, these huge elaborate freshman orientations where they pass out the teddy bears and all those Boomers are crying, you know? (Laughter.)
Some institutions really get it. I don’t know if you’ve seen recently the U.S. Army recruiting ads with the parents and kids that are looking at their careers together. But the slogan really gets it. You made them strong. We’ll make them Army strong — right? — which is perfect. It’s the partnership.
And now the new message is for employers. There’s going to be a bring-your-parent-to-work week. It’s coming. They’re on the phone with their parents anyway, so you might as well just meet them. And they’re telling their kids things about — they should get benefits and make sure you get a pension plan and stay there for the long term and all that. So they’re cheerleading for their kids. That’s one thing with specialness.
The other thing — sheltering is huge. Xers had mixed feelings about sheltering: First of all, they would ask, well, why do I trust you to shelter me? That natural skepticism. You know, what’s your real agenda here? (Laughter.) And the other thing is, what’s the message here? I can’t take care of myself?
The Millennials have no problem with sheltering. The Millennial response is, I get it. I’m special; you want to protect me. (Laughter.) So sheltering is big. And you see that in every institution dealing with young people. All of these laws and rules and regulations — just look at graduated license laws now in most states where you have to go through this elaborate procedure: Now two-and-a-half people plus a dog can be in your car while you’re driving. Next month it will be something else.
One huge difference is this ethic of teamwork and community. You see this most dramatically in what they spend most of their time thinking about and doing, which is their technology. People often ask the question: How does technology shape a generation? That’s an interesting question, but it’s usually the wrong question. The much more interesting and fruitful question is: How does a generation shape technology? Much more interesting question because if you look at that you see, who invented the personal computers and why?
Well, it was Bill Gates and Steve Jobs in the late ’70s, early ’80s. Why? Because they wanted to get away from those huge mainframe IBMs that had been designed by their GI generation parents. The idea was that all the information went to the top of an organizational pyramid, someone crunched the data and then all the orders went down — right? — throughout the organization. Boomers said, no, we each want an individual think station on our own desk separate from anyone else, so we can be personally creative. And that was the whole, 1984-won’t-be-like-1984 ads in the 1980s and Apple and everything taking off. Gen X took this theme of individualizing and individuating the technology further with the internet, particularly with the web commerce and everything they did.
But here’s the real trend-breaker. Millennials when they were growing up they came home and the first thing they wanted to do on the computer was, well, they wanted to e-mail their friend. And then they wanted to go on the chat room, and then it was IM, and then it was Facebook and MySpace, and now it’s these cell phones that have a little Marauder’s Map; you can track every single one of your buddies all day, 24/7.
But the point is, they’re moving technology back to the community. And in fact, they’re revitalizing and galvanizing political campaigns and community action through technology. This was not designed or anticipated by older people. This was driven by young people. And you see this in hugely higher rates of community service and volunteering. I mean, let’s face it, for Gen X, volunteering was a punishment. You know, you did something wrong at college, you do community service. (Laughter) But the Millennials — it’s more of a norm. And so that is huge.
One last thing to comment on is how conventional this generation is. You ask them what they want to do as they get older, and they have very conventional answers. They say, I want to have a balanced life. I want to be a good citizen and a good neighbor.
According to the UCLA freshmen poll, an unprecedented share say they want to get married and have kids eventually. Much higher than it was for Boomers. You ask them how they want to spend their time, and they say, I want to spend time with my parents. And it gets back to this whole revitalization of the extended family, which is going on today. Even their attitudes toward issues like gay marriage and minorities getting along with each other are very much driven by this sense that we should all have a place, we should all have a family, we should all be brought into the mainstream. There’s a complete absence of the stigmatizing that goes on so often with Boomers. No one has to shock anyone, you know, like Boomers were constantly doing at the same age.
WOODRUFF: David, I want to come to you. I mean, how do you explain — and this picks up both on what Paul and Neil were saying — given the severity of this recession, this economy, where does this optimism, this confidence that things are going to be all right for this generation?
