Anyone who's read the news lately has heard about millennials “killing” a number of industries: vacations, beer, napkins, cereal, golf, and diamonds, to name a few. The consumption habits of the “kids these days” have changed from those of their grandparents, but the factors driving this change are varied and difficult to pinpoint. “Millennial” has long been a catch-all term for any young person, but the Pew Research Center tecently issued official cut-off dates for the millennial generation. Millennials are defined as those born between 1981 and 1996—meaning millennials aren't quite so young anymore.
Now that the generation has been defined as those between 23 and 38, it becomes easier to figure out what exactly has changed in millennials' lifetimes, compared to the generations that came before them: Generation X (1965-1980), the baby boomers (1946-1964), and the silent generation (1928-1945). From the rapid advancement of technology to the aftermath of 9/11, their lives have been shaped by forces of social media, deep economic anxiety, and other unprecedented factors. This has spurred some of the generational disconnects and tension millennials feel toward their elders and vice versa, as well as the economic differences that have led millennials to “kill” all those industries in the first place.
In order to explore these differences, Stacker compiled a list of significant ways that millennials' lives differ from those of their grandparents and even their parents. From the economic anxieties following the 2008 Great Recession to Supreme Court decisions that have led to a more open world, read on to find out the 25 biggest changes for this generation, who now represent the majority of the workforce, are becoming political leaders, and will shape the world for the generations to come.
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A big house with a white picket fence may have been the goal for baby boomers, but millennials have had to set their sights a little lower. Most millennials came of age during the recession and real estate collapse of 2007 and 2008, and many have been forced to delay purchasing their first home thanks to high student loan debt, slow wage growth, and fewer single-family homes being built every year.
The economic benefit of a college degree has spurred increasing numbers of Americans to head to college. Millennials are the most educated generation to date; 36% of women and 29% of men ages 21 to 36 have completed a bachelor's degree, which is several percentage points higher than Generation X and the baby boomers. However, they're not seeing the same benefits from their education. The stagnating post-recession economy and soaring tuition rates have left millennials struggling to pay off huge student loan bills, plunging them into a debt crisis that has put their economic futures on hold.
Millennials are happier in cities than their older counterparts, according to the recent study "No urban malaise for Millennials," published in the journal Regional Studies. And Pew Research found that nine in 10 millennials live in urban settings, compared to just two-thirds of the Silent Generation in 1965. Millennials are also 9% more likely to make their home in the concrete jungle than those of previous generations.
Compared to the baby boomers and silent generation, millennials are far more likely to align themselves with the Democratic Party and generally hold views more aligned with the liberal or progressive voting blocs in the two-party system. Even right-leaning or Republican millennials show a tendency toward progressive policy stances (thanks to their generation's relative diversity and increased acceptance of LGBTQ+ minorities), according to the Pew Research Center. However, they are far less likely to vote than members of the baby boomers or silent generation at the same age, decreasing their voting power.
Though Gen Z might soon replace them, millennials are the most diverse generation in history. Increased immigration from Asian and Latin American countries in the years since the 1950s and ‘60s have contributed significantly. However, there's another big difference between the lives of millennials and their baby boomer and silent generation counterparts: Interracial marriage is legal. Prior to the Supreme Court decision in Loving v. Virginia in 1967, some states flatly banned marriage between those of different races. Today, attitudes toward interracial marriage are much more supportive, and one in six newlywed Americans in 2015 married someone of a different race.
As baby boomers came of age, the Stonewall riots of 1969 brought new attention to the struggles of LGBTQ+ Americans. Sixty years later, millennials live in an entirely different world when it comes to LGBTQ+ rights. The last laws banning same-sex sexual activity were overturned in 2003, and marriage equality became law in all 50 states in the 2015 Supreme Court decision in Obergerfell v. Hodges. Not only do LGBTQ+ millennials live in a world with more legal protections, but LGBTQ+ people are more accepted than they were half a century ago. Millennials have adopted new language that more fully expresses their gender identities and sexual orientations and, in general, they are more likely to identify as LGBTQ+ than those who came before them.
Religion plays a far more diminished role in the lives of millennials than it did for their grandparents. More and more Americans are religiously unaffiliated—22% in Pew's 2014 Religious Landscape Survey—and many who fall under that category are millennials. They're less likely to attend services, pray every day, or otherwise claim religion as a large part of their lives.
America's divorce rates are down, and we largely have millennials to thank for the change. The reason for this shift, however, stems from the changing face of marriage in America. While women of the silent generation married at the average age of 23 and men at 25, millennials are tying the knot at 27 and 29, respectively. Marriage has also become something of a “status symbol,” as more young people wait until they're financially stable to get married. Poorer millennials are more likely to cohabitate with their partners in the long term without tying the knot, leading to fewer couples getting married overall.
One of the most obvious changes for the millennial generation is the rapid advancement of technology and, in particular, the rise of social media platforms. Young adults today grew up in a world of AOL Instant Messenger, Myspace, and later Facebook and Twitter. This allowed them to create social connections with people around the world but also to get their news in dramatically different ways, explore new and differing opinions, and share aspects of their lives with others. This may have fundamentally changed the way people interact with the world and those around them, for better or worse.
For previous generations, watching a TV show meant sitting in front of the television at a certain day and time, suffering through commercials. Millennials grew up in the age of DVR, and later Netflix and other streaming services. They've cut ties with cable companies in favor of binge watching all their favorite shows on demand. TV has also arguably gotten better in this new age of streaming: There are more options, production values are higher, and fans have found new ways to discuss their favorite shows through social media.
