One of the distinctive traits of Millennials (born roughly 1982-2003) is a constant feeling of being pressured. Thanks to their parents setting high expectations for them, Millennials consider life a series of hoops to be jumped through.
At each stage of their young lives, from kindergarten to college, the pressure to succeed has made them a risk averse, anxious generation, even as they remain optimistic about their ultimate success.
As a result, almost half of Millennials (45%) report feeling nervous due to stress at least monthly, and more than half (52%) say that their stress levels have increased over the last five years. But Millennials are also demonstrating a much healthier approach to dealing with this problem than older generations, reinforcing their reputation as the best-behaved American generation in decades.
Stress Response From Different Generations
The latest report from the American Psychological Association on Stress in America reveals very distinctive patterns in how different generations handle stress.
It explains that Boomers and senior citizens are much more likely than Millennials to “get in touch with their inner self” in order to deal with stress, either through prayer, or reading, or telling others their feelings rather than “keeping them bottled up” inside.
Meanwhile, members of Generation X, which is generally the most stressed generation of all, tend to engage in the most self-destructive behaviors when under stress. They are twice as likely as Millennials to say they deal with stress by smoking and twice as likely as Boomers to say they use alcohol.
Millennials, on the other hand, are more likely than any other generation to deal with stress using non-traditional means. Sixty percent say they listen to music to relieve stress, while less than half of older generations do so. Under stress, almost half (44%) of Millennials play video games or surf the Net. The only generation that comes close to Millennials in the use of these techniques is Generation X (36%). Millennials are also twice as likely as other generations to do yoga or meditate to try and relieve stress.
Some of the differences in how generations think about stress is a reflection of their age, rather than their generational type. As people get older, for instance, their assessment of their stress levels declines. Members of the Silent Generation, now over 65, report lower stress levels than any other generation.
Boomers’ assessment of their stress levels has declined steadily over the last five years, from an average score of 6.5 on a 10-point scale in 2007 to only 4.9 last year.
At the same time, Millennials’ perception of how stressed they are as compared to what they believe would be a healthy level of stress is almost as high as their stressed-out Generation X older siblings.
There are also clear age differences in how well people deal with stress. Statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that adults under 30, the current age bracket of Millennials, are twice as likely to consider suicide as those over 30. While only 1 percent of Millennials actually kill themselves, their rate of suicide is still five times greater than older generations.
Similarly, the problem of binge drinking is much more prevalent among those between the ages of 18 and 25 than it is among older members of the population, predominantly because the perception that such behavior carries great risk goes up dramatically for those 26 and older.
Still, these types of destructive behavior occur less frequently among Millennials than they did within older generations when those older generations were the age that Millennials are today.
The Bottom Line
In some ways, stress is like the weather—everyone talks about it but few do anything about it.
Only 32 percent of Millennials think they are very good or excellent at managing stress, numbers roughly comparable to other generations. The provision of Obamacare to keep those under 26 on their parents’ health insurance should make it easier for Millennials to gain treatment for the most serious effects of feeling pressured.
But having been taught since they were toddlers always to do their best in order to succeed, Millennials will have to develop lifelong healthy habits to deal with the stress they feel. When they do, they will look back with satisfaction on having thrived in the hyperactive world they helped create.
This month America’s destiny as a pluralistic democracy took a new and unprecedented turn. 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 Millennials. 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 The Christian Science Monitor
While the Millennial generation's beliefs reject conventional notions about the place of women in society, both sexes still place a high value on marriage and family. However challenging, these shifting gender roles will force changes in Millennials' home and work cultures.
Arcadia, California -- Having embraced the dreams of their Boomer mothers and grandmothers for equal participation in all spheres of life, the aspirations of Millennial generation women are upsetting the traditional roles of both sexes, not only in the workplace, but at home as well. As these shifts continue, Millennial men and women will be forced to navigate the spheres of work, home, parenting, and marriage in new ways – ways that may change gender interaction within their personal relationships and on the job.
In the most striking evidence yet of gender equality among members of the Millennial generation (born 1982-2003), data from Pew Research Center surveys conducted in 2010 and 2011 found that female Millennials were just as likely as males to say that being successful in a high-paying career or profession is a very important or even the most important thing in their lives.
While two-thirds of both male and female Millennials in Pew’s research wanted a successful career, women in this generation were actually more likely than men to cite that as one of their most important values. By contrast, among older Americans, men place greater importance on career and financial success.
This does not mean that Millennials of either sex have abandoned marriage and parenthood as life goals.
