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.
Is technology hurting or helping Millennials and future generations?
Recently, Pew Research published the findings of its survey of over 1000 technology experts on the possible effect on the Millennial Generation of growing up in a media saturated, hyper-connected world. We were flattered to be included in their sample of experts, but would nevertheless urge caution in over-interpreting the results.
Pew was careful to point out that the results have no statistical validity since the survey was not a random or probability sample of the population. In survey research terms, Pew used a “Delphi survey” approach, where, just as the ancient Greeks did in seeking guidance from that oracle, questions were posed to the experts in the hope that they would divine the right answer. To allow for ease of tabulation, the questions asked tended to be in pairs with each respondent asked to agree with one of two contradictory choices. Even with those constraints, many experts, including us, responded with long explanations of why they either didn’t pick one of the two choices presented, or did so with caveats and disclaimers. Fortunately, Pew reproduced all of these comments in an appendix to their report for those who wanted to explore the answers to each question in more depth. As if that weren’t enough to mitigate the impact of the findings, on most items the experts were about evenly split between the two alternatives from which they were asked to choose.
There have been a few, more statistically reliable studies of the impact on Millennial personalities or thinking patterns of specific elements of the digital technology revolution now occurring. Those that have focused on video games have uncovered results that directly contradict the conventional wisdom about one of the Millennial Generation’s favorite forms of entertainment.
For instance, a study by cognitive neuroscientist, Daphne Bavelier, found that the type of violent games that most worry parents had the strongest beneficial effects on the brain. As psychologist C. Shawn Green points out, “videogames change your brain,” but so does learning to read or playing a musical instrument and the vast majority of the research doesn’t attempt to compare the impact of gaming to other forms of intense, mental activity.
One study at Michigan State University’s Children and Technology Project did find that the more middle school students played games the higher they scored on standardized tests of creativity. By contrast, the same researchers found that using cell phones or getting on the internet using a PC had no effect on creativity, which would make playing games the preferred hyper-connectivity environment for Millennials’ parents to immerse their children in if they want them to become more creative.
Pew itself has done research on the impact of another aspect of hyper-connectivity, social media, on personality and behavior and reached different conclusions than some of the experts in this Delphi survey.
While 42 percent of the experts surveyed agreed with the proposition that Millennials will “lack deep-thinking capabilities; face-to-face social skills; and depend in unhealthy ways on the Internet and mobile devices to function by 2020,” the other 55 percent of the Delphi experts chose the opposite proposition. The answers of the optimistic majority seem to be more aligned with the findings of other Pew surveys on the nature of those who constantly check their Facebook page.
One Pew study, for example, found that someone who uses Facebook several times per day averages 9 percent more close, core ties in their overall social network compared with other Internet users. Pew also found that heavy users of Facebook get about half the emotional benefit that someone might get from being married. Internet users in general score three points higher in total support, six points higher in companionship, and four points higher in instrumental support than the average American on a scale of 100 for each social dimension.
But a Facebook user who uses the site multiple times per day tends to score an additional five points higher in total support, five points higher in emotional support, and five points higher in companionship, than Internet users of similar demographic characteristics, including age. While this data is not exclusively focused on Millennials or how their brains function, it does suggest that so far, at least, the pernicious effects of hyper-connectivity that so many older people fear may have more to do with their own reaction to the technology than any solid research-based findings.
One major impact of the rise of social media, however, is directly reflected in the opinions of the experts interviewed by Pew. Unlike the broadcast media architecture of radio and television that older generations have grown up and experienced for a lifetime, Internet based social networks do not depend on gatekeepers at the center of the communication process to determine what or when people should hear or know something. In the world in which Millennials were raised, anyone can share any information with anyone they choose, however they wish to do so and whenever they want to. This has caused Millennials to prefer the opinion of the group, even when it is made up mostly of strangers, to the opinions of experts, regardless of their credentials or position of authority.
