State of the Millennial

As 2016 comes to a close, we reflect on themes from the past year. In our work, we’re particularly tuned in to niche target audiences, and this year, everyone is focused on millennials.

Here’s a fun exercise: How many times have you discussed the mysterious habits of millennials this year? Note: You will have to include the number of times you watched this video.

Odds are that you had plenty of conversations discussing the various millennial stereotypes, from selfies to “participation trophies” to the latest social media app. Around our office, we discuss millennials often—mostly because we believe millennials are misunderstood.

As the largest, most diverse generation, millennials will make an unmistakable impact on our nation and the world. This fall, members of the E&V team attended a conference hosted by the North Carolina Free Enterprise Foundation entirely dedicated to forecasting the habits of millennials and what they might mean for North Carolina in the future. Bank of America and USA Today also recently released a study focused on millennial behaviors.

Through the eyes of a millennial, here the findings and observations about my generation that are most notable:

1 Millennials are concerned with a stable economy—likely because of the lasting effects of the Great Recession. 

Most people like to characterize millennials as fly-by-night youngsters without a care for our pocketbooks. Stereotypes would lead you to believe that we care mostly about social issues, but research shows that as millennials begin voting, nearly twice as many millennials care about economic issues (65%) over social issues (34%). We grew up in a period of economic success, but when we started thinking about our own careers, the economy was in turmoil. This largely impacted the fields we studied as well as our first jobs right out of college. Unemployment ranks as the most important economic issue millennials care about, closely followed by concerns for health care costs and student debt.

2 The urban/rural divide will continue to deepen with the settling of millennials.

Particularly in North Carolina, we saw the urban and rural divide at play in this election. This is nothing new for the state or the country, as we’ve seen millions of jobs leaving rural communities and millions more emerging in urban centers for years. However, as millennials develop careers and put down roots, we will see this impact where we find homes and raise families. This will continue to deepen the need for housing in our cities. And, as we’ve seen with the growth of Airbnb and Uber, millennials don’t mind sharing to save a penny.

3 To millennials, a career is more than a job.

One of the commonly held stereotypes about millennials is about the “sensitive” nature of the generation. While I would argue most of this “sensitivity” has more to do with social connectivity than a generational divide, research does show that millennials care about having a job they find meaningful. More than that, nearly half of millennials are pessimistic about finding a career we will truly like. With previous generations, it was commonplace to continue the family trade. Now, the accessibility of college degrees has expanded the range of career possibilities. Because of the Internet, we have exposure to more potential jobs and career paths than ever before. This, paired with the wanderlust of youth, has forced us to consider what really matters in a job. Most of us are still young enough to believe we can make a true difference in the world. We want jobs that help us reach that mission.

4 Millennial connectivity and access to information is a generational differentiator.

In our line of work, connections matter. With previous generations, networking was limited to sending Christmas cards or time spent on the phone or in person catching up. With this new technology era, connectivity allows for much broader networks. If used effectively, these networks can be used to ignite real change.

One of the criticisms of millennials that I most agree with is that millennials mistake information for knowledge. Since we can easily find answers through Google or even by asking Amazon’s Alexa, millennials need to know that having access to information is not what makes you wise. However, if we as a generation can convert information to insight, we have an opportunity to be a great generation.

5 Give millennials a level playing field.

Unfortunately for us, the generational definition of millennials has a large age span. Depending upon who you ask, millennials can include anyone born between 1980 and the early 2000s. In any generation, the maturity difference between a 15-year-old and a 37-year-old is going to be pretty vast.

An interesting example of this maturity gap plays out in how millennials watch TV. Stereotypes would have you believe that millennials are going to change the game when it comes to cable—that in a matter of years, everyone will watch shows on their tablets or solely binge subscription services on smart TVs. Data from Deep Root Analytics shows that younger (and theoretically less financially stable) millennials view TV shows on mobile devices. However, millennials over the age of 25 (and theoretically more financially stable) view TV programs on traditional television sets, meaning they pay for cable when they have the funds to do so.

Time will tell the impact millennials will truly have, but here’s hoping that millennials are more than just the sum of their selfies.