If anything, they place even greater importance on those values. About 85 percent of Millennial men and women say that having a successful marriage is very important to them. More than a third of Millennial women say marriage is one of their most important goals. Virtually all Millennials (95 percent of women and 93 percent of men) place an even greater premium on being a good parent. And, a clear majority of women indicate that parenthood is at the top of the list among their values.
None of this should really surprise anyone who has observed child-rearing practices during the past three decades. The parents of Millennials have been shaping their daughters’ values in this “you can have it all” direction since literally the day their daughters were born. And they have reared their sons, in many ways, to accept this new direction.
The end result is a generation whose beliefs have overwhelmingly rejected conventional notions about the place of women in society as compared to any previous generation.
A 2009 Pew survey indicated that 84 percent of Millennials disagreed either somewhat or completely (two-thirds) that “women should return to their traditional roles in society.” Last year, 82 percent of Millennials told Pew that the trend toward more women in the workplace has been a “change for the better.”
Millennial women have decisively acted on these beliefs. The Millennial Generation is the first in US history in which women are more likely to attend college and professional school than are men. And once in college, women are also more likely to graduate then men. By 2016, women are projected to receive an even larger majority of undergraduate and advanced degrees than they earn now.
The sharp increases in female educational achievement have, in turn, led to economic gains for women. While an overall income gap between women and men still persists, it has been narrowed sharply. In 2010, across all job categories, women earned an average of 78 percent of what men did, compared to 60 percent three decades earlier.
Moreover, among urban-based Millennials, there are indications that the income gender gap has disappeared. In some major markets, childless women in their twenties earned on average 16 percent more than men of a similar age.
All of this female achievement has produced some reconsideration of the traditional definitions of men’s and women’s roles not only in America’s workplaces and classrooms, but also in its homes.
In a 2010 essay in Newsweek, two male Millennials, Andrew Romano and Tony Dokoupil, posited the need for “a New Macho: a reimagining of what men should be expected to do in the two realms, home and work, that have always defined their worth.” They predict a greater participation in housework and child rearing from the males of their generation than by earlier generations of fathers.
Already, 2010 census data show that 32 percent of fathers with working wives routinely care for their children under age 15, up more than 20 percent since 2002.
In part because of this evolution of gender roles, Millennials are marrying at a later age than other cohorts, something that might enhance the stability and longevity of future Millennial marriages. Pew indicates that less than a quarter of 18-30 year-old Millennials are married, compared to a third of Generation X, nearly half of Baby Boomers, and 6 in 10 members of the Silent Generation (born 1925–1945) when the members of those generations were the age that Millennials are today.
While economic pressures certainly play a role in this reluctance to marry early, the basic caution of Millennials, their unwillingness to take such an important step until they are sure that it is right, also plays a role. Their desire to participate in partnerships in which both spouses equally share rights and responsibilities is also likely to lessen disharmony and the chances of divorce once Millennials do marry.
However, these changing gender roles may also give rise to tension or ambiguity for both Millennial men and women. The New Male Mystique, a report from the Family and Work Institute, indicated that 60 percent of fathers in two-income families said work-family conflicts were a problem. In 1977, only 35 percent of fathers in such settings called it an issue. During the same period, the percentage of working mothers identifying work-family conflicts as an issue rose only from 41 percent to 47 percent.
This suggests that as Millennial women achieve parity with men in their career aspirations, the roles of breadwinner, parent, and spouse will have to be fulfilled in new ways that satisfy the beliefs of both sexes about what constitutes a successful, fulfilling, and happy life. It may also produce shifts in workplace culture and policy that better accommodate the needs of parents of both sexes as they work, marry, and raise families in ways their parents did not.
Each emerging American generation of adolescents and young adults tends to have a distinctive relationship with its parents. For the Baby Boomers of the 1960s and 1970s, that relationship was often conflicted, even adversarial. For Generation X in the 1980s and 1990s it was frequently distant and disrespectful. By contrast, the interactions with their parents of most of today’s Millennial Generation (born 1982-2003) are close, loving, and friendly. That’s a very good thing because, to a far greater extent than for the previous two or three generations, Millennials in their twenties live with their parents, and even grandparents, in multigenerational households. To the surprise of many members of older generations, most Millennials—and their parents—believe the experience is beneficial and even enjoyable. It may even help America in the years ahead.
