In an election as close as this year’s presidential contest, any group can make a credible claim for having made the critical difference in the outcome. But there is certainly no denying the impact the Millennial Generation (young voters 18-30 years old) had on the outcome of the 2012 election. Because it was so surprising to so many (but not us), there was as much commentary among the chattering classes on the day after the election about the impact on American politics of the Millennial Generation as the more conventional conversation about the continuing rise in the influence of Hispanic-Americans. It is possible that this sudden discovery of the power of the Millennial Generation will last beyond this week’s instant analysis, but whether it does or not, the size and unity of belief of the Millennial Generation will continue to be felt for the rest of this decade and well beyond.
Millennials made up 19% of the electorate in 2012, a point or two more than their share
of the 2008 electorate. Unlike four years ago when the Millennials’ share was equivalent to that
of senior citizens, this time they outpaced the senior share, which fell to only 16% of the
electorate. Although final turnout numbers are difficult to calculate until all the votes are
counted, CIRCLE research data Even as Hispanic voters reached an historically high level of participation, Millennials, about a quarter of whom are Hispanic, became a powerful 23 million strong segment of the electorate, a number that will only grow larger over the rest of this decade.
So far, just about sixty percent of Millennials have turned eighteen. Over the next eight years, all Millennials will become eligible to vote, representing a 95 million voter opportunity for whichever party is willing and able to successfully recruit them. If Millennials continue to participate at around the 50% mark that they have in the past two presidential elections, they will eventually represent about a 47 million member constituency, twice the numbers that they were in 2012. .
But it’s not just the size of the generation that makes Millennials such a powerful political force. The previously largest American generation, Baby Boomers (born 1946-1964) have been hopelessly split in their political opinions and preferences ever since they ignited the cultural wars of the 1960s. This makes Boomers less of a political opportunity as an entire cohort and of more interest to politicians when they are segmented along other lines, such as the infamous and well-known gender gap that they created starting in the 1980s. Millennials, by contrast, have consistently voted in a highly unified manner. Two-thirds of them voted for Barack Obama in 2008 and 60% of them voted for his re-election this year. Even though there are significant ethnic differences within a generation that is 40% non-white, Millennial voting behavior continues to show the powerful pull of their generation’s consensus-oriented approach to decision-making.
Millennials are now a key part of a 21st century Democratic coalition that includes minorities and women, especially college educated and single women of all ethnicities, which together now represents a majority of American voters. As the number of Millennial voters continues to grow throughout this decade and the generation preserves its unity of belief, something which political science research suggests will happen, Millennials will have the pleasure of experiencing many more electoral triumphs in the years ahead.
This article originally appeared in the National Journal
Americans have been of two minds about immigration almost since the founding of the Republic. On the one hand, we swell with pride at the welcoming words of Emma Lazarus’s Statue of Liberty sonnet: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to be free,” and coverage of the swearing in of new citizens from around the globe has become a staple of July Fourth television newscasts.
By contrast, each new large wave of newcomers has led to the emergence of nativist groups and to laws designed to minimize immigration. The arrival of millions of German and Irish immigrants before the Civil War led to the creation of the anti-immigrant Order of the Star Spangled Banner and the electoral successes of the American (or Know Nothing) Party in 1854 and 1856. The waves of Eastern and Southern European immigrants in the late-19th and early-20th centuries produced a revival of the Ku Klux Klan and the passage of a 1924 law, which imposed low nationality quotas on immigrants from that part of Europe as well as Asia and Africa.
But history also indicates that, although mixed attitudes about it may endure, concern with immigration and fear of immigrants rises and falls as new generations with different attitudes emerge.
A February national survey of nearly 1,500 Americans between the ages of 18 and 64, conducted by communication research firm Frank N. Magid Associates, suggests that the United States is about to enter a period in which the debate about immigration should become less contentious, primarily because of the increasing presence within the electorate of the tolerant and diverse millennial generation, a cohort now in its teens and 20s. Millennials will represent one out of every three eligible voters by the end of this decade.
According to Magid, about three in 10 Americans are completely opposed to all immigration—legal and illegal—while an identical number perceive a need for even undocumented immigration, believing that “the United States needs illegal immigrants to do work others won’t.”
The attitudes of other Americans fall between these extremes. The majority agree that “immigration has made America a great country” and that “immigration is an American legacy worth keeping.” About 43 percent would favor making their community “immigrant friendly.” At the same time, 71 percent say that while they favor legal immigration, “illegal immigration is out of control.” Just over 40 percent agrees that “immigration is making America worse,” while only 30 percent disagrees.