DAVID CAMPBELL: That’s a good question. I suspect if you look at the trend over time — the fact that young people have always been more optimistic than folks who are older — that suggests that there’s something simply about being young that makes you more optimistic, which is — given the dismal state of the economic climate — probably a refreshing thing.
I spend a lot of time with Millennials since I am a college professor. And I certainly see a high level of optimism. I think it goes back to this individualized sense, this personalized sense of this generation. This is a generation that has had lots of things provided for them in an environment that’s been supportive. This is a generation that’s been taught that you really can accomplish anything. I mean, I see that in the students that I speak with all the time, that they always have 17 internships lined up, and they have all sorts of ambitions and such because from knee-high to a grasshopper, that’s the world they’ve been raised in. They have been told, the world is your oyster, go out and do whatever you want. And that’s in spite of the economy.
I think part of that is just youthful optimism that you would find at any point in time, but I do suspect — and again, if you look at that graph we saw, the gap between older and younger in optimism is a little higher now than it has been in the past — that’s probably because of this environment in which today’s young people have been raised.
WOODRUFF: Allison, I’m going to ask you to pick up on young people and faith. Fill in some of the blanks there about young people and their faith and their connection to organized religion.
ALLISON POND: Well, you’re right that this is a very nuanced picture that we see there. By some key measures — for example, affiliation and attendance, young people are a little bit less religious than those who are older than they are — in some cases, significantly less religious. They are also less likely to say that religion is important to them. But when we look at measures of belief — for example, belief in an afterlife, or belief in heaven and hell, or miracles, angels and demons — young people believe in these things just as much as their elders do and, in some cases, even more.
There are several ways to look at this. We can look at these age differences at this point in time, but we can also look at what other generations looked like when they were a similar age. Prayer is an excellent example of this. Young people today — the rate at which they pray is lower than that of older people today. But when you look at these older people when they were young — for example, Generation X in the 1990s or Baby Boomers in the 1970s, you see them praying at almost exactly the same rate. So there are some aspects of religiosity that are not entirely generational, but that result in a tendency for people to place greater emphasis on religion as they get older.
And so young people may be a little bit less attached to religious institutions, but this by no means indicates that they are more secular. They may be navigating it in different ways and coming at it from different angles, thinking about it differently than previous generations. They are much more open to choosing, finding a set of beliefs in different places and more likely than previous generations to sort of tinker and put together these different sets of beliefs rather than necessarily subscribing to one religion overall.
There are big differences within [the Millennial] generation according to religious affiliation. Those who are evangelical do tend to register much higher levels of religious commitment on many of these items than do those not affiliated with a faith, for example, and even those who belong to mainline Protestant faiths or to the Catholic faith.
CAMPBELL: If you look over the long haul from the ’60s to the ’70s, you do see a slight increase in the overall percentage of Americans who were evangelicals, and much of that growth was concentrated among young people.
That, however, ceased to be the case over the last 10 or 15 years. You have seen evangelical churches remain on the American landscape. And anyone who has been to the Saddleback Church in California or the Willow Creek Church in Chicago — these are massive megachurches — will know what I mean. It’s not that Millennials are streaming out of these churches, but they’re not being attracted to them the way that young people were in the past. That suggests to me that there’s an opening for religious entrepreneurs to somehow reach that segment of the population. They haven’t yet done so, and evangelicalism as it exists today does not seem to be reaching them.
WOODRUFF: One thing that keeps coming back to me, Mark Lopez, is the enormous diversity of this generation. Talk about how that shapes who they are and what they think as a generation.
MARK LOPEZ: To give you an example, when we talk about people who are of school age or schoolchildren today, about 20% — one in five — are Hispanic; among newborns, one in four are Hispanic. At the Pew Hispanic Center, we predict that by 2050, about 30% of the U.S. population will be Hispanic. So when we talk about moving forward, we’re going to see a lot of demographic change coming from Hispanics.