A Pew survey conducted last December indicated that nearly two-thirds (63%) of young adults 25-34 knew someone who had recently moved back in with their parents. Almost three in ten (29%) said that they were currently living with their parents. That is nearly three times the percentage of those of that age who lived with their parents in 1980 (11%). Multigenerational households, once seen as a lagging trend, have been growing as a share of households since 1980, rising from 12 to 16 percent over the past three decades.
More recently, the powerful and disproportionately large impact of the Great Recession on young Americans appears to have further accelerated this trend toward multigenerational households. According to Pew, in 2011, 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%).
But the growth in multigenerational households represents more than simply the result of economic stress. It also reflects how Millennials were raised and the value both they and their parents place on family life. According to Pew, the large majority of young adults who now live with their parents are both satisfied with this arrangement (78%) and optimistic about their future (77%). In fact, more than a third (34%) of them actually believe that living with their parents at this stage of life has been good for their relationship with their parents, about twice the number who say it has been bad (18%). From the parents’ perspective, those who say an adult child of theirs has moved back home recently are just as satisfied with their family life and housing situation as are those parents whose adult children have not returned home. In this regard, these upbeat parents resemble Cliff and Clair Huxtable, the original TV role models for the proper rearing of Millennials on “The Bill Cosby Show,” who outwardly complained, but inwardly seemed pleased, every time one of their children (and sometimes grandchildren) “boomeranged” back to the family’s home.
Furthermore, both the adult Millennials who are living with their parents as well as their parents seem to be benefitting from this arrangement. This contradicts the notion, popular among Boomers, that living with parents after one becomes an adult represents some sort of personal failure or lack of initiative. Nearly three-fourths (72%) of the adult children say that living with their parents has had a positive impact on their own personal finances. Young adults who live with their parents also contribute to the household in a variety of ways. Nearly all (96%) say they do chores around the house. Three-quarters contribute to paying household expenses such as groceries or utility bills. More than a third (35%) pay rent to their parents. Given all this, it is not surprising that multigenerational households have become increasingly common with so little complaint from any of the generations involved.
However, many pundits have expressed a concern about what this trend means for America in the decades ahead. For example, in a recent New York Times article Todd and Victoria Buchholz wrote disparagingly of the “go-nowhere generation” that refuses to take risks, bestir itself from the insulation of home and “go on the road” to seek a better future. Along the way, the Buchholz’s praise the Greatest Generation [which] “signed up to ship out to fight Nazis in Germany or the Japanese imperial forces in the Pacific,” almost seeming to imply that the GI’s fought the battles of Normandy and Iwo Jima simply to demonstrate their rugged individualism by leaving the parental home.
History tells a different story. Like Millennials, the GI Generation (born 1901-1924) was of a type labeled “civic” by those who study generational change. Like the Millennial Generation, the GI Generation was raised in a protected manner by its parents and even tended to stay with their parents well into adulthood; multi-generational households according to Pew, after all, were far more common—nearly one in four in 1940—than today. This led to complaints about the generation that later became known as the Greatest Generation which sound strikingly like what is said about Millennials today. According to William Strauss and Neil Howe, the creators of generational theory, early in World War II, Army psychiatrists even fretted about “how badly Army recruits had been over-mothered in the years before the war.”
Perhaps as a result of this protected upbringing, the GI Generation also was a “stay-at-home” cohort when its members were young adults. A Pew analysis of US Census data from 1940, when all 25-34 year olds were of this generation, indicates that about 28% of them lived in multi-generational households, a number almost identical to that of Millennials today. As a result, members of the GI Generation married and had children later than previous or subsequent generations, just as Millennials are doing today. However, once the pressures of depression and war were behind them, the GI Generation more than caught up. It parented the Baby Boom Generation, the largest in American history before Millennials came along. Aided by favorable governmental policies such as the GI Bill and the Federal Housing Administration, it grew the American economy to unprecedented heights, and expanded the American middle class, homeownership, and enjoyed en masse the chance to escape crowded cities for more bucolic suburbs.
There is every reason to expect similar achievements from America’s newest civic generation, just as we have seen from previous cohorts of this kind. As was the case with their GI Generation great-grandparents before them, almost all negative social indicators—youthful crime, substance abuse, and out-of-wedlock teen pregnancy—have fallen to some of the lowest levels in modern history. Meanwhile, positive indicators, such as school test scores and educational achievement, have risen to the highest levels in decades. No less than other generations, Millennials value being good parents, home ownership, having a successful marriage, and helping others in need. Perhaps the alarmists are wrong. Maybe being “safe at home” especially during times of adversity, is a good thing for young adults, their parents, and the nation.
