The fundamental disconnect between network TV and its potential millennial viewers is not the usual suspect, technology. Yes, millennials are devoted to social media and have none of the love of broadcast television that Boomers acquired in their youth, or even the type of affinity Xers have for cable TV that started when they were teenagers demanding, “I want my MTV.” According to leading communications research and consulting firm Frank N. Magid Associates, Xers and Boomers will engage in 8.4 and 7.2 non-TV activities during prime-time hours, while millennials will engage in 10.4 activities. Millennials are much more likely to go online, visit a social network, listen to or play music, play games or just socialize out of the house and away from the TV box when networks most want them to pay attention to their programming. But those behaviors are an indication of how poor the programming is, not the root cause of the problem.
There are too many cynical members of Generation X who don’t begin to understand millennials, if they even try, making programming decisions for the networks that are being greenlighted by even more clueless Boomers. The result are network bombs like the American version of “Kath & Kim,” the ill-fated “My Generation,” and the most recent ratings victim, “How to Live with Your Parents (For the Rest of Your Life).” These programs suffered from casting popular Gen X actors, who didn’t know how to behave as millennials, in plots that substituted stereotypes from Generation X’s youth for character development and were as out of touch with the current experiences of millennials as smart phones are from clamshell cell phones.
Millennials are an optimistic, collaborative generation that believe in social rules and try and live by them. Teenage smoking rates are now the lowest ever recorded. From 1993 to 2010, the gun homicide rate in America declined 65% for those ages 12 to 17, the largest percentage decrease among all age groups. Yet older generations in charge of creating programs designed to appeal to this age group continue to broadcast stories about kids flaunting the rules, getting in trouble with the law, and engaging in the types of behavior that X-ers and Boomers did when they were young. But that is not the way millennials live.
There are of course some bright spots in this dark landscape, such as much of the Disney Family Channel’s programming, or shows like “Modern Family” and “Parenthood” that are very good at capturing intergenerational differences, even if their portrayal of millennials still has a whiff of Generation X in it. But these exceptions merely prove the general rule that without a greater understanding of the unique characteristics of the millennial generation, network television can expect its ratings to go the way of Gen X-oriented networks like Fox, leading to a future where, to quote NBC Entertainment’s Chairman, “flat is the new up.” Or worse.
Slugging Milwaukee Brewer outfielder Ryan Braun’s accomplishments earned him the National League’s Most Valuable Player award in 2011. But his suspension for using performance-enhancing drugs — one that will force him to sit out the rest of the 2013 season — forever called into question all of his achievements. Of course, Braun wasn’t the first player to be caught using steroids, and he won’t be the last. Their number includes Barry Bonds, baseball’s all-time home run leader, and Roger Clemens, a pitcher with 354 wins in his career. Within the next couple of weeks more players, most notably Alex Rodriguez, are likely to be punished for the same offense, some probably more severely than Braun.
One thing is different this time, however. Unlike previous attempts by players' union representatives to create a civil-rights issue over steroid testing, most present-day players have vigorously condemned Braun’s PED usage. The adverse reaction to Braun by other players was noticed and applauded by Travis Tygart, CEO of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, the organization that banned Lance Armstrong for life from competitive cycling for his use of steroids. According to Tygart, “It’s a new generation of athletes that are standing up. The culture’s been flipped on its head.”
That new generation is the Millennial generation. Millennials are a type of cohort that generational analysts call “civic.” Although some erroneously label Millennials as narcissistic and selfish, their record-breaking participation in community service efforts and the current deep decline in youth crime are just two of many behavioral facts that demonstrate that they are a well-behaved and team-oriented generation. Like other civic generations before them, Millennials are already bringing those positive traits to a Major League Baseball stadium near you. Before they are through flipping baseball’s culture, the national pastime is likely to experience its second golden age, similar to the one the previous civic generation, the GI Generation, brought to the game 80 years ago.
Most of baseball’s PED users have been members of the individualistic, iconoclastic Generation X. Even those X’ers who did not use steroids, rarely criticized those players who did. Compare that generational reaction to that of Millennial Max Scherzer, the Detroit Tigers' players' union representative.
“The whole thing has been despicable on his part. For me, as a player, you want to believe that the system works, but obviously he found a way around it. And when he did get caught, he never came clean … That’s why there’s so much player outrage toward him.” In fact, Scherzer doesn’t think Braun’s punishment was tough enough — he wants even more severe penalties for PED usage. He said, "We want to see either longer suspensions or whatever it takes to take away the incentive — the financial gain — taken away from players. Whether that’s voiding contracts, longer suspensions, you’re seeing every player jump on board that the penalty doesn’t fit the crime yet.”
But the Millennial generation’s contribution to baseball in the years ahead is going to be more positive than just condemning those who don’t compete fairly. Unlike most of the Gen X’ers before them, who focused on their individual achievements and large paychecks from whatever team was willing to pay them the most money, many Millennial players seem committed to the team that that originally signed them, trained them in the minors, and brought them to the big leagues.