Millennials, on the other hand, tend to be more positive about immigrants. For most millennials, immigration is not an abstract or academic matter. It is as up close and personal as their parents, their friends, their classmates, and their next-door neighbors. Nearly one out of five of them have at least one immigrant parent, and almost 30 percent of millennials are Hispanic or Asian—groups containing large numbers of recent immigrants.
As a result, millennials agree more strongly than older generations that “immigration is an American legacy worth keeping,” 57 percent to 52 percent. The majority, 51 percent, also agrees that their community should be “immigrant friendly,” compared with 39 percent of older generations.
They are also less likely to believe than their elders that “illegal immigration is out of control,” 67 percent to 75 percent. Millennials are also likely to accept the proposition that the country “needs illegal immigrants to do the work others won’t,” 37 percent to 22 percent of older generations.
Generational theory says it is the historic role of “civic” generations, such as today’s millennials and last century’s GI generation, to be the cohort in which the acculturation and toleration of newcomers to America reaches its apex.
A major theme of GI generation writers ranging from novelist Herman Wouk, (Marjorie Morningstar), to playwright Neil Simon (Biloxi Blues , Brighton Beach Memoirs) and sociologist Will Herberg (Protestant, Catholic, Jew) was the depiction of the way in which GIs of various ethnicities emerged from their immigrant homes and neighborhoods to achieve acceptance within the larger society.
In 1965, it was a GI generation-dominated Congress and GI president, Lyndon Johnson, that passed immigration-reform legislation overturning the nationality quotas established in 1924. Now, as a new ethnically diverse civic generation emerges in large numbers, American politics will renew its cyclical rhythm and return to policies that once again tolerate and include immigrants from every part of the globe.
Full disclosure: Michael D. Hais retired in 2006 as vice president of entertainment research from Frank N. Magid Associates after a 22-year career with Magid and continues to do occasional work for the firm.
Eighty percent of Americans buy their first house between the ages of 18-34. While the Millennial Generation’s (born 1982-2003) delayed entry into all aspects of young adulthood has sometimes been characterized as a “failure to launch,” the generation’s preference for single tract, suburban housing should become the fuel to ignite the nation’s next housing boom as Millennials fully occupy this crucial age bracket over the next few years.
According to a study by Frank N. Magid Associates, 43 percent of Millennials describe suburbs as their “ideal place to live,” compared to just 31 percent of older generations. Even though big cities are often thought of as the place where young people prefer to live and work, only 17 percent of Millennials say they want to settle in one. This was the same percentage of members of this generation that expressed a preference for living in either rural or small town America. Nor are Millennials particularly anxious to spend their lives as renters. A full 64 percent of Millennials surveyed, said it was “very important” to have an opportunity to own their own home.
That hasn’t stopped a number of commentators from arguing that Millennials ought to prefer renting a loft apartment to buying a house and that they would be better off doing so. For example, sociologist Katherine Newman, is “hoping that the Millennial Generation doesn't set its sights on homeownership as a benchmark of economic stability, because it's going to be out of reach for so many of them that it will just be a recipe for frustration."
But survey research suggests it may be her hopes that will be dashed as the Millennial Generation matures. Eighty-four percent of 18-34 year olds who are currently renting say that they intend to buy a home even if they can’t currently afford to do so. As Neal Coleman, a married Millennial in his mid-twenties, put it, "You're freer when you own your own home, your own land. You're not beholden to a renter's contract, or lease. My feeling is that homeownership is an investment in being able to control your surroundings, to build a life for you and your family."
Glenn E. Crenlin from the Runstad Center for Real Estate Studies at the University of Washington believes that “what we're looking at in terms of the Millennial Generation is likely only a delay in homeownership of three to five years, not a long-term trend away from homeownership itself." He cites census data from the American Community Survey that shows a significant increase in homeownership among Millennials as compared to Baby Boomers when they were at the same age that Millennials are now. “While 900,000 households in the Millennial Generation [now] own their own home, only 500,000 Baby Boomer households owned their own homes at the same point in their lives.”
This data suggests the key to a resounding revival of America’s housing market may be the availability of affordable homes in neighborhoods with amenities that would appeal to Millennials and their young families. As always, safe streets and good schools are key components of such an environment. But so too are short commutes to work and nearby shops featuring the local products that appeal to younger customers.
