March 19, 2015

How Millennials today compare with their grandparents 50 years ago

  • Race/ethnicity
  • Marital Status
  • Male Education
  • Female Education
  • Male Labor Force Status
  • Female Labor Force Status
  • Household Income
  • Veteran Status
  • Metro Status
  • Population
  • Race/ethnicity
  • Marital Status
  • Male Education
  • Female Education
  • Male Labor Force Status
  • Female Labor Force Status
  • Household Income
  • Veteran Status
  • Metro Status
  • Population
Source: Pew Research Center tabulations of the 2014 March Current Population Survey from the Integrated Public Use Microdata Series (IPUMS)
Source: Pew Research Center tabulations of the March Current Population Surveys (1963, 1980, 1998, and 2014) from the Integrated Public Use Microdata Series (IPUMS)

The Generations Defined

The past five decades – spanning from the time when the Silent generation (today, mostly in their 70s and 80s) was entering adulthood to the adulthood of today’s Millennials – have seen large shifts in U.S. society and culture. It has been a period during which Americans, especially Millennials, have become more detached from major institutions like political parties, religion, the military and marriage. At the same time, the racial and ethnic makeup of the country has changed, college attainment has spiked, and women have greatly increased their participation in the nation’s workforce and their representation on college campuses.

Our new interactive graphic (above) compares the generations today and in the years that each generation was young (ages 18 to 33) to demonstrate this sea change in the activities and experiences of young adults that has occurred over the past 50 years.

Our analysis finds several key distinctive ways that Millennials stand out when compared with the Silent generation, a group of Americans old enough to be grandparents to many Millennials:

Millennials On Track to be the Most Educated Generation to Date1Today’s young adults (Millennials ages 18 to 33 in 2014) are much better educated than the Silent generation. The educational trajectory of young women across the generations has been especially steep. Among Silent generation women, only 7% had completed at least a bachelor’s degree when they were ages 18 to 33. By comparison, Millennial women are nearly four times (27%) as likely as their Silent predecessors to have at least a bachelor’s degree. Educational gains are not limited to women, as Millennial men are also better educated than earlier generations of young men. About 21% of Millennial men have at least a bachelor’s degree, compared with only 12% of their young Silent counterparts. These higher levels of educational attainment among those ages 18 to 33 suggest that Millennials, especially Millennial women – while not currently ahead of Gen Xers and Boomers in 2014 – are on track to be our most educated generation by the time they complete their educational journeys.

2A greater share of Millennial women have a bachelor’s degree than their male counterparts – a reversal from the Silent generation. Gains in education have been steady over the last half-century as growing shares of both men and women have earned a bachelor’s degree. However, women have made bigger gains over the period. Among Millennials ages 18 to 33, women are 6 percentage points more likely to have finished at least a bachelor’s degree than men (27% vs. 21%). Back when Silents were ages 18 to 33, women were 5 percentage points less likely than men to have finished at least four years of college education. Gen Xers were the first generation of women to outpace men in educational attainment, with a 2 percentage point advantage among Gen X women ages 18 to 33 in 1998. By comparison, Baby Boomers were the last generation in which men were better educated than women, with a 3 percentage point advantage among young Boomer men (in 1980).

As Young Women, Silents Were About Twice as Likely as Millennials to be Out of Workforce3Young women today are much more likely to be working compared with Silent generation women during their young adult years. In 1963, when Silent women were ages 18 to 33, a majority (59%) were not participating in the labor force and just 38% were employed. Among Millennials, that pattern has flipped. Today, 63% of Millennial women are employed, while just 31% are not in the labor force. This shift to more women in the workplace occurred as early as 1980, when Boomers were 18 to 33. Then, six-in-ten young Boomer women were employed and just 35% were not in the labor force. Among Boomer women who were not in the labor force in their young adult lives, U.S. Census Bureau data indicate a majority of them were devoted to domestic activities, but less so than among young Silent generation women. When non-working adults were asked about the “major activity” that consumes their time, 70% of young Boomer women cited “housework,” compared with 85% among young Silent women. Among Boomer women, 22% cited “school” as their major activity, an increase from the 12% among Silent women. (This detailed information about reasons for not being labor force participants is not available for Gen Xers or Millennials.)