In the same week that Ryan Braun was suspended, Red Sox second baseman and Millennial Dustin Pedroia signed an eight-year, $110 million contract two seasons before he would have become a free agent. Pedroia will clearly not suffer financially, but he likely could have received more money had he elected to go on the open market. However, there was more to his decision than the size of his paycheck. “This [Boston] is my home. I love being here. I love my teammates, love this city … A lot of teams passed on me because of my size [he’s 5’9” and weighs about 160 pounds] … That’s why I want to make sure I work as hard as I can to make sure they made the right choice in drafting me … I just want to make sure I’m playing my last game here.”
Pedroia is not the only Millennial generation ballplayer to make every effort to remain with his original team for the duration of his career. Dodgers pitching ace Clayton Kershaw has made plain his desire to remain in Los Angeles, and the Dodgers have reciprocated that interest. However, perhaps the most surprising case of a Millennial sticking with his first team is Cy Young award winner Felix Hernandez, who signed a seven-year contract extension with the small-market Seattle Mariners, a perennially non-contending team, last February. Most baseball observers believe that Hernandez could have made far more money and fame elsewhere.
In the first two decades of the 20th century baseball faced a crisis every bit as damaging to the game as steroid usage is now. That threat culminated when eight members of a generation of ballplayers described by baseball historian Bill James as “shysters, con men, drunks, and outright thieves” conspired with gamblers to throw the World Series. Like today, it took a new generation of players to rescue the game. Those GI generation players not only saved baseball, but also produced a golden era of high achievement on the field and record attendance in the stands. Baseball history is about to repeat itself in the Millennial era.
The most decisive force in national politics today is the millennial generation (born 1982-2003). Millennials re-elected Barack Obama and will represent more than one out of every three adult Americans by the end of this decade. Yet, more than six months after the 2012 elections, Congress has moved fitfully, if at all, to address this generation’s political agenda.
The most promising effort in the current session of Congress to address millennials’ concerns was the bipartisan effort in the Senate that secured passage of a comprehensive, if somewhat overblown, immigration reform bill. Forty percent (40%) of millennials are non-white and Mitt Romney’s ostrich-like approach to this issue helped motivate Hispanic and Asian-American millennials to vote overwhelmingly for the president. Still, in spite of this lesson, two-thirds of the Senate Republican caucus voted against the immigration reform bill. The Republican House is even more hostile to the idea, even with their professed bête noire of border security addressed with massive new funding for enforcement in the just passed Senate bill. GOP opposition to the bill is so entrenched that House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) has promised to not even bring it to a vote.
Millennials are a tolerant bunch and this continuing display of intolerance by congressional Republicans bodes particularly ill for the GOP’s chances of attracting the generation’s votes in the future. Tea Party-inspired efforts to pass a mean spirited, rather than a means tested, approach to food stamps, helped to doom the bi-partisan Senate version of the farm bill in the House as well. That same body did find the time and the votes to pass, for the 37th time, an irrelevant repeal of the Affordable Care Act, even though the passage of Obamacare was another key reason why millennials supported its namesake last November.
But probably the vote that was most out of touch with millennial attitudes and beliefs was the vote this month in the House to further limit abortion rights in this country. Perhaps the Republicans who forced that vote upon their colleagues missed Sandra Fluke’s spirited defense of women’s reproductive rights at the 2012 Democratic National Convention that resonated so positively with the Millennial women, two-thirds of whom voted for Barack Obama last year.
The failure of the current crop of older members of Congress to address the concerns of the millennial generation is not limited, however, to Republicans. The Democratic leadership in the Senate didn’t feel sufficient urgency, for instance, to prevent the interest rate on student loans to double before Congress adjourned for the July 4 holiday. Can anyone imagine them taking the same lackadaisical attitude if Social Security benefits were about to be cut? Even had the student loan issue been addressed in a timely manner, it still would not have dealt with the incredible burden of student debt, now over a trillion dollars, that is preventing many millennials from doing the things that young adults traditionally do, like starting a family or buying a house, that would contribute mightily to the nation’s economic recovery. The problem, however, goes ignored by members of both parties in both houses, most of whom were never asked, as millennials have been, to self-finance the education they and the country need to promote economic growth.
Congress is so out of touch with the beliefs and concerns of millennials that even the nine old men and women on the Supreme Court did a better job of addressing the generation’s agenda in their last session when the Justices declared the Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional.
There have been other times in America’s history when Congress has stubbornly refused to deal with the needs of the nation’s newest generations. In 1868, one-third of a generation very much like today’s Boomers, the Transcendentalists, were booted from their congressional seats in favor of candidates from a younger, more modern generation. It was the largest generational landslide in the nation’s history — until now. If the current Congress continues to ignore Millennials, it risks suffering the very same fate — an outcome for which it will have only itself to blame.
