March 7, 2014

6 new findings about Millennials

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 to adulthood compared with older Americans. Our new survey illustrates the differences between these 18- to 33- year-olds and their elders. Here are key takeaways:

FT_Millennials_politics_religion1Millennials have fewer attachments to traditional political and religious institutions, but they connect to personalized networks of friends, colleagues and affinity groups through social and digital media. Half of Millennials now describe themselves as political independents and 29% are not affiliated with any religion—numbers that are at or near the highest levels of political and religious disaffiliation recorded for any generation in the last quarter-century.

2Millennials are more burdened by financial hardships than previous generations, but they’re optimistic about the future. Millennials are the first in the modern era to have higher levels of student loan debt, poverty and 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. More than eight-in-ten say they currently have enough money to lead the lives they want or expect to in the future.

Decline in Marriage among Millennials3Singlehood sets Millennials apart from other generations. Just 26% of Millennials are married. When they were the age that Millennials are now, 36% of Gen Xers, 48% of Baby Boomers and 65% of the members of the Silent Generation were married. 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.

4Millennials are the most racially diverse generation in American history. Some 43% of Millennial adults 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 U.S. for the past half century, and whose U.S.-born children are now aging into adulthood. The racial makeup of today’s young adults is one of the key factors—though not the only one—in explaining their political liberalism.

5Millennials are less trusting of others than older Americans are. 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 say most people can be trusted, compared with 31% of Gen Xers, 37% of Silents and 40% of Boomers.

Social Security benefit cuts6Few 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. About half (51%) of Millennials believe they will get no benefits from Social Security and 39% predict they will get benefits at reduced levels. However, much like older adults, 61% of Millennials oppose benefit cuts as a way to address the long-term funding problems of Social Security.

Topics: Economics and Personal Finances, Entitlements, Race and Ethnicity, Millennials

  1. Photo of Bruce Drake

    is a senior editor at Pew Research Center.


  1. jabmyeyes4 years ago

    I’m excited about the Millennials babies. They are going to be so cool and accepting and laugh at our prejudices and fears. We are truly evolving and it does my heart good.

  2. Eeva Roslynn4 years ago

    I am 33, and was born basically at the border of Gen X and the “Millenials.” I identify as politically independent, but recognize I am Democratic leaning.

    The reason I identify as independent is perfectly encapsulated by comments made by Paul Taylor, as quoted by Jesse J. Holland in a PBS article: “[Millenials] believe in a big activist government on some of the social issues of the day — gay marriage, marijuana legalization, immigration.”

    From the point of view of myself and many of my peers – and most of us have at least a bachelors degree in science or engineering, if not graduate degrees – we think you have the term “big government” confused – or perhaps we do. We consider ourselves preferring “small government” in regards to issues of personal choice that do not negatively effect other individuals. For instance, wouldn’t legalizing marijuana nation-wide result in a leaner and more efficient government? The government could rake in “sin taxes” even, while saving tons of money on law enforcement, the court system, and on jail expenses by not jailing people (usually males of color) for non-violent crime. Also this might reduce some violence at the border with Mexico. There are numerous studies that show that a far more economically efficient way of managing the “drug war” is to just decriminalize drugs.

    Also, when it comes to gay marriage, isn’t a government that only recognizes lifelong commitment between heterosexual individuals a “big” government, in the sense that it regulates sexuality by denying tax breaks to those with alternate (and genetically determined) sexuality?

    The reason we are reluctant to align with either political party is because we prefer “small” government in the sense we want the government to “back off” of regulating sexuality and non-violence-inducing substance use. We also prefer “small” government in that we want the government to run efficiently as possible, yet we simultaneously recognize that the nature of the US federal government is to grow larger over time. And despite this desire for “efficiency,” we don’t want our parents and grandparents put out in the cold by being denied their social security and their Medicare.

    In short, we have some libertarian economic leanings that traditionally would align with the Republican party, yet during our lifetimes the Republicans are perceived to have spent at least as much as the Democrats. We also reject the Republicans because we strongly believe in a separation of church and state. On the other hand, even though we wish the government spent less, we don’t want to entirely eliminate social safety nets for the elderly and the poor, and we believe very strongly in civil rights, public education, and the government keeping its laws off our bodies, which aligns us more closely to the Democrats.

    Finally, as noted in your study – we don’t trust anyone very much, and we especially don’t trust politicians – so why should we trust a big group of politicians called a “party?”

  3. RJames4 years ago

    Nice article, but the last sentence exposed a flaw in your mental model. A study of the monetary/fiscal operations of the US would show that a country with its own sovereign fiat non-convertible currency would reveal that the US does not have a funding problem. While true that inflation needs to be monitored, the SS system is in no way insolvent (inability to pay) and your sentence therefore infers an untruth. Saying that SS has a funding problem is a myth. The base money supply can be increased indefinitely and probably will. In fact, this increase should (arguably) be done through the payment of SS benefits as opposed to expenditures on foreign wars or bailing out investment banks (for example).

  4. Barry Wellman4 years ago

    At 71, The “Silent” label for me (and mine) is perjorative and inaccurate. We were neither and pushed for major changes i the system. Some data, such as lack of trust, may well change as Millennials grow older

  5. Lynn4 years ago

    You say “More than eight-in-ten say they currently have enough money to lead the lives they want or expect to in the future.” Then you say, “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.” How does this square? Somewhere in the ‘most’ and ‘but many’?

    1. Michael4 years ago

      I think that may be a typographical error. Should say: 8/10 DON’T have enough money…

      1. Jesse Becker4 years ago

        Definitely not an error, the eight-in-ten number leaves a very broad interpretation open for the future – the people who lack a solid economic base right now for marriage may still be optimistic about “money to lead the lives they want… in the future.”

  6. Tom4 years ago

    I’m 56, I don’t believe SS won’t be there. I wish it weren’t for my children. Their “contributions” should be their own, not the redistributionists. I am not planning on SS if I ever can retire.