When you look at growth in the Hispanic population, a lot of that growth in the last decade has actually come from native-born Hispanics. Immigration plays a large role still, but actually more growth in the Hispanic population has come from the native born. And when we talk about, young Latinos, two-thirds of them are U.S.-born. So much of the experience that they’re having is actually going to be a U.S. experience, not necessarily an immigrant experience, [although] about 40% of young Latinos are the children of immigrants.
Now, what are young Latinos like? Because clearly they’re playing a large role in defining this generation of young people. For example, when you take a look at the youth vote in 2004 and in 2008, you’ll notice that non-white youth tended to vote differently than their white counterparts. Young Latinos, for example, voted overwhelmingly for Obama, just as young African-Americans did. Young whites did vote for Barack Obama, but not to the same degree that you see among young Latinos and young African-Americans.
Just like all young people — [they are] very optimistic about the future. They see themselves as doing better than their parents. They put a lot of faith and a lot of value in hard work and in education. And so just like other young people, they are optimistic.
Yet at the same time, they face a lot of challenges. You’ll notice, for example, young Latinos are more likely to be high school dropouts than other young people. Even though they place a high value on education — many of them are not in college. And part of the reasons they give is because they themselves have to support their families. And when you talk about teen pregnancy, young Latinas are actually the ones most likely to be teen mothers by the age of 19 — about one in four — compared to other groups of young people. So to a large extent young Latinos face many challenges that, in some sense, distinguish them from other groups of young people.
HOWE: When Gen X was coming of age in the ’80s and ’90s, one figure of speech used a lot was the idea of a multiracial, multicultural society, suggesting a bunch of discrete races and ethnicities that sort of pulled a little bit in different directions.
I think that’s really shifting now. I think for Millennials, there’s much more the idea of simply a transracial or transethnic society in which people represent all gradations. A rising number of them, when it comes to Census questionnaires, don’t want to answer. You know, the Census forces you to say, I’m a this or a that. They’re really bothered by that.
There’s even some resistance to the way multiracial and multiethnic training is done by corporations. You know, where people are forced to confront a lot of the animosity between races and ethnicities. And a lot of the Millennials say, why does it have to be so hateful? Why drag us through all of this stuff? We’re cool with what goes on here. We don’t want all of that bad news and those bad vibes.
WOODRUFF: David, quickly: this question of increased civic engagement. What underlies that desire to give to the community and maybe, if it’s connected, the belief in government, a surprising positive view of government?
CAMPBELL: Well, I think it’s fair to say that the Millennials have kind of a complex view of government. On the one hand, we do see evidence, obviously, that they are a heavily Democratic group and that they’re happy to call themselves liberals and to trust government. But at the same time, we don’t see them participating much in formal avenues of politics.
But we do see a lot of action, as has been described, in community volunteering, which has a different implication for how you think change happens. If you think change happens by changing laws and policies, then you’re more likely to be engaged in campaigns, and to be speaking to elected officials. If they think that change occurs because, at a very localized level, people get together and run a soup kitchen, and they’re not worrying about what policies led to the need for that soup kitchen, but they’re just volunteering for the soup kitchen, that gives you a very different way of thinking about the way politics works or the way society solves its problems.
The Millennials definitely fall into the camp of a group of people who see change as coming from small groups of people getting together to do things. I do think there is a lot of merit to all the community service and volunteering that you find among this generation. But we should not forget that at the same time, many of these kids are doing this because they know that that’s the credential they need in order to get into a good college or to get a good job or to get placed in a good medical school or a good graduate program and that sort of thing. I know in my conversations with students, we’ll often have a debate over just how virtuous we should think volunteering to be, and it’s often the young people themselves pushing back on me saying, well, I don’t really know how virtuous this stuff seems to me because don’t people just do it because they feel they have to, that there’s this heavy social expectation that this is what good kids do in order to be accepted into college or get a good job or whatever?
HOWE: The very fact, too, that they actually want to win credentials from big institutions and win the approval of older people by saying they did these things makes them very different from Boomers. I mean, our attitude was, doing something just to put it on your résumé? (Laughter.) No way! I’m not going to do that for you.