4Millennials have entered the labor force during tough times, and it shows in their employment figures. It’s been tough going in the job market for Millennials, who entered into the workforce during the nation’s deepest recession in decades. While other generations have faced tough employment markets as they entered adulthood, as some Boomers did during the 1981-1982 recession, the labor market recovery for Millennials has been much less robust following the Great Recession. A consistent 78% of men in the Gen X, Boomer and Silent generations were employed at ages 18 to 33, a share that dropped 10 points to 68% among Millennial men. In addition, while employment among young women had been increasing with each generation, it dropped 6 points between Gen X women in 1998 (69%) and Millennial women in 2014 (63%). This can partially be attributed to enrollment in higher education – fully 18% of 18- to 33-year-old Millennials are currently enrolled full time, compared with just 11% of Gen Xers when they were the same age.

5Millennials today are twice as likely to have never married as Silents were when they were young. About seven-in-ten Millennials (68%) have never been married, and those who are married have put marriage off until their later adult years. In 1963, the typical American woman married at 21 years of age and the typical man wed at 23. By 2014, those figures climbed to ages 27 for women and 29 for men. When members of the Silent generation were the same age as Millennials are now, just 32% had never been married. Still, about two-thirds of never-married Millennials (65%) say they would like to get married someday. When asked the reasons that they have not gotten married, 29% say they are not financially prepared, while 26% say that they have not found someone who has the qualities they are looking for and an additional 26% say that they are too young and not ready to settle down.

6Millennials are much more likely to be racial or ethnic minorities than members of the Silent generation. Fifty years ago, America was less racially diverse than it is today. Large-scale immigration from Asia and Latin America, the rise of racial intermarriage, and differences in fertility patterns across racial and ethnic groups have contributed to Millennials being more racially and ethnically diverse than prior generations. In 2014, fewer than six-in-ten Millennials (57%) were non-Hispanic whites, compared with more than three-quarters (78%) of Silents. The share who are Hispanic is nearly three times as large among Millennials as among Silents (21% vs. 8%), and the shares who are black, Asian or some other race (or races) have also increased.

7Young Silent men in 1963 were 10 times more likely to be veterans than Millennials are today. Although Millennials came of age at a time when the United States engaged in military conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, they are far less likely to have served in the military than previous generations. Among men, only 3% of Millennials are veterans, compared with 35% of Silent men, who came of age during the Korean War and its aftermath. The number of young men serving in the active-duty military has decreased drastically since the establishment of an all-volunteer force in 1973, which is reflected in the decreased share who are veterans since then. Comparable historical data for veteran status by generation is not available for women, but contrary to men, the number of women serving in the active-duty military has risen since 1973.

Topics: Educational Attainment, Generations and Age, Millennials, Work and Employment

  1. Photo of Eileen Patten

    is a research analyst focusing on Hispanic, social and demographic trends at Pew Research Center.

  2. Photo of Richard Fry

    is a senior researcher focusing on economics and education at Pew Research Center.

52 Comments

  1. Anonymous3 months ago

    Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain) said to never let schooling get in the way of your education. This study clearly confuses the two. Millenials have more schooling, but I have seen little to indicate they are more educated. I have seen numerous instances of millenials thinking they know more because the have a degree than someone who has been in the business for many years. Many of our fresh college graduates can barely tell which countries were on which sides of which wars, let alone what precipitated the war, why it is relevant to current diplomacy, etc. While there are many bright millenials, our “educational” system has robbed them of a real education.

  2. Anonymous3 months ago

    I’d love to know the knowledge equivalence of a high school grad in 1965 vs a BA today. I meet so many suffocatingly ignorant Millennials that I can’t help but wonder. Of course, having a degree in Klingon sub-dialects probably doesn’t help.

  3. Anonymous3 months ago

    Today we know much more but get much less.

  4. Mike Monahan9 months ago

    What percentage of boomer men were in the military?

    1. Anonymous3 months ago

      That number of men also includes the WWII vets which was about 3% or all those eligible compared to about .9% today..

  5. RealTruth11 months ago

    Well most of the women of years ago were certainly a lot nicer than today.

  6. caolila1 year ago

    A highschool diploma in the 1960s was much more like a college degree today. Our high schools used to require everyone to take latin.