For the youngest generation of Americans, the wisdom of crowds is something in which they believe and practice. Perhaps, that is why so many of the experts Pew interviewed were so worried about the impact of all this new technology. What’s not clear is if they were more worried about Millennials’ future or their own as “experts.”
In 2008, as Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton fought for the Democratic presidential nomination, many baby boomer women did not understand how a majority of their millennial daughters and granddaughters could support a man against the first woman in history with a realistic chance of winning the White House.
In reality, the readiness of these young women to base their votes on something other than the sex of the candidates was a sign of their strength and self-determination. Bolstered by legislation such as Title IX, which required equality of the sexes in the administration of public education, those boomers created a cohort of high-achieving, confident young women.
Already millennial women are taking their rightful place among America’s leaders. Soon they will begin to help redefine what it means to be an effective leader in the 21st century.
Millennials have overwhelmingly turned their backs on conventional notions about the place of women in society, making their generation the most gender neutral, if not female driven, in U.S. history.
A 2009 Pew survey indicated that 84 percent of millennials disagreed that “women should return to their traditional roles in society,” with two-thirds (67 percent) completely disagreeing with the idea. Last fall 82 percent of Millennials told Pew that the trend toward more women in the American workforce has been a “change for the better.”
Their generation is the first in U.S. history in which women are more likely to attend college and professional school than are men. Women are also more likely to receive bachelor’s degrees than men. By 2016, they are projected to earn 64 percent of associate’s degrees, 60 percent of bachelor’s degrees, 63 percent of master’s degrees, and 56 percent of doctorates. But despite of their greater representation in the student body, the number of women holding college student government office continues to lag behind men. “At the 50 colleges ranked highest by U.S. News & World Report, less than a third of student presidents are women.”
In the end, however, the greatest contribution of Millennial women to American leadership may not be simply in holding formal positions, but in helping to redefine its very nature.
In 1964, Warren Bennis and Philip Slater, argued that corporate leadership characteristics would have to be altered to survive in a period of increasing social change in their Harvard Business Review article titled, “Democracy is Inevitable.” They cited five traits that would define corporate success in the future:
- Full and free communication, regardless of rank and power.
- A reliance on consensus to manage conflict.
- Influence based on competence and knowledge, not personal whims or prerogatives of power.
- An atmosphere that encourages emotional expressions as well as task-oriented acts.
- A human bias, willing to cope and mediate conflict between the organization and the individual.
In the intervening fifty years, Boomer parents have raised a generation of women whose attitudes and beliefs are best suited to exercising the style of leadership Bennis accurately predicted would come to dominate organizations in the future.
As social media technology constantly drives down the cost of communicating and increases the freedom and flexibility of each worker, hierarchical top down, command and control organizations are being increasingly supplanted by horizontal structures in which effective leadership depends on creating trust, coordinating innovation, cultivating creativity, and building consensus.
Warren Bennis has called Mike and Morley's book, Millennial Momentum, "Extremely useful, readable and important...the only recent book I have been eager to blurb, it's THAT good."
Members of the Millennial Generation (born 1982-2003) differ sharply with older generations on what constitutes success in life. Consider the Life is good Playmakers, the nonprofit organization of the Life is good Company, where Steve Gross holds the title of Chief Playmaker.
“Play is serious business,” says Gross, a social worker who is on a mission is to help kids overcome life-threatening challenges. ““Millions of our nation’s youngest children have experienced profound trauma in its many forms, including domestic violence, abuse, neglect, natural disasters, and severe poverty.”
So last summer, Gross and his band of millennials jumped into their lime-green cars and traveled 1,200 miles in 30 days to spread the power of joy and optimism to thousands of children from Boston to New Orleans. Click here to read more.
The Playmakers are part of a GenY trend.
While all generations are about equally likely to name “being a good parent” and “having a successful marriage” as important markers of success, young people are much more likely also to mention doing work that benefits society and having a high-paying job as important life achievements.
True to their penchant for multitasking and their ability to reconcile conflicting viewpoints, many Millennials do not see any contradiction in seeking to achieve both goals simultaneously.