Such neighborhoods already exist in many close-in suburbs whose housing stock is in need of some renovation, or “gentrification,” from energetic owners committed to improving their local community. These attributes describe Millennials precisely. Their willingness to invest sweat equity in rehabilitating their first home should be rewarded in the financing process either by counting its value toward a down payment or using it to wipe out some of the outstanding student debt with which many of the members of this generation are burdened. Alternatively, homes could be offered to Millennials as rentals with an option to buy and with the cost of any renovations performed by the renter deducted from the down payment required to make the conversion from rental to ownership.
Recently, National Association of Realtors President Moe Veissi announced that "Realtors are committed to ensuring that the dream of homeownership can become a reality for generations of Americans to come." To start making that dream come true for Millennials, realtors and those who finance home purchases need to create innovative new offerings tailored to the needs and wants of Millennials. Policies and programs that will enable America’s most populous generation to own a piece of the American Dream offer the best hope for igniting the home construction boom critical to boosting country’s still sagging economy.
Full disclosure: Michael D. Hais retired in 2006 as Vice-President of Entertainment Research from Frank N. Magid Associates after a 22 year career with Magid and continues to do occasional work for the firm.
This Post Originally Appeared in the National Journal
In 1964, Jack Weinberger, a leader of the Berkeley Free Speech Movement that kicked off a decade of student protests, famously proclaimed that his age cohort should “never trust anyone over 30.” A recent survey by communications research and consulting firm Frank N. Magid Associates suggests that a gap just as deep exists today between younger and older generations. While the gap may not be as visible as in the 1960s, it still has the potential to be every bit as divisive.
Magid asked a national sample of 3,150 Americans, ages 16 to 66, if they were “least likely to get along with someone of the opposite sex, a different racial background, or a different generation (much older or younger).”
Overall, 53 percent say that they are least likely to get along with someone of a different generation. By contrast, only about a third believed that they would have the most difficulty interacting with someone of a different race, and one in five mentioned a person of the opposite sex as least likely to get along with.
While Magid’s question focused on interpersonal relationships, there is already evidence that the generational divisions it uncovered will be of increasingly broad societal importance in the years ahead.
In the 2008 presidential election, for example, millennials supported Barack Obama over John McCain by greater than 2-to-1 (66 percent to 32 percent), while the next two older cohorts (Generation X and boomers) divided their votes about evenly between the two candidates; a majority of senior citizens supported McCain.
According to the latest polls, millennials support Obama by about the same 2-to-1 margin as in 2008, while Gen-X’ers and boomers are evenly split. Seniors prefer the Republican candidate by an even greater margin than they did four years ago.
Indeed, Pew’s latest American Values Survey attributes much of the increasing polarization of U.S. politics to the “strong generational characteristics of the millennial generation compared with” older generations. This makes it likely that the same large generational split will occur again this November.
But the political differences are only one example of a large-scale division in attitudes and behavior between millennials and their elders. From the country’s houses of worship to its major-league ballparks and from its homes to its workplaces, millennials have a very different outlook on society than older Americans.
So far this generational division has not had the acrimony of the generation gap from the 1960s. In large part that’s because millennials, unlike the boomers of 50 years ago, are not rebellious by nature. If anything, millennials are unfailingly polite. Their parents, whom they actually like, have taught them to seek win-win solutions to controversial issues.
However, as demographer Joel Kotkin indicates, many current public policies work to the benefit of older generations at the expense of younger ones. Kotkin points out that U.S. politicians of both the right and left promote “governmental policies [that] continue to favor boomers and seniors over the young.”
In Great Britain, young people have formed an organization, the Intergenerational Foundation, to publicize and begin to redress their grievances. The IF website features postings such as “Intergenerational Practice vs. Intergenerational Justice” and “Sharing the cake—an Intergenerational Dilemma” that clearly express the organization’s concerns.
Perhaps American millennials will not form groups that are so explicitly focused on their own cohort or take to the streets as boomers did five decades ago. But that does not mean that they will do nothing.
Unlike many European countries with small youth populations, millennials have the numbers to produce more equitable public policies. At 95 million, millennials are the largest American generation ever.
By 2020 they will comprise more than one in three eligible voters. Sooner or later, those numbers, and the unity of belief that the millennial generation has so far brought to politics, will allow the generation to reshape the United States, first as voters and then as the nation’s leaders.
The way in which boomers and seniors react to the growing presence of millennials, and the younger generation’s distinctive beliefs, will determine how difficult the transition from the old to the new America will be.
Full disclosure: Michael D. Hais retired in 2006 as vice president of entertainment research from Frank N. Magid Associates after a 22-year career with Magid and continues to do occasional work for the firm.