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. The March 18, 2012 survey from 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.
Originally published in Good News
March 26, 2012
Most members of the Millennial generation (those born between 1982 and 2003) believe viral videos can make a measurable difference in the world. And despite its creator's recent tribulations, the most viral video in Internet history, Kony 2012, is giving them a chance to prove they're right.
Within five days of its release, the video—created by the California-based nonprofit Invisible Children about Lord's Resistance Army head and indicted war criminal Joseph Kony—had been seen by 80 million people, a major step toward creating global awareness of Kony’s crimes.
The video's tagline stated mission is to "make Joseph Kony famous," but the larger goal is to help capture Kony by the end of this year. Until then, the video’s producers want everyone interested in the cause to join the publicity effort by putting up posters and stickers about Kony on April 20. While it remains to see whether the efforts will pay off in this case, all of these tactics to translate virtual interest into physical action are hallmarks of earlier successful organizing efforts that demonstrated the emerging power of the Millennial generation.
The most well known example of this strategy was the 2008 Obama campaign’s use of a Facebook-like website, MyBarackObama.com, to enable millions of supporters to organize in their communities by providing them with tools and information about other like-minded voters in their neighborhood. Crucially, the campaign also made sure that everyone involved understood what they needed to do offline. Registering to vote and turnout activities were emphasized almost as much as making a donation. The result was an outpouring of support among Millennials, two-thirds of whom voted for Obama. Their votes turned what would have been a narrow victory into a large mandate for change.
There have been other examples of linking online and offline organizing, though the English language currently has no word for the concept. (One suggestion, “onff line,” has failed to catch on.) In 2004, the Howard Dean campaign popularized the concept of a “money bomb” posting a graphic of the progress it was making toward its fundraising goal that "blew up" when the goal was reached. The idea was wildly successful and has led to many variations that capture its essential elements—a clear goal and a deadline for taking action.
Most recently, Wikipedia’s one-day site blackout to protest the SOPA and PIPA bills, demonstrated just how powerful such a dramatic technique can be in altering the behavior of an entrenched establishment. The effort drove Millennials, more than any other generation, to flood Congress with tweets and emails, causing dozens of Senators and representatives to withdraw their support for the legislation.
In the case of the Kony 2012 video, the awareness campaign was carefully planned to take advantage of Millennials’ fondness for social media and their desire to change the world together. The video campaign initially targeted 20 “culture makers,” including George Clooney, Angelina Jolie, and Ryan Seacrest. The video drew about 66,000 viewers on the first day of its release, but exploded after Oprah Winfrey, another of the culture makers, tweeted it to her 10 million followers. That day, the video had about a million views.
As a result of the coordinated campaign, 40 percent of all Millennials said they had heard “a lot” about the video one week after its release, according to a Pew Research survey, twice the percentage of any other generation. Of that group, half learned about it from social media, and almost two-thirds from some online information source. Of the millions of tweets the awareness campaign generated, more than two-thirds said something positive about the video.
But not everyone was impressed. As the campaign gained notoriety, others—mostly baby boomers, those born between 1946 and 1964—began to weigh in about the need to listen to true experts on the topic before signing on to a cause based on one video. Members of often-cynical Generation X, those born between 1965 and 1981, expressed skepticism about the nonprofit’s motives; questioned its leaders' salaries (which are quite modest by charity standards); and demanded a transparent audit of Invisible Children’s books. The reactions of older generations reflected the traditional ways entrenched interests have defended themselves from sudden disruptions to their world and challenges to their power. Millennials, who place their faith in the wisdom of the group and have little interest in being lectured at by experts who have not been able to resolve the world’s problems, are unlikely to be dissuaded by the pushback.
Janessa Goldbeck, a Millennial who is the former field director for the Genocide Intervention Network and is currently pedaling her bike across America as part of her “Make US Strong” campaign to support international development, succinctly explains the critical role social media plays in organizing efforts by her generation. “We have to build political will, which means organizing both online and offline," she says. "Social media platforms lower the barrier to entry and provide people with mechanisms to connect and get involved—hopefully for the long haul.”
This online-offline approach strikes Boomers like Malcolm Gladwell and Thomas Friedman as weak imitations of the street demonstrations of their youth, but during the last five years it has elected a president and stopped the entertainment industry from working its usual will in Congress. By the end of this year we will know if it has also been successful in bringing a war criminal to justice.