In fact, a recent survey by the Pew Research Center, showed that twice as many respondents under 35 years old (15%) named “being successful in a high-paying career or profession” one of the most important things in life, compared to only 7 percent among those 35 and older.
An even greater percentage of young people (22%) said “having a job/career that benefits society” was one of the most important things in life; by contrast, only 14 percent of older respondents mentioned that as one of their life’s goals. Furthermore, almost two-thirds of 18- to 34-year-olds were confident they would achieve their goals, with young African-Americans expressing the most optimism (70%).
These attitudes were most prominent among the very youngest adults. More than three-quarters (76%) of 18- to 24-year-olds said getting a high-paying career or profession was one of the most important things or a very important thing to accomplish, while only about half (51%) of 25- to 34-year-olds rated this measure of success so highly.
Having a job or career that benefits society was even more important to 18- to 24-year-olds (79%), a belief shared by a smaller, but still impressive, two-thirds of those 25-34.
The most recent Higher Education Research Institute’s annual survey of incoming college freshmen confirms that this attitude continues to permeate the Millennial Generation.
Almost 80 percent cited being financially well-off as an essential or very important objective in life. Seventy percent also named helping others who are in difficulty as a life goal. Raising a family, mentioned by 73 percent, was the only other objective to reach this level of importance.
Are you surprised?
Older generations, particularly Generation X (born 1965-1981), reading these results will immediately argue that Millennials are naive in thinking they can both serve society and score big in the personal income sweepstakes.
For those who view Millennials through the lens of their own generational filters, Millennial Generation attitudes toward success appear to be filled with impossible demands and unrealistic expectations.
But as brilliantly documented in James Marshall Reilly’s book,Shake the World: It’s Not About Finding a Job, It’s About Creating a Life, Millennials are busy changing how we think about earning a living in a way that makes attaining both goals simultaneously completely realistic.
Whether its Blake Mycoskie creating the company TOMS shoes, which gives a pair of shoes to needy children around the world for every pair his company sells, or Elizabeth McKee Gore, the executive director of Global Partnerships for the United Nations Foundation, who first rose to prominence when she started the Great American Bake Sale to fight world hunger—Millennials are beginning to transform the very nature of capitalism and what it means to live and work within that system.
Reilly predicts the generation will create an economic future “based on a goods-and-services substitution model in which traditional, everyday purchases yield philanthropic and humanitarian dividends.”
The Bottom Line
Whether the future plays out exactly the way Reilly (pictured right) envisions or not, it is clear that Millennials’ penchant for doing well by doing good will have a major impact on America’s economic structure.
At a time when Millennials cite the State Department more often than Disney as an “ideal employer,” and they name Teach for America as a more desired place to work than Electronic Arts, the need is clear for every company in America to respond to the desire of Millennials to contribute to society even as they earn a paycheck.
The growth of corporate social entrepreneurship and “philanthrocapitalism” will, in the years ahead, enable Millennials to have successful careers and, at the same time, make the world a better place.
Two Oscar favorites this year focus on the role of strong, young Millennial Generation daughters trying to heal the wounds of their Boomer parents’ marriages in two widely separated, very different cultures. Both films use the relationship of father and daughter — not mother and daughter — to bring a contemporary sensibility to the challenges of marriage.
A Separation shows the difficulties of family life in urban Iran, while the other, The Descendants, takes place in the idyllic setting of suburban Hawaii. Despite these differences in settings, by resting their dramatic tension on this often unexplored family relationship, both movies signal the coming of age of the Millennial Generation and the increasing centrality of its attitudes and beliefs in American life.
Boomers (born 1946-1964) brought the nation’s divorce rate to a historic high of one out of every two marriages. Most of their children have grown up living in single-parent home or at least are friends with someone who has. As a result, 50% of Millennials (born 1982-2003) say that “being a good parent” is their single highest priority in life. Couple that attitude with the relative dominance of females within the generation and you have the perfect recipe for the plot of The Descendants.