In order to be successful with Millennials, television will need to become more like the concerts and theme parks that provide Millennials with the type of social experience the generation craves. By creating a space that Millennials can enjoy immediately and personally with those who join them at the event, as well as while tweeting about it on their smart phones to hundreds more of their friends and followers, concert promoters such as Live Nation and theme park owners like Disney have found a way to maximize the revenue generated from the content that they fully control in such venues.
Sports and final episodes of reality or drama programs are currently the closest television programming comes to this type of widely shared event. Without much promotional support initially, the notion of encouraging fan participation through live reactions via social media has become increasingly commonplace. The potential of this approach was demonstrated by the chart-busting ratings received by NBC’s broadcast of the London Olympics, which fully embraced social media in its coverage of the Games. But that is just the beginning of what networks will need to do to make all their programs “Event TV.”
Not surprisingly, the most cutting-edge deployments of this new strategy are coming from those distributors, such as Netflix and YouTube, which are completely disconnected from the tether of broadcast technology. By encouraging such social uses of highly polished productions as “binge TV” viewing or audience determination of plot development, these non-traditional buyers of video content are offering new ways to connect with Millennials.
But the keys to this magical money kingdom are actually held by companies not currently thought of as natural partners by those in the television industry. Google, Facebook, and other social media providers, along with device distributors such as Apple and Amazon, are seeking to lock their customers into the use of their proprietary cloud services. The ultimate goal of these companies in creating branded “personal content clouds” is to offer an entertainment experience where each person’s music, movies, television shows, books, video clips, photographs and more can be mixed and mashed up to create a concert or amusement park ride tailored to each customer’s individual preferences are shared in real time with whoever they like. The first “traditional” television network which recognizes the potential of this new form of entertainment by partnering with one of the major players in personal databases and bringing that network’s programming into the cloud service provider’s “theme park” will gain a first-mover advantage in this new marketplace.
The determination of Millennials to share everything is creating a world where social media will drive broadcast media. Even though television executives have traditionally been reluctant to give up their control over content, it’s time for them to recognize reality and partner with those who will control a new world of entertainment in the Millennial era.
In an age of terrorism, the Millennial generation may well find that elusive balance between security and privacy. They reflect the safety concerns of their GI grandparents, the respect for civil liberties of their baby boomer parents, and mix in their own ethic of fairness and tolerance.
The first four amendments to America’s Constitution were the nation’s initial attempt to find a consensus on where to draw the line between personal freedom and privacy on the one hand and societal safety and security on the other. This debate has been with us ever since and now events, such as the Boston Marathon bombings, or new technologies, such as drones and ever present surveillance cameras, create new concerns over how to find the right balance between these two competing values.
Over the centuries, differences in generational attitudes have caused the nation’s consensus on how to balance this tension to shift. Group and civic-oriented generations, such as the GI generation or "greatest generation," emphasized safety and security. Individualistic generations, such as today’s baby boomers and Generation X, tilted the balance back toward protecting privacy.
Today another civic generation, Millennials, born between 1982 and 2003, is emerging into young adulthood and, like other cohorts of their type, are likely to once again push America toward a greater focus on security. What may be different this time is that Millennials’ beliefs and behaviors are also likely to create a search for safety as their GI grandparents did, but this push will be accompanied by a strong boomer-esque respect for civil liberties with a unique Millennial ethic of fairness and tolerance.
Millennials have been reared in a highly sheltered and protected manner, earning the sobriquet “Generation Lock Down” from one such parent, writer Howard Blum. In a poignant piece expressing his sadness after the most recent terrorist attack, Mr. Blum wrote that Millennials “are living in the land where Wild Things truly roam.” (He was referring to children’s author Maurice Sendak’s iconic characters.)
The GI generation learned from the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor that the United States could no longer remain isolated in a dangerous world. In the same vein, shootings at Columbine High School, Virginia Tech University, and Sandy Hook Elementary School and terrorist attacks in New York, Washington, and Boston have taught Millennials that they might not be safe doing even routine things in everyday places.
But notably, none of those events seems to have shaken Millennials’ optimism or resiliency. In a November 2011 Pew survey, a clear plurality of Millennials believed that life in America was better rather than worse compared with the 1960s. By contrast, the greatest numbers of boomers and seniors felt that things have declined in America over the past four decades.
Millennials are also more likely to believe than boomers and seniors that America’s best days are still ahead. Since generational attitudes are most impacted by events that occur when each cohort is young and do not often change as people mature, this optimism is likely to persist among Millennials throughout their lifetime, just as it did for the GI Generation.
This Millennial optimism extends to an unwillingness to be cowed by terrorism. A CBS News-New York Times survey conducted in the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombing indicated that only 1 in 5 Millennials, compared with 1 in 4 among older generations, would be less likely to attend large public events to avoid being injured in a terrorist attack.
