Millennials: Poorer than previous generations, less likely to marry, more distrustful – and yet hopeful

by Ryan Streeter on March 23, 2014. Follow Ryan on Twitter.

It took me awhile to get around to reading the Pew report on Millennials (PDF) given interruptions like 70 hour work weeks, taxes, and hours of watching cable TV coverage of flight 370 in which no new fact is introduced. So I won’t offer anything new on this already-discussed report, but I did want to record some of its findings.

The main takeaway is that adult millennials (18-33 years old) are more unattached to fundamental institutions (political, religious, familial) than any generation in our recorded history. They are libertarian in the lifestyle rather than political sense of the term, and despite being highly networked through social media (or maybe because of it), they are much more distrustful of others.

Here are some data points of note:

Millennials are also the first in the modern era to have higher levels of student loan debt, poverty and unemployment, and lower levels of wealth and personal income than their two immediate predecessor generations (Gen Xers and Boomers) had at the same stage of their life cycles.

Even though millennials are much more likely than older generations to support gay marriage, they are far less likely to actually get married. The graph on the right Screen Shot 2014-03-23 at 3.58.43 PMshows them compared to previous generations at the same age.

During the “hope and change” years of the Obama administration, millennials have grown more politically independent at quite a clip. In a way, they are tracking with a larger trend in which Gen Xers, Baby Boomers, and even the Silent generation have all grown more politically independent. But their upward trend lines in this direction have been steadier and larger. Whereas they only slightly outnumbered Democrats when Obama was elected, now one in two millennials identifies as an independent:

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Whereas millennials’ views on gay marriage (more liberal than the previous generation) and abortion (less liberal) are well-known, their views on other important issues such as generational policy are lesser-known. While significantly more millennials say we should focus on policies for the young…

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…they aren’t that different from their elders when asked about reforming Social Security:

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Finally, even though this has gotten considerable coverage, it’s worth noting the “religion gap” existing between millennials and their elders:

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However, despite their high levels of social distrust and awareness of their poor economic prospects compared to earlier generations, millennials are just as hopeful as the previous generation that things will work out for them in the future.