Editor's Note: In recent years, the media landscape has been particularly harsh toward Millennials. Whether Millennials are at school, in the workplace, or at home, their behavior is confounding older generations—prompting many to label this generation as entitled, narcissistic, and lazy. But most of these widely held views betray ignorance about who Millennials really are.
Hedgeye interviewed Demography Sector Head Neil Howe to set the record straight on who Millennials are and why they act the way they do. Below is an excerpt from that interview. Here, we dispel other commonly held notions about Millennials—such as their perceived immaturity.
Read part one of the interview here.
Hedgeye: Last time we discussed four big criticisms levied against Millennials. Let’s move on to other perceived shortcomings. What about the charge that Millennials who live with their parents suffer from “failure to launch” syndrome?
NH: Well, it is true that Millennials are living at home more. Per the Census Bureau, between 2007 and 2014, the share of Millennials (ages 25 to 29) who are living with family or friends increased from 38% to 48%—a whopping 10 percentage points. And according to another Census series, 40% of Millennials (ages 18 to 34) lived with their parents and other family members in 2015—the largest share since 1940.
The big change is that Millennials are emotionally much closer to their Boomer parents than those Boomers ever were to their own parents. According to a survey we conducted in 2015, 85% of Millennials (ages 18 to 32) said that they talked to their parents several times a week—compared to 69% of Xers and 58% of Boomers who said they did the same when they were their children’s age.
Hedgeye: Fine, but isn’t emotional closeness with parents a sign of immaturity? Isn’t it best to leave the nest early? According to former Psychology Today editor Hara Marano, Americans are raising “a nation of wimps.”
NH: Immaturity? For most of human history, a close bond with parents was a sign of maturity. People lived in extended family units and relied on each other for everyday needs. Today, Boomers and Xers see this as a problem precisely because so many of them tried hard to move away from their parents—not move closer. Boomers and Xers made a spectacle of leaving the nest and made “up-yours-Dad” independence a marker of maturity. But this makes Boomers and Xers the historical outliers, not the norm.
Looking ahead, Millennial comfort with multigenerational living could help solve one of America’s biggest political-economic challenges: the rising fiscal burden of senior entitlements.
Hedgeye: I never thought of it that way. Thus far you’ve talked about Millennials being more dependent on their peers and having closer relationships to their parents. What does this say about their attitude toward government?
NH: It all fits together. Because they feel a greater sense of connection to their community, their families, and their peers, Millennials see the government as an instrument to reinforce the importance of teamwork.
In our own survey, when asked whether the government should reinforce “the principle of self-reliance” or “the principle of community,” respondents showed a marked generational gap: While Boomers were split 50-50 on this question, Millennials were divided 71-29 in favor of “community.” This same 40-point gap showed up no matter how we subdivided Millennials by political party—Democratic, Republican, or independent.
Hedgeye: So I guess Millennials aren’t really upset that they aren’t on their own. This brings up another issue: People often say that Millennials are all downbeat about the future.
NH: Totally wrong. Virtually every survey shows that Millennials have a more positive outlook on their own future—and the future of America—than their elders. Conference Board data show that, even after the Great Recession, Millennials’ consumer confidence has continued to soar above their elders—with a widening gap between the under-35 and over-55 age brackets.
Hedgeye: Let’s now turn to Millennials’ emotional health. Simon Sinek says that “depression” is more prevalent among Millennials—for example, with more committing suicide.
NH: Evaluating the emotional health of any generation is tricky. Once we turn to objective indicators of mental illness, the rates are generally lower for young Millennials than they were for young Gen Xers. From 1991 to 2015, for example, CDC data show a significant decline in the rate of high school students who seriously consider suicide, have made a suicide plan, or attempt suicide. As for rates of actual suicide, these have recently been rising for all age brackets (and most dramatically for midlife age brackets—recall our earlier discussion of Boomers). Even so, the youth suicide rate is still well below where it was in the 1990s.
Hedgeye: So now that we know about Millennials' positive attitude toward the future, this brings us to another complaint: impatience. Sinek in particular says that deferred gratification is unknown to Millennials.
NH: Evidence, please? In our own survey, we directly asked Americans of all ages whether “the idea of long-term planning is important to me.” Interestingly, 80% of Millennials agreed, putting them on par with Xers (80%) and above Boomers (76%). We then asked older generations whether long-term planning was important when they were in their 20s. Only 48% of Xers and 39% of Boomers agreed.
Hedgeye: I thought that Millennials liked taking shortcuts to get ahead. Aren’t they all trying to be the next Mark Zuckerberg?
NH: The Millennial entrepreneur is one of the most persistent myths in the media landscape. In fact, rates of business formation by Americans of all ages have been declining over the past quarter-century. And the rate has been declining most among young adults. Ditto for rates of geographic mobility—that is, moving to another county or state.
Hedgeye: Why is this happening?
NH: Any explanation goes back to risk aversion. They perceive the risk of starting a business as just too high. Besides, Millennials have a very conventional (read as: slow and steady) understanding of how to get ahead in life. An Economic Innovation Group/Ernst & Young report found that 44% of Millennials believe that the best way to start their career is to climb the corporate ladder—versus only 22% who believe starting their own business is the best path.