In an era of ubiquitous smart phones, soon to be available as hands-free wearable glasses from Google, most Millennials accept the inevitable loss of privacy that comes with the increasing presence of social media. Instead, their concern is how best to manage this curtailment for the sake of increased safety.
History provides a cautionary note on how difficult it can be to find the right answer to this dilemma. The need to protect the country in wartime has been used as an excuse to deprive citizens of their civil liberties more than once. During the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln suspended the right to a writ of habeas corpus – the guarantee that an arrested person will be brought before a court or judge.
In World War II, people of Japanese heritage were interned regardless of whether or not they had personally demonstrated a threat to the United States. During the cold war, thousands of Americans had their lives and careers disrupted with unsubstantiated accusations of disloyalty. More recently, despite his expressed personal misgivings, President Obama has ordered the killing of American terrorist by a drone strike without due process, let alone a trial.
Has America learned the lessons of these past infringements on rights in dealing with today’s challenges? The “warrantless wiretaps” during the Bush administration and the Obama Justice Department’s recent close scrutiny of reporters’ phone calls to uncover those who may have leaked national security information make it easy to question if it has.
However, the beliefs and behaviors of the Millennial generation provide some hope that America will do a better job in the near future than in the past of adhering to its principles as it searches for a greater sense of security.
According to Pew, only 25 percent of the Millennial generation (as compared with nearly half of older generations) believe that it will be necessary for Americans to give up civil liberties to curb terrorism. This does not mean that Millennials are naïve or soft on terror. They are quite willing to utilize the full force of government and to take complete advantage of current technology to deal with the threat, but they want it to be done fairly and in a non-discriminatory manner.
Like other generations, a solid majority of Millennials (58 percent) support national ID cards for all Americans. Two-thirds of them believe that surveillance cameras to combat terrorism are a good idea. And, half of Millennials, compared with 40 percent from other generations, favor government monitoring of credit card sales to help combat terrorists.
As Millennial Tara Marie Rose Hayman commented on Facebook, “at the airport, I would rather have my stuff looked through and everyone else go through that rather than protect privacy and have someone bomb you. It is good to know the intentions of others.”
At the same time, however, less than half of the Millennial generation favor extra airport screening of people of Middle Eastern descent, in contrast to nearly 60 percent of older Americans.
Technologist Pete Markiewicz points out that tracking an individual’s physical and virtual movements can now be accomplished with sufficient mining of cell phone and web data to produce a “lifelog” that Google might use to provide Millennials with a measure of their “personal connectedness” – or police might use to find a terrorist in our midst.
Fifteen years ago, in his book, “The Transparent Society,” futurist David Brin predicted this type of constant surveillance would become part of daily life. His solution to preserving civil liberties in such a world – increasing transparency at the same rate as the growth of personal data – offers a solution that Millennials, with their strong desire to share everything, would embrace.
As Mr. Brin wrote, the central question that must be answered to resolve the privacy/security paradox is “who controls the cameras or the networks and who can access the data.”
In the coming years, to enhance public safety, most Americans will almost certainly accept increased limitations on their privacy. The bigger challenge will be whether the nation can remain true to its democratic values of fairness, openness, and equality as it seeks greater security.
Millennials, America’s largest and most tolerant generation, will be the leading force in determining how well the nation addresses that challenge. Based on their sense of fairness and willingness to work with one another to achieve goals that meet the needs of the entire group, the prospects are good that Millennials will succeed in striking a balance that both provides enhanced security and protects our rights in the future.
at The Christian Science Monitor
While the next civic ethos consensus will eventually impact many aspects of public policy, we are already witnessing the emergence of a new common
ground in one previously contentious area — social issues. For at least 50 years, such questions have sharply divided the country and served as an effective campaign wedge, especially for conservative politicians. But all of this is changing.
The millennial generation’s strong beliefs in inclusion and equality are remaking America from the bottom up into one of the most tolerant and egalitarian nations in the world. This transformation is occurring across a range of specific concerns:
1. Immigration. Millennials are America’s most ethnically diverse generation. Four in 10 millennials are nonwhite and one in five has an immigrant parent. This makes the need to bring undocumented immigrants into the mainstream of American life not just a political imperative for those seeking to attract millennial and minority votes, but critical in connecting with millennials emotionally. Large majorities of millennials believe that immigrants strengthen American society (64%) and help the U.S. with their hard work and talent (59%). Seventy-eight percent of the generation say that people who came to the United States “illegally” should be allowed to say. Across all of these specific issues, millennial support for immigration is significantly higher than that of all older generations.
