Ten Myths About Millennials

As is often the case, the members of older generations make the mistakes of, on the one hand, believing that all generations develop in pretty much the same way and of being critical of younger generations when, in fact, they are different from their own. This has caused many older Americans to have misperceptions of the attitudes and behaviors of the Millennial Generation. Because we are asked frequently to deal with these misperceptions, here are of the 10 most common myths about the Millennial Generation:

1. Young people think and behave the same at all times. One generation is just like the one before it and the one that follows.

False: Each generation is different from the one before it and the one that follows. Today’s young people, the Millennials (born 1982-2003), are a 'civic' generation. They were revered and protected by their parents and are becoming group-oriented, egalitarian institution builders as they emerge into adulthood. Millennials are sharply distinctive from the divided, moralistic Baby Boomers (born 1946-1964) and the cynical, individualistic Gen-Xers (born 1965-1981), the two generations that preceded them and who are their parents.

2. Millennials are narcissistic, self-indulgent kids who think they are entitled to everything.

False: Millennials have a deep commitment to community and helping others, putting this belief into action with community service activities. Virtually all Millennial high school students (80%) participate in a community service activity. Two decades ago when all high school students were Gen-Xers, only a quarter (27%) did so.

3. Millennials volunteer and serve because they are 'forced' to or are trying to polish their college application resume.

False: Millennials volunteer for community and public service in large numbers long after their 'required' initial high school experiences. In 2006, more than a quarter (26%) of National Service volunteers were Millennials, at a time when Millennials comprised no more than 15% of the adult population. By contrast in 1989 when all young adults were members of Generation X, only 13% of National Service volunteers were in this age cohort.

4. Millennials became Democrats and liberals because they are hero worshipers of Barack Obama.

False: Millennials identified as Democrats and liberals well before Obama emerged as a major political force with significant name identification. In 2007, Millennials identified as Democrats over Republicans by 52% to 30% and as liberals over conservatives by 29% vs. 16% (the rest were moderate). At that time, Barack Obama’s name identification was barely 50%, well below that of Hillary Clinton and John Edwards, his chief competitors for the Democratic presidential nomination. These attitudes have, for the most part, persisted throughout the sharp political conflicts of the first three years of the Obama presidency.

5. Millennials will become more conservative as they age.

False: Party identification and ideological orientation are formed when people are young and are retained as they age. Prior 'civic' generations, with similar belief systems to Millennials, kept that philosophy throughout their lives, something conservative ideologue, Grover Norquist, recognized when he referred to the lifelong beliefs of the revered GI Generation as 'un-American.' The only two generations that gave John Kerry a majority of their votes over George W. Bush in 2004 were the first sliver of Millennials eligible to vote and the last segment of members of the GI Generation, all of whom were at least 80 and many of whom were casting their final presidential vote.

6. Millennials, like all young people, are apathetic and uninterested in voting.

False: Young people’s proclivity to vote or not is not based upon their age but their generation’s belief in the efficacy of voting. Millennials are members of an activist and politically involved 'civic' generation. They have voted heavily in the past and will continue to do so in the future. According to CIRCLE, an organization that examines youth political participation trends, 6.5 million people under 30 voted in presidential primaries and caucuses in 2008, double the youth participation rate of 2000. Fifty-three percent of Millennials voted in the 2008 general election (59% in the competitive battle ground states), up from 37% in 1996 when all young voters were member of Generation X. Even in 2010, a very poor year for Democrats, Millennial voter turnout was about what it had been in the 2006 midterm elections, a Democratic landslide.

7. Like Boomers and Gen-Xers before them, Millennials are cynical and disillusioned by the problems facing them and America.

False: In spite of the fact that they are far more likely to be unemployed and far less likely than older Americans to have health insurance, Millennials are more optimistic than older generations. A May 2009 Pew survey indicates that about three-quarters of Millennials in contrast to two-thirds of older generations are confident that America can solve the problems now facing our country. These optimistic attitudes have persisted throughout the Great Recession and political turmoil of the past two or three years.

8. Millennials care only about what happens in their own country, community, and lives and not on what goes on in the rest of the world.

False: Most Millennials have visited foreign countries and through social networking technology, are connected to friends around the world. They are open to working with people in other countries to solve the problems of the world community. Millennials are far more likely than older generations to support free trade agreements like NAFTA (61% vs. 40%) and far less likely to believe in military solutions to international concerns (39% vs. 58%). Millennials are also about three times more likely than seniors to have opinions on major international concerns like Israeli/Palestinian relations.

9. Millennials, like all generations, are rebels who are hostile to civic institutions and government.

False: Millennials have significantly more positive attitudes toward government and its activities than older Americans. Millennials are much less likely to believe that if the government runs something, it is usually wasteful and inefficient (42% vs. 59%) or that the federal government controls too much of our daily lives (48% vs. 56%). They are much more likely to feel that government is run for the benefit of all (60% vs. 46%).

10. Millennials are more focused on trivialities such as celebrities than on the big issues facing America.

False: Unlike some previous generations, Millennial celebrities and musical tastes are more acceptable to and compatible with their parents’ values because they reflect the generation’s love of teamwork and service to the community rather than rebellion. For example, a recent Pew survey indicates that rock music is the preferred genre of Millennials, Gen-Xers, and Boomers. Rock, the music of rebellion in the 1950s and 1960s, is now mainstream. Moreover even as early as 2006, two years before Barack Obama’s candidacy, more than twice as many Millennials had voted for president than had voted on American Idol.