Text size
Text Print Share Email
Feb 26, 2009

They elected Barack Obama and are shaping today’s info-culture. But are they really America’s next Greatest Generation?

By Matthew Schaeffer

Millennials: [mil-len-ee-uhls]
A new generation of young Americans, born between 1977 and 1990. Children of Baby Boomers. Pop.: 60 million. Politically engaged, raised with social networking technology. Obama was the Millennials candidate. [as adj]. Synonyms: Generation Y, .Net Generation, Echo Boomers

What do you get when you cross the new generation of politically active, self-confident and progressive offspring of the baby boom with a radically challenged world? Though experts are still piecing the answer together, one result is certain: the future.
As the Baby Boomers and Gen Xers did before them, the Millennials will define the attitudes, ideas and actions of the country in the decades to come. Those who study them for a living are seeing signs that they may take the mantle of their grandparents and great-grandparents—the so-called GI or Greatest Generation. Given the growing global challenges they face, lets hope the experts are right.

The Millennial generation announced its political arrival in November when it’s overwhelming support for Barack Obama played a key role in carrying him to the White House. President Obama’s unprecedented support from voters under 30 made it clear that—unlike the politically disengaged Generation Xers—this new generation will become a fully developed political force.
Studies show that the Millennials are civic-minded and engaged and hold progressive political values, like concern about economic inequality, the desire for more multilateral foreign policy and a strong belief in the government.
These young adults are emerging as the most progressive generation since the early 1960s and will likely push the country leftward as their attitudes become more pervasive in the American mainstream.
“The Millennials are more liberal, more Democratic, more tolerant of others and more trusting of American institutions than their elders,” explains Dr. Peter Levine, director of CIRCLE.

If Millennials’ core beliefs and their tendency to work for a socially networked consensus are any guide, the culture wars that have divided America over the last decades may soon be over.
More than any generation in history, Millennials embrace diversity, be it racial, ethnic or sexual. They believe that regardless of their backgrounds, men and women are equal and should be treated that way. And they think a growing economy should not come at the expense of preserving the environment for future generations.

As the first generation to grow up with cell phones and the Internet, the Millennials have shaped this technology for their own uses. While Gen Xers developed the Internet as a tool for doing research, paying bills and making travel plans, Millennials have used it to create social networks that allow them to keep in constant touch with their friends, family and the issues that matter to them.
“When they were little kids, [Millennials] would always ask their parents, ‘can I email my friend?’” says Neil Howe, a best-selling author and the founding partner and president of LifeCourse. “Then it was chat rooms, then IM. And then came the social networks with Facebook and MySpace. Now come cell phones with GPS, so you know where your friends are physically, 24 hours a day. This is the most continuously peer-on-peer connected generation in world history.”
For the Millennial generation, the global economic crisis represents the first true test of their values and beliefs. The question is, how will they deal with a world that, at least in economic terms, has suddenly been turned upside down?
Like all Americans, Millennials are highly indebted and have little savings. Many have taken substantial loans to pay for college, and those still in school have seen their or their parents’ savings decimated. In a nationwide survey of college students, three-quarters said they were worried about how they would pay tuition. So, what will a sudden cold shower do to all that optimism and social cohesion?
John Della Volpe of Harvard’s Institute of Politics thinks it could spur them into action: “this recession might be kind of a wake-up call to this generation, where they decide to eschew the traditional forms of consumerism and materialism. It may be time to think not about what you can buy and what you can put on your wall, but…how to pay for all those traditional things—a family, a home, education and lowering debt.” Maybe, the test of a profound economic crisis will bring out the best in them.

login or register to post a comment

nice article !

Luis Eduardo Alanis Villarreal
Apr 3, 2009

Hear the Youth: Throughout FLYP’s cover story, you can watch video blogs sent to us by Millennials from around the country, in which they discuss everything from technology to politics. As you read, just click on the speech bubbles on each page.
Introducing the Next Generation: Neil Howe, a best-selling author and the president of LifeCoach, explains their basic characteristics in FLYP Media’s video interview.
Millennial Makeup: FLYP’s graphic spread shows the key characteristics of this rising generation, alongside their ethnic composition and population relative to previous generations.
Getting Political: Check out FLYP Media’s infographic on the political involvement of those aged 18 to 30.
Gen Y DNA: In every generation, certain people, ideas, items and events help create a shared identity. In a fun infographic, FLYP identifies 20 of the touchstones that have shaped today’s youth.
Shifting Tides: What do youth today think about such controversial topics as interracial dating and abortion? Are they even still controversial? Check out FLYP’s infographic.
Wired for Life: Having grown up with technology, the Millennials are no stranger to the Internet or expensive cell phones. FLYP Media’s infographic—complete with audio commentary from Anastasia Goodstein, founder and editor-in-chief of Ypulse—compares their tech-savviness to Generation X.
In Debt and In Charge: In FLYP’s video interview, John Della Volpe of Harvard’s Institute of Politics examines the impact of the economic crisis on the Millennials.

Get the latest look at the people, ideas and events that are shaping America. Sign up for the FREE FLYP newsletter.