Two weeks after the video went viral, the European Union and the United States announced their financial support for an African regional force of 5,000 troops with authority to cross borders and track Kony and his army down, putting the offline campaign right on track to achieve Invisible Children's goal.
On Monday, the Supreme Court will begin an unusual three-day session, hearing oral arguments on a case of clear political, philosophical, and constitutional significance—the 2010 Affordable Care Act (“ObamaCare”). Every 80 years the Court has decisively entered a sharply divided political process to provide its own answer to the fundamental question of American politics: what is the scope and purpose of government? Each time in the past, it has attempted to reinforce the generational and party alignments of a previous era in the face of challenges from the beliefs and partisan preferences of an emerging civic-oriented generation like today’s Millennials (born 1982-2003).
The New Republic’s health care expert, Jonathan Cohn calls the Supreme Court’s Affordable Care Act review the “case of the century.” He cites the real possibility that this particular Supreme Court may be willing to reject the legal precedents established during the New Deal by attempting to redefine anew the scope and purpose of federal power.
If it does the Court will be continuing a historical cycle driven by generational and partisan factors that few Court observers have noticed.
The first time the Court attempted to authoritatively resolve an ongoing, deeply divisive political conflict and reaffirm the political arrangements of a previous era was in the dreadful 1857 Dred Scott decision. Before the Court issued its infamous dictum in this case, Congress had struck a careful balance between pro- and anti-slavery forces with the Missouri Compromise of 1820. Based on that agreement, states were admitted to the Union in pairs—one slave and one free. Eventually, driven by the uncompromising ideological beliefs of the Transcendental Generation (born 1792-1821), which were as sharply divided as today’s Baby Boomers, continued accommodation became impossible. In Dred Scott, the Court attempted to impose its own solution by declaring the Missouri Compromise unconstitutional. Its ruling, in effect, made slavery legal throughout the entire country and denied citizenship to blacks, even those who were free.
Of the nine justices who ruled on the case, four were members of the Transcendental Generation and a fifth was born in 1790, on the cusp of generational change. Seven were from the era’s dominant Democratic Party. Five of the seven who decided against Dred Scott were from slave states. It was not until President Abraham Lincoln appointed a majority of justices, consisting primarily of Republicans from Union states, that the Court’s regional, generational, and partisan composition changed. During the administrations of Lincoln and his successors, the Court ratified the new governing arrangements that had been achieved in the Civil War.
The same pattern emerged again eight decades later. The argument over the nation’s political fundamentals now dealt with the extent and type of governmental intervention in an industrial economy. In 1935 and 1936, the Supreme Court rallied to protect the old order of laissez faire economics in response to a range of activist government New Deal laws enacted by Franklin Roosevelt and a Democratic Congress with the overwhelming support of America’s newest civic generation, the GI Generation.
Justices Butler, McReynolds, Sutherland, and Van Devanter—nicknamed the “Four Horsemen of Reaction”—often joined with one of the Court’s centrist justices to rule against the core components of the New Deal. Seven of the justices, including three of the Four Horsemen, were of the ideologically-driven Missionary Generation (born 1860-1882). A like number were from the Republican Party that dominated electoral politics from the Civil War to the Great Depression.
It took the political message delivered by FDR’s record-breaking reelection in 1936 to persuade the centrist justices to consistently side with the president and the Court’s liberal “Three Musketeers” and accept the constitutionality of New Deal laws. Retirements and mortality allowed Roosevelt to appoint eight of nine justices by the time he died in 1945, thereby giving the Court a very different generational and partisan cast.
All of the factors that shaped the Supreme Court’s actions in 1857 and in the 1930s are once more in place. Political figures ranging from Barack Obama to Mitt Romney remind us that America is again poised to answer the eternal question of the role and size of government. A new civic generation, the Millennials, is emerging with the potential to dominate and reshape politics in the next four decades. Like the GI Generation in FDR’s day, Millennials strongly support a reformist Democratic president, favoring Barack Obama against his potential 2012 opponents by about the same 2:1 margin they did in 2008.
And as in the past, the generational and partisan composition of the Supreme Court reflects an earlier era. Five of the justices, including a majority of its conservative bloc (Roberts, Thomas, and Alioto) are Boomers (born 1946-1964). The rest are members of the even older Silent Generation (born 1925-1945). A majority are Republicans.