In the film, one of George Clooney’s two daughters, is played by Shailene Woodley, the star of ABC Family’s “The Secret Life of the American Teenager,” a program whose popularity among Millennials has resulted in an unprecedented five-year run on the channel. The Descendants begins in earnest when Woodley informs Clooney of his wife’s — her mother’s — infidelity, and then, using all of her generation’s philosophy on “how to handle stuff,” helps guide her father’s ultimate reconciliation with his life’s decisions and with those of the people around him.
While generational birth years and characteristics don’t readily translate across the boundaries of culture and religion, the importance of children in Iran, a country in which 70% of the population is under 30, comes across very clearly in A Separation, the odds-on favorite for best foreign film at this year’s Academy Awards. Eleven-year-old Termeh is the one thing that is holding her parent’s dysfunctional family together. Both of Termeh’s parents demonstrate the personal stubbornness and unwillingness to compromise that Americans recognize in our own Boomer Generation’s behavior and attitudes. Even when her parents give up all hope of saving their marriage, they still leave it up to Termeh, the only person in the film with any wisdom, to determine her own custodial rights.
Two other Oscar contenders, Martin Scorcese’s masterpiece, Hugo and Incredibly Close and Extremely Loud, featuring Tom Hanks, also have strong performances by Millennial-aged actors. But the very similar plot lines of these two movies do not have a Millennial Generation point of view about families and the role of women. Even though Hugo is set in a Depression-era Paris train station, andIncredibly Close in post 9/11 New York, in each film a son tries to figure out a mystery his dead father has left behind.
A son attempting to understand his father and live up to his father’s expectations, however, is a time-worn plot, more typical of an earlier era. Despite the technical brilliance of Hugo, neither film is expected to garner top honors from the Academy. Instead, just as “Modern Family” and its diverse ensemble cast has recently dominated the Emmys for TV sitcoms, the Oscars are much more likely to look with favor on this year’s two films that have Millennial daughters and Boomer dads at the core of their story lines and casts.
In so doing, Hollywood will take a major step toward recognizing an emerging generation whose size and unity of belief is likely to dominate American society and culture for decades to come. By 2020, more than one of three American adults will be a Millennial, a cohort in which two-thirds agree on the answers to almost every question in most surveys. Now if the industry could only figure out a way of attracting Millennials to movie theaters as well as including them in its scripts, Hollywood would have an even brighter story to tell about its own future.
The debate over legislation to stop online piracy revealed not only the threat that a new generation of consumers presents to the entertainment industry’s traditional business model, but the equally shaky future of the way Congress currently conducts its business. The high tech, Internet-based companies that Hollywood most fears used their clout with America’s most coveted customers, young Millennials, to stop a rush to pass the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) in the House and its Senate twin, Protect Intellectual Property Act (PIPA).
The success of the Wikipedia-led Internet blackout demonstrated the way Congress goes about its business is as susceptible as the entertainment industry’s business model is to disruption from the energy and attitudes of a new, digitally native generation, Millennials (born 1982-2003). The film and television industry’s foundation, built on the notion that content will triumph ṻber alles, was shown to be just as prone to destruction by the Napster virus as its cousin in the recording industry was a decade ago. It turns out that consumers like companies that distribute content, such as Google, Facebook, and Amazon, more than they like the companies who produce and package the content and insist on being paid for it.
But the fact that many in Congress suddenly abandoned their support of SOPA or PIPA in the face of this consumer revolt also sent a clear warning to those pushing the bills, using traditional methods of high-priced lobbying and closed-door decision making, that their way of doing business is equally in jeopardy. Wikipedia’s blackout Facebook page was liked or shared around 1.2 million times on the Wednesday that the site was unavailable to potential visitors. A petition organized by Google in opposition gained over seven million signatures. When Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) announced on Facebook that he was withdrawing his support for PIPA, his action generated 4,700 likes. Between midnight and 4 p.m. on the day of the “blackout bomb”, Twitter recorded over 2.4 million tweets on the subject. The Internet community’s insistence on a more open decision making process forced the Congress to ultimately abandon its confrontational, large-contributor approach to the problem. If Congress actually learns a larger lesson from this experience and adopts a process that incorporates the Millennial Generation’s desire for win-win solutions derived from bottom up participation designed to forge a consensus, it might finally reverse the continuing decline in popularity with their customers — the American electorate.