America’s destiny as a pluralistic democracy took a new and unprecedented turn last month. First, early in May, USA Today asked Americans what name they thought would be appropriate for the country’s newest generation now moving into grade school classrooms with its unique behavior and perspectives. Plurals is the name suggested by communications research and consulting firm, Frank N. Magid Associates, with only the Apple product related notion of an iGeneration getting more votes.
Plurals will be different from Millenials. For one thing they will be the first generation in America that will be majority “minority”, as evidenced by the recent U.S. Census Bureau announcement that more babies born in America in the 12 months between July 2010 and July 2011, were non-white than white. The event occurred about eight years earlier than demographers had predicted it would just a few years ago. The 21st Century pluralistic American society that had often been talked about has arrived. But the question remains whether or not the country’s institutions, and its leadership, will be up to the challenge such a polyglot democracy presents.
The Census Bureau predicts that by 2042 the entire population will be less than 50% Caucasian and America will literally be a pluralistic society.
This prediction is based upon the current trends for births among different minority groups compared to whites. Racial and ethnic minorities accounted for 91.75% of the nation’s population growth in this century, with Hispanics comprising a majority of this increase. Rather than immigration flows, which are dropping, this growth will be driven largely by higher rates of fertility among non-whites. Based upon the American Community Survey results in 2010, Hispanics have a fertility rate of 2.4 live births per woman compared to only 1.8 among whites. The only other ethnic group to be having babies at a rate greater than what is needed to replace its current numbers is African-Americans with a 2.1 fertility rate.
This difference is likely to persist and the gap could easily become wider because of the differences in the age of each population. Twenty-five percent of Hispanic women are in the prime child bearing ages of 20-34, compared to only 19% of non-Hispanic whites. (For both African-Americans and Asians, the percentage is twenty-two). The increasing diversity of both of America’s youngest generations is also reflected in the average age of each population. The average age of America’s white population is 42.3, a full five years older than the overall age of the country’s population. The average age of Hispanics is almost fifteen years younger, 27.6, with the other two population groups closer to the average age of the entire population—blacks at 32.9 and Asians at 35.9.
Magid’s research indicated that a majority of Americans were “hopeful and proud” of the country’s increasing diversity, but it was the younger generations, most markedly Plurals, who were more likely to say they were “pleased and energized” by this development. Many older Americans, particularly Baby Boomers and senior citizens, are resisting the changes this dramatic shift is bringing to American society. Already states, such as Arizona, with populations that have the widest disparity between the racial and ethnic makeup of their oldest and youngest generations have experienced bitter political battles over issues such as immigration and education that reflect these divides. The good news is that both Plurals and members of the Millennial generation, born 1982-2003, are positive about this inevitable trend toward a pluralistic society, reflecting their comfort with the diversity in the social circles in which they have grown up.
But that doesn’t mean that Plurals look forward to the nation’s future with equanimity. Most Plurals have been raised by parents from the often cynical and consistently skeptical Generation X. This may explain why Magid found a much greater degree of pessimism about living out the American Dream among them than among their older Millennial Generation siblings, a generation that, despite their current challenges, was brought up in the prosperous Reagan-Clinton era and remains characteristically optimistic. The attitudes of Plurals may also reflect the polarized, bitter politics that have characterized the period of Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt (FUD) that has dominated the news during their young life.
Whatever the reason, the pessimism of the Plurals must be answered by the nation’s leaders in ways which improve prospects for the nation’s future. One way for this to happen quickly would be for those currently holding power to begin to turn the reins of leadership over to those generations more in tune with the nation’s demographic future. If Plurals’ Xer parents and their Millennial siblings are given the opportunity to shape America’s destiny sooner rather than later, the country just might deliver on the promise of the American Dream for its newest generation.
In his most recent “Cook Report,” one of Washington’s most respected prognosticators, tries to pull off a sleight of hand worthy of a con man on a NY street corner trying to get his mark to play a game of Three Card Monte.
First, Cook shows his readers the target card by correctly pointing out how important the Millennial Generation’s vote will be to President Barack Obama this year. In November 2008, voters between the ages of 18 and 26 comprised about 17% of the electorate and voted by a greater than a 2:1 margin for Barack Obama (66% for Obama and 32% for John McCain). With older generations dividing their votes almost evenly between the two candidates, Millennials accounted for about 80% of Obama’s national popular vote margin over McCain, turning what would have been a narrow win into a decisive seven-point victory.