  7. RKae1 year ago

    “More educated”?

    They have more time sitting in a college and being told stuff. Are they more educated, though?

    They can’t name the branches of our government; they can’t tell you what century the Civil War occurred in; they have NO IDEA what an apostrophe is for…

    …but they are firm in their knowledge that gender is whatever you want it to be.

    “More educated”?

    1. Patrick1 year ago

      The vast majority of people in the developed world now share a common database of knowledge – thanks to the internet. And accessing the specific piece of information required at any given moment becomes more and more intuitive as search engines continue to gather data about the thought patterns of humans at an exponential rate. The entire human race now operates in a “cloud based” environment. In such an environment, the amount of data you store locally (in your brain) is secondary to your ability to quickly retrieve data stored remotely (throughout cyberspace). In fact, there is a very good argument to be made for the notion that systems (humans) which require a vast amount of data to be stored locally are inferior to systems that are optimized for remote data retrieval. Millennials and so-called Digital Natives (born after 1995) are highly adept at remote data retrieval and spend an ever increasing amount of time plugged into the collective database. As these trends continue, we will eventually reach a point in time where retrieval of information from the collective database occurs faster than the human brain is able to retrieve information stored locally. At that point “what you know” becomes less than insignificant – in fact, it becomes a detriment. What are the measures of intelligence in a society where all the individuals share a common database of knowledge and a processing speed that is limited by data transfer technology and not brainpower? Perhaps intelligence is then measured by ones ability to suppress emotional responses… Or the opposite may be true… Perhaps intelligence is then measured by ones ability to react to emotional stimuli (for example the ability to appreciate the arts)… What is certain is that the “century the Civil War occurred in” will be a shared piece of data. Any individual that chooses to store that information in their own brain wastes neural connections that could be allocated to less trivial tasks.

      1. gman10 months ago

        Patrick, I agree. Although a Boomer, I realized some time ago that intimate knowledge of non essential items was a waste of effort when the item can be retrieved almost instantly. You may further be correct that the entire measurement of intelligence will fundamentally change as data retrieval becomes more intuitive and instantaneous. However, I don’t know that we will have to determine this new “measurement”……with the progress being made in AI, we will have long been deemed the waste of energy that we are, and eliminated. 🙂 In the interim, I find some peace in the realization that I am in a dwindling sector that can survive when the power goes out!

        1. Anonymous4 months ago

          Amen! gman. Waking up with knowledge every morning to travel thru the game of life (or the walk or whatever one may wish to call it) is a real trip. I’ve learned quite a bit of useless information in my life, but even that has helped to make me the completely able to survive and thrive, living on my own (married not with ma and pa) employed in several rewarding professions over the years, able to change what i do for income using my excitement for life, my curiosity and the education I received from excellent teachers, professors, fellow dental professionals, moms, etc. Many millennials and more Gen-Xers with whom I have come into contact over the years, have nicknamed me Mom-o-pedia. many of them have also asked, “…can’t you write a book so i’ll know what to do after I read it?
          I tell them Heloise was my mini bible in post high school life, and my mom and dad were my first teachers. They both worked different shifts in a time when only 10% of moms worked. I was never home without a parent to guide me. I believe that life is the best teacher not a laptop.
          There is so much that you learn fro PEOPLE that you don’t think about until yu hear it. With the internet, you have to have a question or need before you “look it up.” Life is the best teacher and life is people.

      2. Anonymous3 months ago

        Knowing a factoid is not important. Without having a decent understanding of history you lack context. If someone says ” thank you Neville Chamberlain” what do they mean?
        I deal with millenials with doctoral degrees, but I often have to stop and explain something I have said because they do not know don’t know enough history to put the sentence in context.
        Years ago The Dictionary of Cultural Literacy was published. It should be updated and be required reading for any high school student.

      3. Anonymous3 months ago

        Actually this shows a significant ignorance. So many aspect of history and civics are woven into our language. If he do not understand the history, etc, you do not understand what is being said. If someone calls you a Benediction Arnold, by the time you look it up you are already out of the conversation. Being well read and understanding important aspects of civics, history, etc. is what makes one educated. Not simple doing a database search.

    2. Vatnos1 year ago

      To be fair… our generation is not responsible for the horrific state of civics education we had to endure. We’re also not responsible for the horrific state of the economy when we graduated.