Today, all national surveys show approval of Congress at historically low levels. Since the Republic was conceived, communication technologies have evolved to reduce the time and distance that separate Congress from the public, but most of Congress’s procedures and practices have remained trapped in a time warp of its own traditions. Creating a new connection between citizens and their representatives by using Millennials’ favorite technologies to build a more transparent, open and participatory legislative process is the essential first step in reversing this decline in Congress’s credibility
This alternative approach to the legislative process was actually utilized by Democrat Senator Ron Wyden (Oregon) and Republican U.S. Representative Darrell Issa (California) in drafting theiralternative to SOPA/PIPA. The two lawmakers published a draft of their approach last year on the web at www.KeepTheWebOpen.com and asked for comments from interested parties. Based on the suggestions of those who visited the site, they proposed a bi-partisan alternative — the Online Protection and Enforcement of Digital Trade Act, or OPEN Act — that uses a scalpel instead of a sledgehammer to address the problem. It empowers the U.S. International Trade Commission to cut off the money supply of the several dozen foreign piracy sites that do most of the damage to content creators.
Although Internet companies and online activists liked both the process and the outcome, organizations such as the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) continued to insist that the danger presented by those sites to their business model is so great that they can’t wait for the niceties of legalities and due process that the Wyden/Issa solution would involve. The fact that the entertainment industry’s solution is perceived to be so threatening to the freedom of users of the Internet that it united libertarians on both the left and right in opposition to SOPA/PIPA has not dissuaded those wedded to the old ways of doing business in Congress that they need to change their tactics. Their stubbornness is reminiscent of the attempt by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) to halt the proliferation of peer-to-peer music sharing sites by suing its teenage customers, before RIAA finally gave up and acquiesced in a new business model for the industry built around Apple’s iPod.
It’s time for Congressional leaders to use the learning experience of the SOPA/PIPA debate to throw off their generational blinders and find a way to concede power gracefully to a new generation with new ideas. To restore its credibility, Congress will have to use new tools to fully involve Millennials and older generations in the decision-making process. It should make a new bargain with the American people, built on an increased level of citizen participation in the process of governing, rather than upon the current trade of access and constituency service in return for campaign contributions.
Only when Congress embraces this new way of doing business will the legitimacy of the country’s legislative process begin to be restored and Congress’s approval ratings start to rise again. Until then the electoral fate of Senators and U.S. Representatives will be as uncertain and as subject to disruption as the future of the entertainment moguls they sought to please by backing SOPA/PIPA.
In 1987, as the oldest members of the Millennial Generation (born 1982-2003) were entering kindergarten, the groundbreaking television show, Thirtysomething, began its Emmy-award-winning, four-year run.
The one-hour drama focused on eight Baby Boomers struggling with the conflicting demands of work and family as the generation known for its rebelliousness attempted to settle into the culture and routine of suburban life.
January 2012 marks the date that these “first Millennials” will be 30 years old. For the next two decades, America’s most populous and diverse generation, defined in its teens and 20s by its penchant for social networking and sharing, will enter the phase of life when the choices dramatized in “Thirtysomething” will become central to their generation’s persona.
But, the world Millennial families will be entering is considerably different than the go-go 80s that the Boomers portrayed in “Thirtysomething” enjoyed.
The most obvious dissimilarity between the young Boomers of the 1980s and today’s Millennials is the vastly different economic circumstances that the two generations have experienced.
In one respect, those turning 30 in 2012 are considered the “lucky ones” by their peers. Many of them graduated college and began searching for work before the Great Recession started, enabling these first Millennials to enjoy much higher levels of employment and better paying jobs than those who came later.