This year, members of the Millennial Generation, representing all voters 30 and under, will make up an even larger share of the eligible voter population, about 24%. But, Cook says, as he moves the cards around on the table, they aren’t likely to vote for Obama by the same margin. He bases this prediction on the conventional wisdom, that “When an incumbent is running, the election is usually a referendum on that person rather than a choice between two people.” He hopes you won’t pay attention to the word “usually” in that sentence, However, as we point out in our book, Millennial Momentum, 2012 is more likely to be one in which the country makes a choice between two radically different visions of its future that will be offered by the two candidates. In decisive elections of this type, which occur about every eighty years, the normal “rules” are not likely to apply.
Having enticed his readers into thinking about the 2012 election as a referendum on the president, Cook conveniently cites approval ratings for Obama among Millennials that are months out of date. A March 18 survey by Gallup, the firm Cook usually relies upon, showed that 55 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds approved of Obama’s performance as president, up from 44 percent in early December. While not a 2:1 margin, these numbers are hardly a signal of a close election among Millennial voters.
Cook also fails to mention another set of data that shows Obama beating all of his potential GOP rivals by the same 2:1 margin that Millennials gave him in 2008. In a November, 2011 Pew survey, for example, voters under thirty preferred Obama over Mitt Romney, the likely Republican nominee, by a 61% to 37% margin. Given that there will be 16 million more Millennials eligible to vote in 2012 compared to 2008, and Millennials’ continued partisan unity, America’s largest generation could give Obama an even larger number of votes over his rival in this year’s election, even if the president’s margin of victory among these voters is slightly less than it was in 2008.
But Cook wants those looking at his constantly shifting cards to focus on a completely different, much less representative piece of prognostication. He cites the outcome of two focus groups in Ohio and North Carolina conducted by Resurgent Republic, a polling firm “headed by veteran Republican strategist Ed Gillespie and longtime pollster Whit Ayres.” Resurgent Republic talked to a group of Millennial voters in each of those two states whose independent status was determined by each participant being “undecided on the generic presidential ballot test.”
Continuing his efforts at political sleight of hand, Cook conveniently fails to mention that such voters are least likely to vote or to be aware of current political candidates and issues. Instead, he tries to entice his readers to lose track of the target card (usually the Queen of Hearts), by suggesting they pay attention to this quote from Gillespie, “If these groups are representative of this demographic at large, it will be a tall task to counter their disillusionment.” The word “if” is Cook’s final attempt at misleading his mark. The participants in the focus groups were deliberately selected on a characteristic that makes them very unrepresentative of Millennials overall, among whom no more than 5 percent were completely undecided in the presidential race according to the most recent Pew survey.
Cook also introduces some side chatter around the game by talking about his own anecdotal impressions of the lack of enthusiasm and interest in politics on the campuses he has visited. Never once does he mention that this phenomenon may be more due to the nature of the GOP primary than any lack of support for President Obama. According to CIRCLE’s analysis of young voters, through Super Tuesday, the vote totals for Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum, and Ron Paul combined was less than half the Millennial votes Barack Obama had received at this point in the primary campaign of 2008.
Cook concludes his completely misleading piece with one nod to the Obama campaign’s policeman standing on the corner about to break up the game. “It’s safe to assume that the president, the White House, and his campaign are looking for ways to deal with this problem [of Millennial voters].” Obama is sure to engage Millennials by talking about the help his administration has provided them with the cost of attending college, his increased funding of more national service opportunities, and the more than two and a half million Millennials who now have health insurance through their parent’s policy thanks to ObamaCare. Already the campaign is gearing up online and offline organizational efforts to bring Millennials to the polls in November that exceed the technological sophistication of its very successful efforts in 2008.
Other than the state of the economy, the most pivotal factor in determining the outcome of the 2012 general election is likely to be the extent to which America’s youngest voters repeat their 2008 electoral performance in 2012. If Millennials vote in numbers proportionate to their presence among eligible voters, their continued support of the president should allow him to overcome any attrition he might suffer among older voters. But if large numbers of Millennials do not vote, the president’s reelection chances will be sharply reduced. That’s one fact that no one should think the Obama campaign will lose sight of despite Cook’s attempts at prestigious feats of political prestidigitation designed to distract the unwitting reader.
Professor Jean Twenge is continuing her long war against America’s young people. Now it’s with an article in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology with the imposing title, “Generational Differences in Young Adults’ Life Goals, Concern for Others, and Civic Orientation.” The article uses data from a number of surveys (some meaningful and others not) to once again claim that the Millennial Generation (born 1982-2003) is a “me” generation largely comprised of self-centered, narcissistic people, focused largely on their own concerns rather than the “we” or societally-focused, problem solving generation that we and well-respected analysts such as Neil Howe, one of the originators of generational studies, believe it to be. The problem with Twenge’s current writing, as with much of her other work, is that it is faulty both in method and interpretation making it almost impossible to trust or believe. There are three major flaws in the article.
