The Pew Research Center recently published their findings after a series of investigations on “Millenials”, those currently ages 18-29 (that’s me!). I had the opportunity to listen to their conference based on the findings from their report and came away with lots of thoughts about this generation that is just now entering adulthood.
I was pleased that the conference participants highlighted positive changes alongside the negative ones being demonstrated in our generation. For now, I want to bring your attention to some of the good news.
It seems like we have our priorities in line, a nice change from earlier generations. Fifty-two percent of respondents reported that being a good parent is one of the most important things in their lives, followed by 30% who report that having a successful marriage is the most important. All this in spite of only 6 in 10 (read that again: six in ten.) being raised by both parents. Another 21% say that helping others in need was the most important while only 15% of those in our generation say that having a high-paying career is what matters most. I was surprised and pleased by this turn of events. There were so many opportunities for us to default to cynicism and selfishness, and while I’m not so naive as to believe that our expressed priorities will translate into actual behaviors across the board, I still think it’s a good sign that we value these so highly. On the flip side, there’s some evidence that suggests that the higher rates of cohabitation and the increasingly delayed ages of marriage are indicative of the value our generation places on marriage and children. The value seems to become unreachable – we delay marriage and childbearing because we have fooled ourselves into believing that the problem with older generations is that they married too young and weren’t established enough when kids came along. The problem that we are walking into may be worse than the ones built by our parents. Serial monogamy and having your first child well into your thirties has profound implications for the family that are only beginning to be established.
Another change from earlier (especially recently earlier) generations is our view of those who came before us. A majority of us think that the older generation is superior to us in terms of moral values and work ethic. Think of our parents’ generation and how they viewed authority and their elders when they were our age. It is remarkable to think that in spite of significantly increased levels of parental oversight and involvement, we have yet to rebel against them in levels anywhere close to pervious generations. Also interestingly is the more than 60% of us who say that families have a responsibility to welcome an elderly parent into their homes to live if that parents want to. Fewer than 40% of our parents (those 60 and older) feel that way. Perhaps we are experiencing a back-lash of having to visit our own grandparents in sterile nursing homes. Perhaps we genuinely have better relationships with our parents. (Relatedly, one in eight millenials age 22 and older report that they have “boomeranged” back and have lived with their parents again, largely due to the recession). Again, it will be interesting to see if this translates to action as the decade move forward.
Other realms of life are slightly less encouraging. We are “the least overtly religious American generation in modern times.” The Pew report finds that fully one in four are unaffiliated with any religion. Only 15% of our generation reported that living a very religious life was one of the most important things in their life. All previous generations have experienced lower levels of religiosity in their teens and twenties and have returned to faith later in life. Nevertheless, we are starting from a lower baseline, so it will be interesting to see where we end up.
From where I stand, I’m excited to see where our generation takes the world.
(as an added bonus, you can go here and take a quiz to see how well you fit with this generation)