Nevertheless, many of the oldest Millennials feel the same burden of college debt and diminished economic prospects as their younger peers. A recent Pew Research study found the average net worth of households headed by those under 35 fell from $11,521 in 1984 to just $3,662 in 2009, a drop of 68 percent. These are hardly the assets required to buy a home or undertake raising a family.
It is not surprising, therefore, that another Pew study found most Millennials postponing marriage until later in life than earlier generations.
The median age of first marriages has never been higher for brides (26.5 years) and grooms (28.7), according to U.S. Census data.
“Thirtysomething’s” focus on the difficulties of married life and the burdens of work among young Boomers made sense in the 1980s when a large majority of American adults were married, and unemployment was lower than it is now.
To be realistic, a show about today’s thirtysomething Millennials would have to include the travails of living in their parents’ house and trying to make ends meet on a part-time job.
Still, those Millennials who can afford it, and some who can’t, will inevitably provide the impetus for family formation in America as they enter their 30s.
A majority of Millennials (52%) consider being a good parent the most important priority in their life. Owning their own home (30%) and having a successful marriage (20%) also rank high on their list of key lifestyle goals and values.
When they do raise a family, in whatever diverse living arrangements they may choose, the greatest number will want to settle in the suburbs. According to a survey by communication research firm Frank N. Magid Associates, 43 percent of Millennials consider the suburbs their “ideal place” to live while cities, small towns, and rural America were each chosen by only 17 percent.
The Bottom Line
Given these Millennial residential preferences and the cohort’s restricted economic circumstances, the current trend toward three generations living under the same roof is also likely to continue.
Because of their size and uniformity of belief, the Millennials will remake America in their image in the coming decades. They have already begun to do so in politics and technology.
Starting in 2012, their influence will begin to be felt in the institution most central to the country’s social and economic life—America’s families. How Millennial families are formed and how they decide to live will determine what it means to be thirtysomething for the first half of the 21st century.
In the end, the Democrats’ biggest Millennial concern is not likely to be the generation’s partisanship or opinions on issues, but its political engagement.
The headline of a December 15 press release from the Harvard Institute of Politics trumpeted, “More Millennials Predict Obama Will Lose Bid for Re-election Than Win, Harvard Poll Finds.” The article elaborated that among all the 18-29-year-olds, opinion on this question is actually quite evenly divided into almost equal thirds: 36% believe that the president will lose in 2012; 30% think he will win; and 32% are not sure. Not surprisingly, conservative media and politicians jumped on the story with particular vigor and glee.
The headline was certainly provocative, but it hardly told the complete story about the Harvard poll’s results, to say nothing of Millennial political attitudes and preferences, entering 2012. The problem is that asking Millennials which candidate they expect to win an election may measure their awareness of the conventional wisdom that says President Obama is in deep trouble and that next year’s election is the Republicans to lose, but it says very little about how Millennials are actually going to vote in 2012. When Harvard asked that question directly, things look different. Obama leads among Millennials by double digits against all likely Republican opponents: 11 points versus Mitt Romney and 16 points versus both Newt Gingrich and Rick Perry.
The current state of Millennial Generation (born 1982-2003) political opinions and behavior is, in fact, reflected far more completely and precisely by a November Pew Research survey:
“In the last four national elections generational differences have mattered more than they have in decades. According to exit polls, younger people have voted substantially more Democratic than other age groups since 2004, while older voters have cast more ballots for Republican candidates in each election since 2006. The latest national polls suggest this pattern may well continue in 2012… One of the largest factors driving the current generation gap is the arrival of diverse and Democratic-oriented Millennials… This group holds liberal attitudes on most social and governmental issues.”
In the Pew research, Millennials prefer Barack Obama over Mitt Romney (61% vs. 37%) by about the same 2:1 margin that they voted for him against John McCain in 2008 (66% vs. 32%). Even white Millennials, a cohort that has received considerable attention from commentators in recent months for their modest drift toward the GOP, are evenly divided in the 2012 voting preferences (49% each for Obama and Romney). The president’s margin among Millennials is even greater against other potential Republican nominees than it is against Romney.