Survey Methodology. In an important section of the report, labeled Study 1B, Professor Twenge and her colleagues take what they regard as the “novel” approach of using data collected using a non-qualitative or non-random sample, a “purposive” sample, to “validate” the “life goal” items in the longitudinal Monitoring the Future (MtF) and American Freshman (AF) surveys that are key to their analysis. Leaving aside the question of why the AF study, that has surveyed a nationally representative sample of college freshman since 1966, and the MtF study, that has conducted a similar survey of high school seniors since 1976, require “validation” by Professor Twenge and her co-authors, their drawing of important conclusions about Millennial attitudes and generational differences using data drawn in a purposive sample is a major methodological concern.
Purposive samples are non-quantitative samples, meaning that their results cannot be generalized to a larger population, but that is precisely what Twenge and her colleagues did. They questioned 182 San Diego State University introductory psychology students who participated in the survey for class credit. In addition to responding to the questions used in the MtF and AF surveyed, the students replied to other series of questions designed to measure the things in which Twenge is most interested: the “aspirations,” “self-esteem,” and “narcissism” of young people. According to Twenge this method allowed her to demonstrate a link between the “aspirations,” “self-esteem,” and “narcissism” measures and those asked in the MtF and AF surveys. And not surprisingly, as always, Twenge found Millennials to be self-centered narcissists who were far more interested in themselves than in any others or society over all.
The problem is that, at most, this data applies only to those 182 San Diego college students. It cannot be generalized to Millennials across America and it cannot be used to distinguish Millennials from other generations who were never asked the questions measuring “self-esteem” or “narcissism” in any of the longitudinal MtF and AF surveys. To continue the San Diego reference, it is as if interviewers went to Petco Park in San Diego and asked fans if Tony Gwynn, arguably the best player in Padres history, was a better player than Willie Mays and, upon hearing that he was then generalized the results to baseball fans across the country. A sample of Giants fans in Pac Bell Park would, however, almost certainly disagree.
Data interpretation: Minimizing the importance of behavioral in contrast to attitudinal measures in reflecting core values. One of us (Hais) had a four-decade long career in survey research, including more than 20 years with Frank N. Magid Associates, the world’s premier broadcast research and consulting firm. We fully recognize that, far more often than not, that stated attitudes reflect and perhaps guide behavior. But, occasionally they do not and, in those circumstances, the behavior of people is almost always a better indicator of their core beliefs than how they answer survey questions. One such instance involved Howard Cosell, the late color commentator on ABC Monday Night Football. Surveys repeatedly indicated that viewers perceived Cosell as a poor performer who was opinionated and obnoxious. Based on this it may have looked as if Cosell was a liability who should have been replaced. Instead, fans flocked Monday Night Football. Perhaps fans liked the game more than they disliked Cosell or perhaps, in the language of the time, people tuned in to see a man “they loved to hate.” Whatever the reason, it was the behavior of football fans rather than their stated attitudes that better reflected their core feelings.
What was true of football fans in the 1970s and 1980s is true of Millennials now: their behavior is a better indicator of their core values than their attitudes as indicated by a survey questionnaire. Nowhere is this more clear than in dealing with one of Professor Twenge’s major charges against Millennials—that they are not as concerned with helping their communities as is often claimed and, more important, as were the members of older generations when they were the age of Millennials today. For example, in the AF survey the average percentage of first year college students said it was important to “participate in a community action program” declined from 31% among young Boomers to 26% among Gen-X’ers and to 25% among Millennials. The average percentage who claimed it was important to “participate in an organization like the Peace Corps or AmericCorps/VISTA” dropped from 19% among Boomers to 11% among Millennials. (The question was not asked to Gen-X’ers). Similarly, the average percentage who said it was important to “participate in programs to clean up the environment” fell from 33% among Boomers to 24% among X’ers and to 21% among Millennials. However, when the question was re-worded in 2011 to a more action-oriented approach to the environment that would be more appealing to Millennials, 40.8% felt it was an “essential or very important” behavior.