2. Gay rights. Between 2001 and 2013, Americans moved from being opposed to gay marriage by a margin of 57% to 35% to support for it by 49% to 44%. While all generations have become more tolerant on this issue, it is the arrival of the millennial generation that has driven this remarkable change, one that the Pew Research Center calls the “largest change in opinion on any policy issue” during the past decade. Pew attributes most of the increase to millennials, 70% of whom now favor gay marriage. Already about a dozen states have legalized gay marriage, with more states and even the federal government likely to follow suit within the coming decade.
3. Marijuana. Two-thirds of millennials (64%) now support legalizing marijuana, forming the basis for a national majority on this issue for the first time ever. Just as in the 1930s when the rising clout of the GI or Greatest Generation spurred the repeal of Prohibition, the emergence of another civic-oriented generation, millennials, will lead to a lessening of penalties and community disapproval for the purchase and use of a previously banned substance in the years ahead. What many Baby Boomers dreamed of doing about marijuana back in the 20th century, millennials will accomplish in the 21st.
In several decades as millennials reflect on their achievements as teens and young adults, they will realize that by creating a new civic ethos, they helped the United States finally resolve and put to rest controversies over social issues that had divided the country since the 1960s. The result will be an America more open, tolerant, and inclusive than ever before. Because millennials love their parents, they will likely forgive them for the time and energy spent endlessly arguing about matters such as immigration, gay rights, and marijuana, even as millennials wonder what all of the shouting was about in the first place.
Baz Luhrmann’s 3D interpretation of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s iconic novel about the Jazz Age has critics raving about its visual effects and its capture of the cultural zeitgeist of the Roaring 20s. Many critics however have suggested that he jumped the shark by adding rap music from Jay-Z, Will.I.Am, and others to the movie’s musical score. But for those who know their generational history, the linkage is not only appropriate, but right on key.
F. Scott Fitzgerald was the poet laureate for what Gertrude Stein named the "Lost Generation," born in the twenty years before the turn of the 20th century. Entering young adulthood, members of the generation were awestruck by the changes the industrial revolution had wrought in America and eager to find a new path to success in the affluence of the Roaring 20s. The Lost Generation’s music was jazz — considered a dangerous new genre by many older Americans. Born in the bordellos of New Orleans, Jazz and its emblematic dance, the Charleston, encouraged its fans, dressed in daring new colors and styles, to lose their inhibitions in the energy of its syncopated rhythms. The orgiastic parties in Luhrmann’s new film captures this sense of a country gone wild with new riches, searching for a new morality to match more modern times.
The parallels to today’s Generation X are obvious, and not entirely coincidental. Born between 1965 and 1982, this small, frequently criticized generation rejected contemporary mores and unleashed a torrent of economic and personal risk-taking. Whether it was the celebration of Wall Street greed in the 1980s or the dot.com boom of the 1990s, Gen-X’ers saw new opportunities to make money without sacrificing their lives to the drudgery of corporate life. Their music was rap — another supposedly dangerous new genre, born in the urban ghetto, filled with misogynist and sadistic lyrics sung to a pounding rhythm that created a new global culture built around its hip hop beat and its unique style of dress.
It is hardly surprising then, that when Jay-Z was asked to score the soundtrack for The Great Gatsby, he immediately saw the connection between his own life and that of the novel’s central character. Jay-Z agreed to be the executive producer of the soundtrack, telling Luhrmann, “The thing about this story is that it’s not a question of how Gatsby made his money, it’s is he a good person or not? … And all these characters, do they have a moral compass?”
Reaching back into history, the creators of the new movie saw the similarity between the Lost Generation and Generation X, both of which rejected society’s strictures and boldly pursued a hedonistic, personalized path to the future. F. Scott Fitzgerald ends his novel with the immortal line, “So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.” But the past also contains another lesson for the cohorts born in the wake of such nihilistic generations.
Most of America’s GI Generation, called its greatest generation by Tom Brokaw, only felt the riches of the Roaring 20s during their childhood. They came of age in the poverty of the Great Depression and the terror of World War II. Yet they conquered both, went on to live happy, middle class, conformist lives and built most of the corporate and governmental institutions that we live with today.
Like their GI generation counterparts, millennials, born 1982-2003, have found themselves trying to find jobs after entering the workforce in the middle of another economic downturn, the Great Recession. The young lives of millennials were shaped by the terror of 9/11, shootings at schools and movie multiplexes, and bombings at marathons. Yet millennials remain the most optimistic, upbeat generation in America today, confident of their ability to work together to change the world for the better.
When the green light from Gatsby’s dock fades from view as Luhrmann’s film ends, audiences need to remember that thanks to generations like 20th Century GIs and 21st Century millennials, the country’s future is bound to be bright once again.
As Millennials, America’s largest generation, enter their thirties in ever greater numbers, their beliefs about how and where to raise a family will have a major impact on the nation’s housing market. This follows as their media and political preferences have helped shape how we entertain ourselves and who is the president of the United States. A 2012 survey indicated that seventy percent of Millennials would prefer to own a home in the suburbs if they can “afford it and maintain their lifestyle.” Now a new survey of 1000 18-35 year olds conducted for Better Homes and Garden Real Estate(BHGRE) by Wakefield Research provides a much more detailed picture of the type of home Millennials believe best fits their needs and desires.