Back in the 1800s, having anywhere from six to nine kids was considered average. But in 1920, family sizes peaked, and by the time most millennials' grandparents were having kids, the average American family was much smaller. Millennials have changed the look of family life significantly, with most starting their families in their late 20s and early 30s as opposed to their late teens and early 20s, as in the generations before them. Some of this can be attributed to the increasing numbers of women attending college or entering the workforce; rather than start a family right away, women are tending to focus on career advancement and financial stability first.
For the first time since the tumultuous years of the late 1910s—when World War I and the Spanish flu killed millions of Americans—America's life expectancy is on a downswing. Rising numbers of suicides and drug overdoses fueled by the opioid epidemic have decreased the average lifespan of a U.S. citizen. Millennials are the first generation in a century forced to worry that they might not live as long as their parents, or that their children might not live as long as them.
On April 20, 1999, two high school students entered Columbine High School in Colorado, killing 12 students and a teacher before taking their own lives. Since Columbine, more than 200,000 students have been exposed to gun violence during school hours. Active shooter drills have become increasingly common in the years since.
Millennials are experiencing unprecedented levels of anxiety, depression, and suicidal ideation. The number of millennials whose work has been disrupted by their anxiety is near twice the national average, and mental health diagnoses are particularly high among the age group. Some studies have found that this is due to a “perfectionist streak” not seen in their parents or grandparents that pushes millennials to hold themselves to impossibly high standards. On the upside, they're also far more likely to be open about their mental health diagnoses and other struggles, offering a support system for those struggling that wasn't there before.
The economic futures of millennials are more uncertain than those of Boomers or the Silent Generation, largely due to the fallout from the 2008 recession. Though more millennials are going to college, they are the first generation who will make less money than their parents did. This is partially due to the weak and stagnant labor market that's existed since the early 2000s. Additionally, reports have found that 52% of millennials are underemployed, which means they either have a job but want more work or have a college degree but work in a job that doesn't require one. As a result, they're less likely to be able to pay off student loan debt, make big purchases, and save enough money to retire.
The rise in technology has shaken up the world, and nowhere is that clearer than in education. The advent of computers and the rapid development of cellphones and other tech marvels have led to an increased push for a curriculum focused on science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). The word STEM came into wide use in the early 2000s, when most millennials were making their way through school. More students than ever are studying and receiving STEM degrees, hoping to secure a good job in an otherwise uncertain labor market.
Studies have found that attitudes about drinking are changing, with many millennials cutting back on alcohol consumption. Companies have started investing in low- or no-alcohol beverages as a result. Still, the generation hasn't given alcohol up entirely, and there's some evidence that young adults may be turning to marijuana and synthetic drugs to self-medicate instead of alcohol like their parents and grandparents before them.
Scientists have been warning the world about the dangerous effects of climate change for decades, with the issue first making front-page news in the late '80s when the oldest millennials were born. Unlike their grandparents, millennials have grown up in a world where the looming threat of climate change has always been present, and that's changed the way they interact with the world. About a third of young Americans worry about the effects of climate change when considering whether or not to have children.
Most millennials were between 5 and in their early 20s when the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks fundamentally changed the world as we know it. They grew up in a world where the U.S. has been at war in the Middle East for nearly two decades, making them more inclined to support compromise rather than aggressive military action. Additionally, increased airport security was a defining change for millennials growing up.
Millennials are much more comfortable talking about sex than their grandparents. More are willing to say that having sex before marriage is acceptable, and dating apps make it easier than ever to find a long-term partner or a short-term fling. These developments might suggest young people are having more sex, but the numbers don't bear that out. More than half of all adults younger than 35 don't have a significant other, while young people are starting to have sex later—usually after high school. They are on track to have fewer overall partners than boomers.
Millennials are a driving force behind the “on-demand economy,” which puts anything they could possibly want just a few taps and dollars away. This is embodied by the rise in subscription services, which deliver meal prep kits, makeup, and razors to young people's doorsteps without them even having to think about it. Millennials are more likely than any other generation to have a subscription service.
Teen pregnancy rates are down. So are the number of abortions performed annually. Part of this is thanks to the widespread accessibility of affordable and effective birth control, which health insurance companies are now required to provide through the Affordable Care Act. Things were very different for the silent generation, as birth control wasn't fully legal until a Supreme Court Case in 1965.
Attitudes toward marijuana use have changed dramatically in millennials' lifetimes. Now, a majority of Americans believe the drug should be legal, including 70% of millennials. This is a huge shift from the days of the War on Drugs when harsh punishments for the possession and use of this substance were the norm. Nine states have fully legalized the drug, and others have decriminalized its possession or legalized its use for medical purposes. This has changed millennials' consumption habits: They make up over half of the nation's marijuana users.
Uncertain economic times have led to the rise of the gig economy. These “side hustles,” from becoming a Lyft driver to renting out an apartment on Airbnb, have allowed young adults to supplement their incomes, but may lead to lower incomes overall. That's not going to stop them from participating; by 2020, 42% of the gig economy is projected to be made up of millennial workers.
The aftermath of 9/11 has increased the amount of surveillance Americans accept into their daily lives, from the PATRIOT Act's expansion of the intelligence state to airport security checkpoints. As such, millennials have spent most of their lives being surveilled, and technology has only made the problem more pronounced. Recent scandals from Facebook and other tech giants have shown just how much data these companies collect on every user, a problem the Boomers and Silent Generation didn't face in nearly the same way.