Moreover, Millennials tended toward the Democrats before Barack Obama achieved national prominence. Millennials identify as Democrats over Republicans by 50% to 35%. Majorities of Millennials also hold favorable attitudes toward the Democratic Party (51%) and unfavorable attitudes toward the GOP (53%). In the policy arena, by 56% to 35%, Millennials prefer a bigger government that provides more services to a smaller government that provides fewer services. This broad belief in governmental approaches in dealing with economic and societal issues is reflected in the almost 2:1 preference of Millennials for the expansion rather than the repeal of the 2010 health care reform legislation (44% to 27%) and for increased spending to help economic recovery rather than reducing the budget deficit (55% to 41%).
Millennials also hold opinions on a range of social issues that incline the generation toward the Democratic Party and Barack Obama. A majority of Millennials (59%) support the legalization of gay marriage, while only 28% of them agree that America has gone too far in pushing for equal rights. Probably because it is the most diverse in U.S. history (about 40% are nonwhite and one in five have an immigrant parent) virtually all Millennials (81%) favor providing a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants.
Of course, the Millennial Generation’s continued clear support for Barack Obama and the Democratic Party is not a sure thing. Both the president and his party must convince Millennials that they can effectively use the government to fix the problems confronting their generation and the nation. But electoral politics is a two-way street. To win Millennial support, the Republican Party has to persuade Millennials that it and its potential presidential nominees are a viable alternative. So far, there is little in the Pew research (or any other poll) to suggest that they have done much to accomplish that undertaking. If anything, the GOP’s push to the right on both economic and social issues makes that increasingly unlikely.
In the end, the Democrats’ biggest Millennial concern is not likely to be the generation’s partisanship or opinions on issues, but its political engagement. The Pew survey indicates that only 69% of Millennials claim to care a good deal about who wins the presidency in 2012. This compares with over 80% among older generations. At the same time, a recent Gallup Poll indicates that the contentious struggle for the Republican presidential nomination and the performance of the party’s leadership in Congress may have taken a toll on the Republican Party and sharply narrowed the “enthusiasm gap” between the Democrats and GOP.
As a result, the participation of Millennials is perhaps even more crucial in 2012 than it was four years earlier. In 2008, the generation comprised about 17% of the electorate and accounted for about 80% of Barack Obama’s national popular vote majority. In 2012, as increasing numbers of Millennials reach voting age, they have the potential to comprise about a quarter of the electorate. If Millennials vote in numbers proportionate to their potential, their continued support of the president, as indicated by Pew, will likely allow him to overcome any losses he suffers among older voters. If large numbers of Millennials do not vote or are prevented from doing so by efforts in states across the country to limit their turnout, the president’s reelection chances will be sharply reduced.
The answers to those questions, not any current judgments on which candidate is likely to win, will very likely determine whether Barack Obama or his eventual Republican opponent is inaugurated as president on January 20, 2013.
The gap between the support Millennials have for the beliefs of the protest movement and their less than enthusiastic backing of it, suggests both the opportunity for success Occupy still has and the danger to the movement if it fails to focus its strategy on attracting Millennials to its cause.
With municipal authorities disrupting and dismantling the Occupy movement’s encampments in cities across the country, many are questioning if the movement can survive without its most visible symbol of sustainability. Now that its physical presence is under siege, the need for the movement to attract more members of the Millennial generation – and align itself with its beliefs and behaviors – becomes even more critical. Demographic figures show that any social movement or trend endorsed by America’s youngest and most populous generation – the Millennial generation (born 1982-2003) – is likely to shape or even dominate American life in the decades ahead, while any rejected by it is likely to fall by the wayside.
While the Occupy movement has had some success in appealing to Millennials, it still has more to do before it is fully embraced by the generation, as suggested by the results of a national survey conducted this month by the consulting firm Frank N. Magid Associates.
