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Millennials (Generation Y)

Millennials, also known as Generation Y or the Net Generation, are the demographic cohort that directly follows Generation X.  Neil Howe and William Strauss, authors of the 1991 book Generations: The History of America's Future, 1584 to 2069, are often credited with coining the term. Howe and Strauss define the Millennial cohort as consisting of individuals born between 1982 and 2004.

Characteristics of Millennials

There is a great deal of variation from one individual to another within any generational cohort. Nevertheless, the particular environment for any generation affects those individuals in ways that are observable as broad tendencies. Having been raised under the mantra "follow your dreams" and being told they were special, Millennials tend to be confident. While largely a positive trait, the Millennial generation’s confidence can sometimes spill over into the realms of entitlement and narcissism.  They are often seen as slightly more optimistic about the future of America than other generations -- despite the fact that they are the first generation since the Silent Generation that is expected to be less economically successful than their parents.

One reported result of Millennial optimism is entering into adulthood with unrealistic expectations, which sometimes leads to disillusionment. Many early Millennials went through post-secondary education only to find themselves employed in unrelated fields or underemployed and job hopping more frequently than previous generations. Their expectations may have resulted from the very encouraging, involved and almost ever-present group of parents that became known as helicopter parents.

Millennials in the workplace

Some adaptations in the workplace have come about from employers accommodating Millennials. The bring-your-own device trend (BYOD), for example, is at least in part a reaction to the Millennials’ near-addiction to mobile devices. Workplace satisfaction matters more to Millennials than monetary compensation and work-life balance is often considered essential. They are less likely than previous generations to put up with an unpleasant work environment and much more likely to use social networking to broadcast their concerns. On the other hand, satisfied Millennials are often employee advocates for the organizations they work for, providing honest, free -- and convincing -- public relations (PR).

Having grown up being bombarded by advertising, Millennials tend to be skeptical about promotional material of any kind. Whether buying products and services or considering employment, Millennials are more likely to listen to their friends than to be affected by marketing or public relations material. This characteristic makes both conventional marketing and employee recruitment practices often ineffective for Millennials.

Millennials and technology

Millennials grew up with computers, the Internet and the graphical user interface (GUI). This familiarity makes them adept at understanding interfaces and visual languages. They tend to adjust readily to new programs, operating systems (OS) and devices and to perform computer-based tasks more quickly than older generations. Although it’s been proven that multitasking is not usually an effective way to work, Millennials may be the employees that are most likely to pull it off.

Millennials are generally comfortable with the idea of a public Internet life. Privacy, in the Millennial eye, is mostly a concern of functional settings limiting who sees their online shares. This comfort with social media means they are good at self-promotion and fostering connections through online media. But this approach often results in an issue when comparing themselves to peers. Millennials are sometimes frustrated by the grass seeming greener on the other side of the fence. That impression may be due to people’s image crafting, which emphasizes their good qualities and exciting parts of their lives. 

Even though Millennials are very dependent on the Internet for learning how to do things, it's likely they do not really understand how the internet works. When their computers or devices don’t work, Millennials often have difficulty troubleshooting technical problems. In contrast, the technically-inclined members of Generation X usually have a deeper understanding of programming and hardware issues because they were actively participating in the evolution of the internet. 

Millennials and culture

The Millennials have shown in survey to have the least faith in the institutions of America. Conversely, they also show the highest support of political independents and protestor-formed governments. Although Millennials have less faith in religious institutions, at the same time the numbers have also risen for those who have absolute faith in the existence of a god. Many churches’ messages clash with the Millennial ideal of tolerance for religious, racial, gender, sexual orientation differences. Millennials are also concerned about social justice and will not support institutions that they see as in conflict with social and economic equality.  As such, Millennials are exerting their influence on the world around them, as all prior generations have done.

Are you a Millennial?

While the term Millennials is usually considered to apply to individuals who reached adulthood around the turn of the 21st century, the precise delineation varies from one source to another. Other proposed dates for Millennials:

  • According to Iconoclast, a consumer research firm, the first Millennials were born in 1978.
  • Newsweek magazine reported that the Millennial generation was born between 1977 and 1994.
  • In separate articles, the New York Times pegged the Millennials at 1976-1990 and 1978-1998.
  • A Time magazine article placed the Millennials at 1980-2000.
Nicknames for generations
Generation Nicknames

Millennial statistics 

The source for the statistics below is Pew Research:

  • 50 percent of Millennials consider themselves politically unaffiliated.
  • 29 percent consider themselves religiously unaffiliated.
  • They have the highest average number of Facebook friends, with an average of 250 friends vs. Generations X's 200.
  • 55 percent have posted a selfie or more to social media sites versus 20 percent of Generation X.
  • 8 percent of Millennials claim to have sexted, whereas 30 percent claim to have received sexts.
  • They send a median of 50 texts a day.
  • As of 2012, only 19 percent of Millennials said that, generally, others can be trusted.
  • There are about 76 million Millennials in the United States (based on research using the years 1978-2000).
  • Millennials are the last generation born in the 20th century.
  • Twenty percent have at least one immigrant parent.
This was last updated in June 2021

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