Portrait of the Millennials Panel
WOODRUFF: I want to see how the transcript shows the gesture that Neil Howe just made.
All right, I want to open it up for questions and I am told that there are several Millennials here, actually in the room — (laughter) — believe it or not.
CAMPBELL: I thought they were like leprechauns. (Laughter.) We don’t really know whether they actually existed; we just talk about them.
Q: Yes. My name is Decker Ngongang, I’m with Mobilizing America’s Youth, Mobilize.org, and we’re a Millennial-driven organization. We work with Millennials and invest in Millennials and their solutions.
I think it’s relevant that they’re not that many of us in the room today. I think young people and Millennials are looking to be a part of these conversations, both in the research but also in the solutions to work collaboratively. Working with young people at community colleges, at colleges, but also as peers when I was in corporate America, now in non-profit world, we’re looking for ways to solve problems.
We’re unemployed, we’re veterans, we’re trying to give back to the communities in our neighborhoods, and so I think it’s relevant that we want institutions to look like us, work with us, and we want to partner with you. So with the religion and with our traditional civic institutions, we want to see them reflect the change that we’re looking for in our communities.
We’re finding resistance in institutions. We want solutions. We don’t want names, we don’t want titles, we don’t want necessarily jobs — I want a bus stop that’s close to my community college and I want to know how to go to the city council to get that bus stop; I don’t want to have to join a club, join a newsletter and come on a board to get a bus stop. So we want to simplify our democracy. We want to understand it better, and then where we see inefficiency in it, we want to know how to create those efficiencies.
Q: Rey Decerega from the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute. I work with young people who come to Washington, D.C., for internships and fellowships in the public policy world, and my question is in regard to one of the characteristics, racial tolerance, that was mentioned in regard to this generation. There seems to be a contradiction because if you look at the college campuses, the climate is not necessarily healthy in terms of racial relationships. [For example,] self-segregation at college campuses, where the black students only hang out quote, unquote, “with each other.” The idea that the ethnic groups sometimes just stick to themselves.
LOPEZ: I’m going to speak a little bit from experience here, and I’m wondering if, to some extent, college campuses are not quite as diverse as a general youth population. When you look at young Latinos, for example, a lot of young Latinos are just not in college, right?
But judging from my own personal experiences, one of the things that I noticed is in campuses where I was a student, where there was much more diversity, one didn’t have to worry about being identified with one’s ethnic identity. You could just be a college student — you didn’t have to be a part of an organization or a Latino ethnic group.
When I went to a college campus where I was one of very few Latinos, we stuck together because it was a way of forming our identity. I don’t know if that’s true for all cases and all campuses, but I do think that, as Rey has pointed out, this self-segregation happens, and I’m not sure if it’s a reflection of smaller numbers or of something else.
Q: I’m Laurie Westley; I represent the Girl Scouts of the USA. We have a research institute and do original research not only on Girl Scouts but on all girls, and we also do comparison with boys. We did a piece about two years ago called “Change It Up: What Girls Say About Redefining Leadership,” and what we learned is much of what you’ve just heard today. Girls want leadership for what it can achieve. They are not particularly interested in leadership for its own sake; they want to see big and meaningful change. And when we looked at the girl-boy comparison, boys were a little bit more interested in leadership for its own sake, for the position, but generationally –
WOODRUFF: I’m shocked.
Q: — there was a real — (laughter) — We’ll note that the moderator said that. But generationally there was much more interest in change to make the world a better place.
CAMPBELL: If I could maybe add a reinforcing anecdote — so, first of all, I should note that I am a big fan of Girl Scout cookies, to begin with — (laughter) but my daughter’s also a Girl Scout and this little story captures, I think, exactly what you were saying. My daughter, I’m proud to say, is the president of the art club at her middle school, and the way that she won this office — which, I assure you, she did not want — they had the big meeting of the art club, and there were two candidates. Her name was put forward by someone else; the other was a boy who would have been the same age, 13 or 14. And the boy stood up, and he said, well, shouldn’t we give some speeches or something? And my daughter stood up and said, let’s just do the art. And then somebody in the back said, I’m voting for her! And she won in a landslide. (Laughter.)