Gaining widespread Millennial endorsement wouldn’t just represent a PR victory by the Occupy movement. By 2012, when more than 60 percent of this 95-million-strong generation will be 18 or older, almost 1 in 4 American adults will be a Millennial. By the end of this decade, when virtually all Millennials will have come of age, the generation will comprise more than one-third (36 percent) of US adults. Millennial approval and participation is vital to the Occupy movement’s survival going forward.
Demographically, the movement has significant Millennial representation, but it does not appear to be predominantly comprised of Millennials. A survey conducted by Fordham University professor Costas Panagopoulos indicated that the mean age of adult protesters in New York’s Zuccotti Park was 33. Since the oldest Millennial is just 29, it is obvious that a fair number of those in the park were members of older generations.
Demonstrations on or near college campuses almost certainly contain larger contingents of Millennials than those elsewhere. Still it is evident that older generations are playing a key role in the Occupy movement, particularly the anarchists and professional left wing agitators who initially energized the protests.
Attitudinally, large majorities of Millennials do concur with the Occupy movement’s view of present day America.
Eight in ten adult Millennials agree that the gap between the rich and the middle class is larger than ever. About three-quarters of Millennials say that big business and Wall Street have too much power, that taxes should be increased on the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans (75 percent), and that Wall Street and the financial industry should be punished for their role in the economic recession (71 percent). Two-thirds of the generation favor increased regulation of banks and the financial industry.
Millennials also have a somewhat better assessment of the Occupy movement itself than do older generations. The strongest Millennial perception of the movement is that it is “liberal” (38 percent), not a negative term within the only generation in which liberals and progressives outnumber conservatives and moderates.
By contrast, the strongest perceptions held of the Occupy movement by Baby Boomers and senior citizen Silents is that the movement is “anti-establishment” (39 percent), “radical” (30 percent), and even “revolutionary” (25 percent).
Overall, the Millennial generation is evenly divided about the movement, with a quarter still uncertain. Even so, Millennials are more positive about Occupy than older generations, among whom 34 percent hold favorable opinions and 44 percent negative.
But despite their sympathy with the movement, Millennials are not yet ready to fully endorse the Occupy movement. This gap between the support Millennials have for the beliefs of the protest movement and their less than enthusiastic backing of it, suggests both the opportunity for success Occupy still has and the danger to the movement if it fails to focus its strategy on attracting Millennials to its cause.
One problem, according to observers ranging from newspapers to high school and college students and even to the “belly of the beast,” Wall Street itself, is that the Occupy movement lacks strong leaders who can guide and personalize it. A large majority of the public at large and Millennials in particular (67 percent each) agrees with this assessment.
Most of the major social movements of the 20th century had charismatic leaders, such as Martin Luther King, Jr.(civil rights) and Gloria Steinem (women’s liberation), who played this key role. But in the social network-driven 21st century, movements appear, by design, to be “leaderless,” and lacking in clear structure. They are horizontal rather than vertical.
A far more important concern is that about 7 in 10 Millennials cannot figure out just what the Occupy movement is and what its goals really are. In only a few scattered locations, such as college campuses in California where there was a call for tuition relief, did Occupy protestors cite definite actionable objectives or make specific demands. In contrast to the tea party’s clear and consistent opposition to tax increases or “big government” programs like “Obamacare,” the goals of the Occupy movement often seem unvoiced and inchoate.
Unlike the ideologically driven Boomer Generation, which was content to use teach-ins and other talk-a-thon strategies to endlessly discuss, if not actually advance, its causes, Millennials bring a strong dose of pragmatism to their desire to change the world and would be more likely to participate in Occupy activities if they were more action-oriented.
In the end, if the Occupy movement is to become Millennial and really effect change, it must do more than simply inspire sympathy and sentiment. It must move beyond being a protest movement and become a political movement, one with specific goals that engages and alters the political process. Only by using these and other tactics to attract the Millennial Generation will the Occupy movement break out of its original, limited conception as simply being a way to express unhappiness with current economic conditions. To fully achieve its potential, even without a permanent, physical presence in urban America, it must take the steps necessary to become a decisive, action-oriented voice within an emerging and powerful generation.