Reflecting their overall attitudes about spending their hard-to-come-by money, Millennials look more for value than “pizzazz” in a new home. Seventy-seven percent told BHGRE they preferred an “essential” home over a “luxury” model. And more than half (56%) believe the technological capabilities of a house are more important than its “curb appeal.”
Millennials are known for their fascination with technology. The BHGRE survey demonstrates that tendency in reference to their home buying decisions. Almost two-thirds (64%) would not want to live in a home that wasn’t “tech-friendly.” Not surprisingly, almost half (44%) focus on the technological sophistication of the family room rather than other rooms in the house in making that determination. In fact, almost as many (43%) would rather turn their living room into a home theater with a big screen TV than use it in more traditional ways. Even in the kitchen, a solid majority (59%) would rather have a television screen than a second oven (41%).
Another constant concern of Millennials, security, is also reflected in their technology preferences. Almost half (48%) named a security system as one of the technological essentials in a home and about a quarter (28%) would like to be able to control such a system from their smart phone.
In addition, befitting the generation that first popularized social media sites such as MySpace and Facebook, most Millennials want a house that can be customized to their individual preferences. Forty-three percent want their home to be less a “cookie cutter” offering and more capable of allowing them to put their own finishing touches on it. Almost one-third (30%) would prefer a “fixer upper” to a “move-in-ready” home, and seventy-two percent of those surveyed thought they were at least as capable of making those repairs as their parents. Almost all (82%) of this supposedly “entitled” generation say they would find a way to handle the cost of these repairs themselves rather than borrowing the money from Mom or Dad.
Millennials also take their concern for the environment into account when choosing a home. Almost half (45%) don’t want a home that wastes energy. Reflecting this, an energy efficient washer and dryer topped their essential technology wish list (57%). A smart thermostat was important to 44% of those surveyed, placing it third on the list of Millennial housing essentials.
These preferences aren’t the only reason that Millennial homes will reduce the nation’s carbon footprint in coming years. Millennials see their home as a place to “do work,” not just a place to return to “after work.” Already one in five Millennials say that “home office” is the best way to describe how they use their dining room. The generation’s blurring of gender roles as well as its facility in using digital technologies means that Millennials will likely work as much from home as “at work,” as they share child rearing responsibilities based upon whose work responsibilities require which partner to be away from the house during the day.
The cumulative impact on America’s energy consumption from this shift could be dramatic. A study by Global Workplace Analytics suggested that, if half of American worked from home, it would reduce carbon emissions by over 51 million metric tons a year—the equivalent of taking all of greater New York’s commuters off the road. Eliminating traffic jams would save almost 3 billion gallons of gas a year and cut greenhouse gas emissions by another 26 million tons. Additional carbon footprint savings would come from reduced office energy consumption, roadway repairs, urban heating, office construction, and business travel.
By the end of this decade the Millennial generation will comprise more than one out of every three adult Americans (36%). Just as the Baby Boomers influenced the housing market when they started buying homes and raising families, the Millennial generation’s overwhelming size will place an indelible stamp on the nation’s housing market. Its numbers will produce a boom in demand for housing that will help heal this critical sector of the nation’s economy.
This may affect boomers and other old generations. Every seller of houses will have to adjust their offerings to accommodate Millennial preferences for the type of home in which they want to raise a family. The end result will be more family friendly neighborhoods where homes serve as the hub for their owner’s economic activity, simultaneously lowering the nation’s carbon footprint and improving the civic health of its communities.
A remarkable, but mostly unnoticed, 2012 study found a powerful correlation between a community’s civic health and its economic well being. The analysis by the National Conference on Citizenship (NCoC) and its partners found that the density of non-profits whose purpose was to encourage their members’ participation within the community correlated strongly with the ability of a locality to withstand the effects of the Great Recession. The same analysis revealed that those municipalities having the greatest amount of “social cohesion,” defined as “interacting frequently with friends, family members, and neighbors,” also showed greater resilience in ameliorating job losses during economic downturns, independent of the density of their non-profit sector.
The numbers are startling. States with high social cohesion had unemployment rates two percentage points lower than their less connected counterparts, even controlling for demographics and economic factors. A county with just one additional nonprofit per 1,000 people in 2005 had half a percentage point less unemployment in 2009. And for individuals who held jobs in 2008, the odds of becoming unemployed were cut in half if they lived in a community with many nonprofit organizations rather than one with only a few, even if the two communities were otherwise similar. Given these results, every community interested in improving its economic vitality should be devising strategies to increase the civic health of their locality.