      Back in the 60s a family could afford to put two kids through college, own a house in a nice part of town, afford healthcare, and have financial stability… on ONE income. Now that’s a relentless struggle on TWO incomes. Something happened over 40 years. Somewhere along the line the middle class evaporated. And those of us in our 20s right now are not the ones who voted to make that happen.

      I’m not going to point fingers though. It’s not a generational thing. Every generation is a mixed bag. There are individuals with a natural curiosity about the world they live in all generations, and then there are individuals with only superficial concerns… including the gullible ones who voted us into this mess. Some of my peers are morons, and some of yours are as well.

      1. Mike1 year ago

        There are some things that have changed since the 1960s that have made life much more expensive but have little to do with anyone make bad political decisions. In the 1960s, no one had a monthly cable tv bill, internet bill or cell phone bill. Tax rates were much higher. Most families had only one car and vacations were rare. The typical house was much smaller and so on. I imagine that families in the 60s would have needed two people working if they wanted to afford much of what we now consider to be necessities. This doesn’t explain why real wages have been stagnant for decades but it does make you think about lifestyle changes that have happened.

    3. M c burr12 months ago

      Great point…and I am 39! 😉

    4. Anonymous3 months ago

      Do you know that there is actually a name for older generations to feel the need to be better than younger generations? Look into it and learn something about yourself.

  8. Mike1 year ago

    Millennials more educated? Every day I encounter young people who cannot make change without a computer, have limited social skills and attention spans, are lazy and have no initiative but want instant gratification. In other words, they are illogical and feel entitled.
    We boomers need to give these kids a wake up call.

    1. Evan1 year ago

      While understand where you are coming from, I think that is an incredibly dismissive and broad statement.

      Entitlement amongst certain groups of young people are the minority, I assure you. Millennials are some of the most hard-working and determined people in the work force right now. Growing up with modern microelectronics has allowed us to surpass ALL previous generations in terms of rudimentary technological understanding.

      There will always be a significant portion of any generation that can be described as “lazy”, however, I think much of this notion can be attributed to values instilled by parents or respective social climates. I do agree that social media can promote an unhealthy habit of self-reflection that can potentially harm real-world relationships, both personal and professional.

      I’ll leave you with this, most of the problems facing the world today stem from previous generations’ tendency to make decisions based on strong emotions; misguided or otherwise. However, I think you will begin to see a shift in policy and education that begins to favor making decisions based on academic research and scientific fact. Whether or not older generations support or dismiss this shift will be key to improving the quality of life for generations that follow.

      -Evan, 21, Computer Engineering BA Student

    2. Alex11 months ago

      I don’t know about the people you’ve interacted with, but the branches of government and the civil war were taught to me in elementary school.

      If you have a problem with our education system maybe you should take it up with the people who established it.

      Additionally, Latin is a dead language, High schools have a foreign language requirement, and my ability to speak Spanish is significantly more useful than your ability to understand Gregorian Chant.

    3. Anonymous4 months ago

      you say that now but guarantee millennials will be able to show you up in the future.

  9. Celia1 year ago

    I agree with Don. A person who has more formal education than someone else does not necessarily mean that they are better educated. Too bad they couldn’t measure common sense or basic life skills like cooking and balancing a bank account.

    1. Ron1 year ago

      Hello, but “educated” typically refers to level of formal education. I find it ironic that those criticizing the Millennial education did not seem to understand that.

      The Pew study clearly defines “educated” as the “% completing at least a bachelor degrees, ages 18-33”.

      Webster’s definition… 1. having an education; especially having an education beyond the average

      I can understand objecting if the study had referred to Millennials as more knowledgeable or smarter. But educated is a factual statistic that is not disputable.

  10. Michael Swanson1 year ago

    I’m disgusted with the denomination of my “generation” as “The Silents” I expect that many of us born in the WWII years would be equally disgusted. Whatever we were, we were NOT silent. I graduated from college and entered graduate school the year Kennedy was assassinated. From 1963 on, I marched, waved banners, endured indignities as National Guardsman camped on our campus during the Kent State years, and required IDs to let us on and off campus. IF this “Senior Researcher” were just a little more senior, he’d know how offensivethis is.