If I could make a slightly more analytical point, I think it’s clear that we’re also in a period of change where both adolescent boys and adolescent girls are more comfortable with female leadership. I’ve been involved in a bit of research that suggests that one of the things that drives that, not only in the U.S. but also in the rest of the world, is just simply seeing more viable female candidates running and winning. Actually, it’s not the winning that matters. It’s the fact that they’re viable and running, has created a world in which when adolescents look at politics, it does not appear to be just a man’s game.
Q: I’m Emily Sheketoff with the American Library Association. You talk about more acceptance of the government — is there also an acceptance of the responsibility of paying higher taxes to get the resources that they want?
HOWE: I think one other thing to keep in mind, the biggest reason we’re going to have to raise taxes, of course, is the age wave and Boomers becoming old, and we’ve got to pay for Medicare and Social Security and pensions and so on. And I just want to throw out the idea that this rebirth of the extended family opens up some fascinating possibilities to renegotiate our whole entitlements bargain because with Millennials — and polls indicate this — they’re more likely than previous generations of youth to say they want to live with or near their parents. And if we have a system where all these families are together more, it may lead to all kinds of very positive outcomes for this fiscal problem we face.
Q: Well, in surveys like this, I’m always on the lookout for big surprises, and let me just share with you my biggest surprise. Buried on page 106 — (laughter) are two questions. Number one: “Governments should do more to protect morality” and number two: “Houses of worship should express views on social and political issues.” On each of those questions, the Millennials are substantially more likely to answer in the affirmative than any other age cohort. We’re talking about about five, seven, eight, 10 percentage points. Those are large, significant differences.
TAYLOR: . It seems to me what you’re finding here is that [Millennials] are more pro-institution. One of the really fascinating findings is, on measures of social trust, they are very low. They are lower than older adults, and whether it’s because they were raised by these very protective parents or whether because they were raised in the era of terror or raised in a media that convey the “mean world syndrome,” they believe it’s a mean world out there.
[On] a classic social science question — do you think people can generally be trusted, or do you think when you’re dealing with other people, you can’t be too careful? — two-thirds of Millennials say you can’t be too careful. Nine-eleven (9/11) told them it’s a mean world; Columbine tells them that — the major experiences in their life. And whereas Boomers looked at institutions and said, boy, you’ve screwed everything up, [Millennials] look to institutions and say, you got to protect us.
HOWE: The other thing we know about Millennials is that they show a genuine aversion to risk. The CDC keeps something called youth risk surveillance indicators. They keep over 50 of them: buckling up your seatbelt, did you have sex in high school, all kinds of various risk things. The majority of these indicators are decisively down; the ones that aren’t are unchanged, and there’s only one that’s up, by the way, and that’s obesity, which is arguably the result of these kids just being kept at home by their parents too much (laughter). The typical Gen X parent thinks the local park is where child molesters hang out or something.
But my point is that they’re genuinely averse to risk, and that’s why they’re planning ahead. That’s why their first question when they come for a job is not what’ll I get paid next week, but what are my odds here three or five years out? How do I kind of plan my life here? And, of course, they like government. I mean, government’s been doing great things for them all their lives. Political leaders are constantly talking about them, so why shouldn’t they like it?
KOHUT: I think that the answer to the question about why they’re so different on “churches should promote their point of view” is their situation in history. The group that is the least likely to say that are older people who were raised in an era of more separation of church and state in the ’50s and ’60s, when, remember the [message of the] Kennedy election, was “we’re going to make these things really separate.” What our research showed is that by the middle of the 1990s, that was forgotten. If it was forgotten by the middle of the 1990s, it’s truly forgotten by this generation.
Download the full transcript (PDF) for more including additional audience discussion.