One way to accomplish this goal is to attract members of the hyper-connected but locally-focused Millennial Generation (born 1982-2003). People in their thirties—a group Millennials are just entering but will soon dominate—and early forties, the age when people are building families and careers, constitute the essential social ballast for any community, city or suburb. For the rest of this decade as well as the next, Millennials will comprise the cohort entering this key phase of life, contributing both economic stimulus and a new sense of community wherever they choose to live. Fortuitously, the same organization (NCoC) that produced the original report has just released a new study suggesting several strategies cities could use to attract America’s most community-oriented generation.
According to this year’s study, more densely populated communities face a major challenge in attracting civic-oriented Millennials. This is contrary to much of the conventional wisdom about both millennials and “community.” It found that members of the generation who reside in denser urban communities are less likely to engage in the type of service activities that nonprofits are designed to encourage. Except in the South, Millennials living in suburbia or more rural settings were more likely to engage in service activities with their peers than their urban counterparts. In fact, the worst community participation rates by far were found among Millennials in the country’s Northeastern cities.
A recent analysis by demographer Wendell Cox of Millennial living patterns validated these findings. He found that those major metropolitan areas with the least density gained the lion’s share of increases in populations of 25 to 34-year-olds in the first decade of this century. Another, as yet unpublished study by Cox, has found that the same holds true for 20 to 24-year-olds.
To fix that problem and increase their economic resiliency, more densely populated communities should actively encourage the formation of military veteran’s groups and other nonprofits that foster citizen participation and leadership skills. Other types of nonprofits that the earlier NCoC study suggested would help improve a city’s civic and economic vitality are sports clubs, labor unions and those that offer job-training opportunities. By providing such nonprofits with the space and resources to attract and engage America’s largest and most diverse generation, communities can gain the economic benefits that service organizations, such as Kiwanis and the Elks, brought to their communities in the past.
A recent review of the seven best cities for Millennials to obtain an initial foothold for their economic future placed greater Seattle at the top of the list. It was followed by Dallas; Minneapolis; Athens, Georgia; Ithaca, New York; Oklahoma City; and Phoenix. Most of these communities combine relatively lower levels of density with lower rates of unemployment making them especially attractive to Millennials.
One way for denser urban centers to compete with such localities is to gain a broad mix of educational attainment among their younger populations, thereby increasing their social cohesion and, ultimately, economic resiliency. This is because Millennials without a high school diploma are least likely to trust their neighbors but most likely to help those very same neighbors on a regular basis. Meanwhile, Millennials who attend college become more trusting of their neighbors wherever they end up settling, but less likely to help them out. In order to build both a trusting community and one where friends and neighbors help each other out, communities need to provide a broad range of jobs requiring various levels of education and encourage Millennials to stay in the place where they grew up or return there upon graduation.
Communities interested in enhancing their social cohesion should take a close look at the example set by the civic leaders of Kalamazoo, Michigan. Under its Kalamazoo Promise program, families that enroll their children in the local school district get help with college tuition on a sliding scale based on how many grades of education the child completes in the city’s schools. The strategy, which has led to greater demand for housing within the school district’s boundaries as well, encourages the development of a community with a wide range of educational success among its residents.
The most recent study also found that once Millennials complete their schooling and begin to settle down their civic engagement increases. In fact, those 29 and under who are married and have children are more likely than those over thirty who do not have a family to participate in activities, such as helping neighbors, that in turn lead to greater social cohesion.
One strategy for encouraging college educated Millennials to settle in the community where they grew up, may lie with making the cost of college locally more affordable. For example, in contrast to many states that are shortsightedly reducing their subsidies of in state tuition, North Dakota issuing some of its increased tax revenue from the state’s explosion in energy production to limit tuition increases for their residents and increasing the amount of needs-based tuition aid and scholarships for those who decide to attend any college in the state.
Building better communities requires encouraging the human interaction and connectivity that make a municipality more resilient in times of economic difficulty. Building this type of social capital comes naturally to Millennials, the nation’s most connected generation. Non-profits that attract younger people should be actively encouraged to set up shop in cities and localities across the country. Programs that support educational attainment and employment opportunities for Millennials should be viewed as another essential element of economic strategy. Today, community’s economic health is inextricably intertwined with the type of civic vitality that local Millennials can generate.
Baby boomers, growing up in what appeared to be the never-ending prosperity of the 1950s and '60s, were at various times amused, mystified, and infuriated by the economic caution of their GI or Greatest Generation mothers and fathers, often labeling the penny-pinching of their parents “Depression mentality.”
Now, a half-century later, many of those same boomers, perhaps with a greater degree of understanding this time, are watching their own "millennial-generation" offspring (born from 1982 to 2003) develop the same habits of frugality and restraint that the millennials’ great-grandparents did in the 1930s and '40s. This change in attitude and behavior will impact America’s consumer spending and the way businesses and advertisers will need to approach their customers for decades to come.