Putting aside for the moment the fact that there were other attitudinal measures that would lead to different conclusions than those drawn by Twenge, there are additional behavioral indicators that point to greater community involvement by Millennials than other generations. The AF survey data, for example, shows a clear increase in the percentage of college freshmen who “did volunteer work in high school” from 74% among X’ers to 83% among Millennials. When confronted with this evidence that contradicts her preconceptions, Twenge attempts to explain it away by suggesting that the primary reason for this increase is that community service participation is a high school requirement and useful on college applications.
And, yet, in larger number than older generations, Millennial community service continues even after the “coercion” high school has disappeared. In the AF study, the percentage who “expected to volunteer in college” rose from 22% for X’ers to 26% for Millennials, an attitude reflected in actual behavior by the Corporation for National and Community Service, which reported a 20% increase in college student volunteering between 2002 and 2005 as ever greater numbers of Millennials arrived on campuses.
Millennial participation in that most basic of American rights and civic actions—voting—is also greater than for previous generations of young people. According to census data reported by CIRCLE, an organization that researches and influences youthful political participation, 49% of those 18-24 and 51% of those 18-29 voted in the 2008 presidential election. With one exception, this was the highest youth participation in any presidential election since 1972, when Democratic candidate, George McGovern targeted and won young people (if little else). It was well above the numbers in 1996 (36% for 18-24 year olds and 40% for 18-29 year olds) when the “youth vote” was entirely Gen-X.
Twenge does acknowledge the high Millennial turnout in 2008, but the tries to explain it away by making an analytical mistake that few freshman political science students would. She points to a decline in youth voting in the 2010 midterm elections, suggesting that may be Millennials really aren’t that into voting after all. But, turnout falls sharply in midterm elections across all generations. Making an apples to apples comparison, CIRCLE data indicates that, down as it was, even in 2010 youthful voting participation was higher than it was higher than in other 21st century midterms and that the youth share of the electorate was greater than in any year since 1994.
In voting behavior as in community service, actual behavior trumps attitudes everytime. Data Interpretation: Extrinsic Values are no less valid, meaningful, or morally correct than Intrinsic Values. For quite some time Professor Twenge has posited that Millennials are more driven by extrinsic or external values and other generations to a greater extent by intrinsic or internal values. We and generational theory actually agree with her in this regard. Some generational archetypes including civic generations such as Millennials and the GI or Greatest Generation are shaped to a greater extent by their group affiliations and their positions in the larger society. Others, like the idealist Boomers, are driven primarily by their internal beliefs. This difference is clearly reflected in Figure 1 of Professor Twenge’s article which shows that since the first AF survey of Boomers in 1966 there has been a steady decline in the number placing importance on a clearly intrinsic value—“developing a meaningful philosophy of life.” By contrast, over the same period there has been an equally steady increase in the professed importance of several more clearly extrinsic values—the importance of money/being well-off financially and of being a leader. Over the past three or four decades there have been similar, if sometimes less stark changes, in most of the intrinsic and extrinsic values probed in the AF and MtF surveys. Where we differ from Twenge is in placing moral value on these values or goals. None are, in and of themselves, good or bad, right or wrong. The implication that the core values of one generation are “better” than those of another may, in the end, be the greatest flaw in Professor Twenge’s writing.
In coming decades, the nation will need the cooperation of all of its generations to deal with and emerge from what we have labeled a deep and sustained period of Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt. Attempting to sympathize with and bridge rather than exacerbate generational differences is in the best interests of all of us as individuals and members of the American community.
The Millennial Generation (born 1982-2003) is the cohort most in favor of using the federal government to promote economic stability and equality since the GI Generation of the 1930s and 1940s. The attitudes of Millennials were heavily shaped by the protected and group-oriented way in which they were reared and their experience of feeling the full brunt of the Great Recession as they emerged into adulthood.
As a result, the biggest political story of the first half of the 21st century may well be the extent to which the largest American generation ever retains its economic liberalism and thereby shapes the direction of public policy in coming decades. If history is any guide, much of that story’s plot will be written during the next four or five years.
Millennials deserve America’s sympathies for the disproportionate impact the Great Recession has had on their generation. According to a recent Pew Research Center survey, a clear plurality (41%) of Americans think that young, rather than middle-aged (29%) or older (24%) adults are having the toughest time in today’s economy. And they are right. Last year, the unemployment rate for 18-24 year olds (16.3%) and 25-29 year olds (10.3%) was well above that of those 35-64 (7%). Even among those 18-24 year olds fortunate enough to find full-time employment, real median weekly earnings were down by six percent over the previous four years. Not surprisingly, the weak economy has had a profound impact on the personal lives of Millennials. Nearly half (49%) say they have taken a job (often part time) just to pay the bills. A third (35%) have returned to school, something that may pay benefits in the long term, but is at the expense of current earnings. About a quarter have taken an unpaid job and/or moved back in with their parents (24% each). About one in five have postponed having a baby (22%) and/or getting married (20%). Less than a third (31%) say that they earn or have enough money to lead the kind of life they want.