As the hearings approach, many observers believe that, this time, unlike the past, the Supreme Court will follow legal precedent rather than the generational and partisan composition of the justices by affirming the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act. Jonathan Cohn cites the results of an American Bar Association survey indicating that 85% of a panel of legal “experts” expects that the healthcare law will be affirmed. The survey gave Justice Kennedy a 53% chance of voting to uphold the law. Surprisingly, an even greater number (69%) believed that, based on his presumed desire to avoid a party line split on the Court on a matter of such political significance, Chief Justice Roberts would join Kennedy in voting to affirm. Others have suggested Antonin Scalia might be persuadable as well.
The experts’ predictions may turn out to be right, if the Court follows legal precedent. But history suggests that an equally powerful generational and partisan cycle of Supreme Court decision-making may well cause the Court to overturn key portions of ObamaCare regardless of the legal arguments it will hear this month. If it does, the Supreme Court will once again rule against a civic generation and a president that generation so strongly supports.
History also tells us that may not be the end of the story. To date, Millennials are the most liberal American generation since the GI Generation. Members of the generation favor the Affordable Care Act by 55% to 36%, in part because their generation has directly benefited from the law’s provision that young people can remain on their parent’s health care insurance until they are 26 years old. The large margin by which Millennials support the program significantly explains why, for the first time since the passage of the legislation, at least a plurality of all Americans now approve of it (47% approve to 45% disapprove).
Millennials now comprise one-fourth of American adults; by 2020 they will represent more than one out of three adults in the United States. To the extent that this large cohort is able to bring its own “civic ethos” to bear on America’s political debate, the Court is likely to adhere to another historical precedent of eventually moving beyond the doctrines of an earlier era and accepting those of a new generation. The results of the 2012 election will go a long way toward determining if and when that happens.
Millennials (born 1982-2003) were crucial to Barack Obama’s 2008 election. Other than the state of the economy, the most pivotal factor in determining the outcome of the 2012 general election is likely to be whether or not America’s youngest voters repeat their 2008 electoral performance in 2012.
In November 2008, Millennials comprised about 17% of the electorate and voted overwhelmingly for Barack Obama over John McCain (66% to 32%). 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.
So far, the data suggests Millennials are poised to support Barack Obama at the same level this year that they did four years ago. In a recent Pew survey, Millennials preferred Obama over Mitt Romney, the likely Republican nominee, by a 62% to 36% margin. But this year, Millennials make up 24% of those eligible to vote. Coupled with its partisan unity in comparison with older voters, the sheer size of the Millennial generation, America’s largest ever, could make its impact even more decisive in 2012 than in 2008.
Whether Millennials have that kind of impact depends on what the two parties do to attract their votes. For Republicans, the best approach is to connect with Millennials before they are solidly in the Democratic camp for the next three or four decades. A few Millennial Republicans such as John McCain’s daughter, Meghan, and Kristen Soltis, a GOP pollster, have argued that their party should moderate its stance on social issues and immigration in order to have greater appeal to their highly tolerant and diverse generation. So far, however, the GOP presidential field has attracted relatively little Millennial support; through Super Tuesday, the Republican frontrunners (Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum, and Ron Paul) combined had received less than half the Millennial votes that Barack Obama did in 2008. Perhaps the lack of Millennial interest in the GOP candidates explains why Republicans in at least half of the states are more focused on limiting Millennial voting turnout than in actively courting the generation’s support.
For Democrats, the concern is not so much the partisanship of Millennials, but their engagement. One way to reinforce Millennials’ Democratic leanings is to remind them of their stake in the election by emphasizing the Millennial-friendly policies the Obama administration has pursued. Help with the cost of attending college, funding more national service opportunities, and permitting young people to remain on their parent’s health insurance until age 26 are all initiatives the Obama team could raise with Millennials. Already that 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.
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 suffers among older voters. But if large numbers of Millennials do not vote, the president’s reelection chances will be sharply reduced. Whichever alternative occurs will very likely determine whether Barack Obama or his eventual Republican opponent is inaugurated as president on January 20, 2013.
Q&A on this blog were captured by Policymic here
Morley Winograd (one half of Mike & Morley) moderated a March 7, 2012 panel for the USC Annenberg Center for Communication and Policy's "Road To The White House Series". He was joined by Los Angeles Bureau Chief and former Chief National Political Correspondent for the New York Times Adam Nagourney; senior fellow at CCLP and veteran political reporter Cinny Kennard, the former West Coast Chief for NPR and an award-winning CBS News correspondent and bureau chief; and finally by Tom Dotan, editor-at-large for Neon Tommy. More information, including a video of the panel discussion, resides here
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 to 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 AmeriCorps 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 every time.
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.