    1. Ericka1 year ago

      here are several theories as to where the label ‘Silent Generation’ originated. The children who grew up during this time worked very hard and kept quiet. It was commonly understood that children should be seen and not heard.

      During this time, the House Committee on Un-American Activities launched an assault on political freedom in America. This, in conjunction with Senator Joseph McCarthy’s overzealous attempts to feed anti-communist sentiment in America, made it dangerous for people to speak freely about their opinions and beliefs. They became cautious about where they went and whom they were seen with. Therefore, the people were effectively ‘silenced.’

      In 1951, a Time magazine article was written in which the children of the generation were described as unimaginative, withdrawn, unadventurous, and cautious. Time magazine used the name ‘Silent Generation’ to refer to these individuals. The name has been there ever since.

    2. K Coffee1 year ago

      I believe it was RM Nixon who popularized the term ‘silent majority’ in an attempt to marginalize the broad and growing opposition to governmental policies during his administration.

      Such opposition of course did not begin in 1968, nor end in 1974 when he boarded the helicopter on the white house lawn. Would that young people today had a sense of that social engagement.

  11. Sco Bos1 year ago

    HEY. Where are the 6% who gleaned their education just by being alive and smart? You and your dang charts sometimes! 😀 😀

  12. Lewis M. Dickens III1 year ago

    The hell we were silent! We are the generation that spoke up.

    1. Michael Swanson1 year ago

      AMEN!

  13. Don1 year ago

    My dad was a member of the “Great Generation” – I guess “Silent” fits me well enough. But you cut off education at the bachelors degree. I earned AA, BS, MEd, and PhD, You could trace at least some of those. Also, my observation indicates that current degree earners have much more selfish motives in mind, and less ‘service’ motives – are my observations accurate? There is also some question as to the quality of the education behind the the degrees, when comparing modern study with that of my generation.
    I would tend to agree that marriage does not indicate a satisfactory relationship, but I also feel that the courts are a poor venue for deciding how children should be raised. I have seen to role of men in general debased, without appropriate replacement.

  14. Tom McCorkill1 year ago

    It would be interesting to have information on births among these age groups, especially a comparison of married vs. singles.

    1. Eileen Patten1 year ago

      Hi Tom –

      Here is a CDC publication that, while not directly tracking the generational age groups, can show you an age breakdown of birth rates from 1990-2013: cdc.gov/nchs/data/nvsr/nvsr64/nv…

      A couple years ago, we had a report called “For Millennials, Parenthood Trumps Marriage” (pewsocialtrends.org/2011/03/09/f…), which looked at attitudes and trends surrounding parenthood for Millennials, compared with Gen Xers when they were the same age. You can read about that here, but one thing you will notice is the share of births that were nonmarital was higher among Millennials than it had been among Gen Xers (51% vs. 39%).

  15. JimMcD1 year ago

    generations are defined as 18 year terms. Boomers 1946-1964, GenXers the country’s 10th generation, 1965-1983, Millennials 1984-2002 who were born during the millennium which was in 2000 not 1996- duh!

    1. Eileen Patten1 year ago

      Hi Jim,

      There is no exact science in labeling a group of people as a generation – these are invented groupings that are often defined and decided by media organizations. Our definition of the generations can be seen in the graphic underneath the interactive at the top of the page. These are the birth years the Pew Research Center uses for all of its work on generations. The end of the Millennial generation has not yet been determined, so we are continuing to age each year’s new 18-year-olds into the Millennial grouping for now.

      Eileen

      1. Razor1 year ago

        I agree these groupings are simply BS because the first part of these groups have very different experiences than those from those in the later part. This is nothing more than laziness, to do this correctly you would need to break it down to ten or even better five year increments.

    2. Bobick1 year ago

      Millennials are those who ‘came of age’ at the millennium, not those who were born at that time.

      There is definitely no strict rule on the boundaries between the generations. I was born in 1979 and I never felt like part of Gen X. You’d be hard pressed to find someone born in 1983 who feels like they are.

  16. Dennis Gauss1 year ago

    answers to.

    1. 3rd year degree is equal to graduation of silent.

    2.Agreed.Good.

    3.They have to…better or worse off ?

    4.We saw many tough times too.