Their experiences with the Great Recession have only reinforced Millennials’ support for economically activist government. Last November, when Pew asked whether Americans preferred a larger government that provided more services or a smaller government that provided fewer services, Millennials opted for a bigger government over a smaller one by a large 54% to 35% margin. By contrast, 54% of Boomers (born 1946-1964) and 59% of Silents (born 1925-1945) favor a smaller government. .
In addition, a majority of (55% to 41%) Millennials favored a greater level of federal spending to help the economy recover from the recession rather than reducing the federal budget deficit. Millennials also continue to support governmental efforts to lessen economic inequality; 63% agreed that government should guarantee every citizen enough to eat and a place to sleep. Consistent with their overall attitudes toward the size of government, the two oldest generations—Boomers and Silents—favored reduced spending and a more limited government role in promoting economic equality.
The tendency of people to retain their political viewpoints and preferences throughout their lives suggests that once they are set, Millennial Generation attitudes toward government’s proper role in the economy will persist for decades. This conclusion was recently confirmed by economists Paola Giuliano and Antonio Spilimbergo. In a longitudinal analysis of survey data collected annually since 1972, they found that experiencing an economic recession during one’s “formative” years (18-25 years old) led Americans to favor “leftist” governmental policies that would “help poor people” and lessen “income inequality.” These attitudes were not influenced by experiencing a recession either before or after the formative years and remained in place even when controlled for demographic variables such as sex, race, and social class. However, the same data suggested that the deeper and more sustained the recession, the lower the level of confidence survey respondents had in governmental institutions such as Congress and the presidency.
The success of governmental action in dealing with the Great Depression in the 1930s and World War II in the 1940s put the GI or Greatest Generation on the path of lifelong support for governmental activism. After the nation’s victory over the Axis and the economic boom that followed, positive perceptions of government and political efficacy were virtually universal among Americans. Today, although America has begun to shake off the worst aspects of the Great Recession, unemployment remains stubbornly high and growth rates remain below the level needed to make dramatic dents in unemployment rates, especially among Millennials.
So far Millennial beliefs in activist, egalitarian government policies have not been shaken by the slow pace of the recovery or what some may perceive as an inadequate federal response. The extent to which those attitudes persist in future decades, when Millennials will represent over one out of every three adult Americans, could depend on how well the government deals with the economic challenges the nation faces in the years just ahead.
Shortly after our book was published, these protests sprung up seemingly spontaneously in more than 1,400 cities across the country, leading one commentator to suggest we should be given "the Nobel Prize for Predictions."
We'll leave that for others to chew on, especially because we are not yet certain that these protests are Millennial enough. If they were, Occupy would have a greater chance of success as a movement. But Millennials clearly sympathize with the fundamental message of Occupy. Beset by more than $1 trillion in college loan debt and high unemployment, they believe the system isn't working for them.
Last night NDN Fellows and authors of the new book Millennial Momentum spoke with Judy Woodruff about the many ways in which the Millennial Generation is remaking America. You can watch the whole interview here. Although the entire interview is very good, there are two pieces that really spoke to me. The first is Morley's description of Millennials' belief in bottom-up change:
MORLEY WINOGRAD: The most important thing is this generation's ability to generate change from the bottom up, and to do so with individual action at the local level.
They are absolutely committed to improving the country and perfectly happy with the country setting goals and laying out ambitions of what it wants to accomplish. But when it comes to actually doing those things, millennials will provide the same kind of disruptive energy that we have seen in the Arab spring, that we saw in the Napster revolution of the music industry.
This is a generation that is going to shake up every institution that thinks it can be run top-down.
The second was Mike's description of Millennials' belief in the role of government:
MICHAEL HAIS: Well, first of all, with regard to government, they certainly see a role, a major role for government. They believe very strongly -- a majority of millennials believe, for example, in a government that provides important services, that is not withdrawn from the economic system.
But they don't see government providing big, huge bureaucracies. Rather, they see government almost as a parent providing guidance, overall policies, which as millennials, they will work with one another and more at the local level to figure out a way of implementing those policies. So government provides guidelines. It may provide resources, but millennials will work with one another at the local level to implement those policies.
How funny that two of the best spokespeople Millennials have come from the Silent Generation.