The notion that millennials are willing to curb their spending might surprise some who have said the generation is self-centered and entitled, but it shouldn’t. The reasons for millennials' financial prudence are clear: Like the GI generation, millennials grew up in a time of relative prosperity, only to face a major economic downturn just as they were emerging into adulthood and the workforce.
Throughout the Great Recession that began in 2008, youth unemployment was almost
always nearly double that for the entire adult population. In January, when the nation’s unemployment rate was 7.9 percent, it was above 13 percent for those 16 to 30 years old.
In addition, millennials are not only the most highly educated generation in U.S. history, but also the generation with the most-ever student debt. A 2010 Pew report on America’s generations indicates that a majority (54 percent) of millennials had attended college, the first generation to have done that. Unfortunately, college costs and the loans millennials have assumed to pay those costs have risen sharply as well. In 2011, college seniors graduated with an average loan debt of $26,600, up 5 percent from just a year earlier.
As a February Pew report indicates, factors like these have shaped the consumer and financial behavior of millennials across a range of areas, from where they live, to how they travel and how they spend:
Where Millennials Live
More than a few observers have labeled millennials a generation exhibiting an extreme unwillingness to “launch” into full-fledged adulthood. One major reason for this is the economic pain visited upon the generation by the Great Recession. As many as three in 10 people ages 25-34 reported still living with their parents in 2011, something that might have benefitted both millennials and their parents from an economic and cultural perspective but still stigmatized many in this generation among older adults.
Even when millennials have been able and willing to strike out on their own, they have frequently rented rather than purchased their homes, causing some to label them “Generation Rent,” a designation first used in Great Britain, but one that seems to apply to many young Americans as well. As a result of remaining with their parents or renting, according to Pew, homeownership among 25- to 34-year-olds fell from 38 percent in 2001 and 40 percent in 2007 (years when virtually all in that age range were members of Generation X) to 34 percent in 2010.
This is not likely to be the final word on the subject; a 2010 Pew survey of millennials showed that they ranked homeownership behind only being a good parent and having a good marriage as an important value. But when millennials do move toward homeownership in overwhelming numbers, because of their “recession mentality” they are likely to be more cautious about the size and cost of their home and the type of mortgages to which they commit than previous generations have been.
How Millennials Get Around
As illustrated in the 1973 classic film, American Graffiti, at least since the time that today’s senior citizens were teenagers, obtaining a driver’s license and eventually a car and then cruising the city or hitting the highway has been a romantic rite of passage for young Americans. Millennials have become the first generation since the GI Generation for which this is no longer clearly the case. Between 2001 and 2009, young people reduced their average driving per year from about 10,250 miles to around 7,900 miles, a decline of about 23 percent. Economics is certainly a part of it: According to Pew, 73 percent of households headed by an adult younger than 25 owned or leased a vehicle.
By 2011, that number had fallen to 66 percent. As a result, among the households of those under 35, the percentage with outstanding vehicle debt declined from 44 percent to 32 percent between 2007 and 2010. But financial reasons are not the only ones explaining the decline of the car culture among millennials. Car Connection, a publication focusing on automotive research, points to changes in communication technology (the millennials’ preference for social networking lessens the need for face-to-face contact), location (millennials increasingly living in urban and suburban areas where cars are not as necessary to get around) and “eco-friendliness” (millennials are the most environmentally conscious generation) as reasons why millennials drive less than older generations did when those cohorts were the age that millennials are now.
All of this suggests that in the years ahead auto manufacturers and advertisers will have to focus on the values that millennials will bring with them when they buy cars—a desire for high-tech, environmentally friendly, cost-efficient autos that can be customized to the individual preferences of the owner to the greatest extent possible.
How Millennials Buy
In perhaps no other way have millennials imitated their GI Generation great-grandparents financially more than in their attitude toward accumulating debt (other than the student loans that have been forced upon them just to go to college). Pew research shows that the number of young households carrying a credit-card balance has dropped from 50 percent in 2001 and 48 percent in 2007 to only 39 percent in 2010. During that same period, the average credit-card debt declined from $2,500 to $1,700 among those households. As a result, the debt-to-income ratio (outstanding debt compared to annual income) has fallen from 1.63 in 2007 to 1.46 in 2010 within the households of 25- to 34-year-olds. By contrast, among older households it continued to rise slightly during those years (from 1.08 to 1.22). This suggests that for many millennials conspicuous consumption may be a thing of the past. Members of the generation are likely to carefully plan their consumption, avoiding credit whenever possible, buying only those things they truly believe they need, and seeking the best possible value for the things they do purchase.
John Gerzema and Michael D’Antonio, in their 2010 book, Spend Shift, described how, in the “post crisis” world, consumers would seek products and services that provide both “value and values.”) The millennial generation is driving this change. Businesses and advertisers would be wise to follow where millennials are leading.