    5.Loss of family values and ending with what ?

    6.Sense of entitlement.They have been spoilt and lack initiative.

    7.No conscription(good) but that’s the reason.

    1. Tom1 year ago

      Exactly Dennis! AND The silent generation has an abundance of common sence.

    2. Commonsense11 months ago

      1. False, not even remotely close to reality.

      6. False, this mentality comes with age is recorded back hundreds upon hundreds of years. It just proves you’re IQ is average or sub par and that you fit among the majority. Some false sense of self worth.

      “The children now love luxury. They have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for elders and love chatter in place of exercise.” – Socrates

      if kids were becoming spoiled then, that would make your generation one of the biggest, laziest, ignorant and ill mannered generations in the history of mankind, up until you had offspring of your own.

      the reality is people are people, and some are pieces of ignorant shit like yourself that contribute nothing to society.

  17. Katrina1 year ago

    I think it’s time to cutoff the Millennial age group. My experiences as the oldest of the Millennial rage (turned 18 in 2000) are very, very different from someone turning 18 today. Much like Pew sometimes has to divide older and younger Boomers because they became adults 20 years apart, the 18 and 33 year olds today should be separated for analysis.

    1. KNJ1 year ago

      And as an early Gen-Xer, I have nothing in common with those who are at the end of my generation. Welcome to the world.

  18. Kevin Pike1 year ago

    I think it would serve to mention that #7 is largely attributable to the change in military technology and strategy. Less boots on the ground; more drones in the air.

    I recognize that most of your readership would recognize this obvious driver behind the numbers. However, you did make an allowance in the final sentence for #4.

    1. Frank1 year ago

      A deeply flawed observation…sorry not observation, that is not the correct description. A deeply flawed intuition. Drones do not and cannot ever replace bodies in the area.

  19. Detailer1 year ago

    Education:
    What percentage of the higher percentage of degrees among later generations are in hard sciences, technologies or accounting? And what percentage are in “unemployable majors” that weren’t available 40 years ago?

    Employment:
    Does the tougher times that Millennials encounter in finding jobs trace back to their higher prevalence of marginally useful majors?

    1. Scott1 year ago

      What you are asking is what percent are receiving training for careers (white collar trade school) as opposed to education (humanities, political science, international affairs). The answer is that most of degrees are primarily focused on the highest financial return on the dollar invested. Only about 5% of the elites have ever had what might be called a true education.

    2. Tony1 year ago

      I’m curious as to your definition of “‘unemployable majors’ that weren’t available 40 years ago”. My unemployable major, History, is one of the very oldest. In fact, of all of the “classical” degrees, the only ones that are considered “employable” now are law and medicine. Most of the most profitable degrees, like Computer Science, Aeronautical Engineering, Data Science, either didn’t exist 40 years ago or are completely changed from their origins.

      I suspect the degrees to which you are referring are things like Political Science and Women’s Studies which not only first became popular in the 60s-70s, but also can lead to very lucrative positions in political campaigns.

    3. Jon Obermark1 year ago

      This seems ignorant to the point of purposeful bias. Literature, Philosophy and Music degrees (and I might toss in the half of Divinity who can’t preach) were surely available 40, and 140, and maybe even 240 years ago before degrees in the sciences had fixed curriculum. And they probably still make up most of those you would consider to have ‘unemployable’ degrees. Degrees in the sciences are much younger.

  20. Martha Toth1 year ago

    I’ve always wondered why the Gen X and Milennial generations break where they do. My kids (1977 and 1982) are considered to be of different generations, although their life trajectories have been incredibly similar.

    1. Elana1 year ago

      It’s arbitrary. You have to draw the line somewhere.

  21. Karen Newcombe1 year ago

    Silent Generation? The Strong Generation would be better suited to them.

    1. Angela1 year ago

      They were named Silents by Neil Howe et al based on their work in US Demography. This generation was born during the Depression and WW II, between the patriotic GI Generation/ “Greatest” Generation and the Boomer Generation. Given their time of birth, their parents had bigger issues on their plates so this generation was not coddled, restricted or indulged. The were, for the most part, a responsible, conformist, and quiet generation thus the title “Silent”.

      1. Mary Thurlow1 year ago

        Because, “Children are to be seen and not heard.”