Is the Millennial Generation beginning to differentiate? Maybe!
And maybe not! If you read our blog regularly, you know we like to write about generations. (And race, and tattoos, and gender issues, and other stuff too.) So it won’t surprise you to see us peering at one of the first articles we’ve seen to say the Millennial Generation is finally beginning to form into groups after “cataclysmic events that have occurred since 2008”. Yes, we remember that blog post we wrote back in early 2012 when a marketing firm tried to convince us there were 6 (count ‘em) types of Millennials. We didn’t see that characterization as useful but this one at least has some data behind it.
According to these writers, the ongoing “Great Recession of 2008” could shape the 17-23 year olds coming of age during the Recession because they experienced “limited job opportunities, greater student loan debt, a return to their parents’ households and a delay in becoming an economic adult” in comparison with older Millennials. In other words, the writers see the recession as a “defining moment” for younger Millennials. (We’ve written a lot on generational issues and you can see our work here on the blog as well as in The Jury Expert.)
These researchers looked at the values of 350 college juniors and seniors (aged 19 to 23; 54% male, 46% female) in the US and compared them to the values of 266 older Millennials (aged 27 to 31; 54% male, 46% female) to see if a new cohort (a group within a generation) was forming. The younger Millennials and the older Millennials completed the questionnaires at the same point in time–this was not a case of having measured the values and attitudes of older Millennials a few years ago when they were aged 19-23 and then comparing them to the values of those younger Millennials who are now in that same age range. Instead, the researchers simply measured the same things in both groups of Millennials at the same point in time. In brief, the researchers wanted to see if measurable differences between the younger Millennials and older Millennials existed in a group of behavioral descriptors and values.
There were no significant differences between the younger and older Millennials on the values of having confidence, being one’s own boss and being a part of a team. There were also no differences on the behavioral measures of multitasking and hopefulness about future opportunities. Both younger and older Millennials endorsed these items positively.
However, there were differences between the older and younger Millennials as follows:
Younger Millennials see less value in “piety” as measured by religious beliefs about maintaining virginity until marriage.
Younger Millennials see less value in “thrift” as measured by whether they see saving as more important than spending. (Older Millennials endorse thrift while younger Millennials are less enamored of thrift.)
To a lesser degree, younger Millennials are less patriotic (measured by faith in country and pride in country), less political (measured by voting behavior and current involvement in politics), less green (less likely to be avid recyclers), and less worried about making mistakes in life (it might happen).
The authors do some intense factor analysis and report that there is “strong support” for the idea that a new sub-cohort is emerging.
They report that younger Millennials have more of a “live for today” attitude and are more self-centric and pleasure-seeking. While there are questions as to whether this represents a phase of life (i.e., age effect) as opposed to a true generational shift, the authors see it as indicative of a true shift although they acknowledge the younger Millennials have not yet internalized the impact of the economy on their lives. (We should note here that there was no earlier comparison of how the now older Millennials would have scored on these measures when they were the age of the younger Millennials. It’s hard to say whether what we are seeing here is a true cohort differentiation/segmentation or simple maturing on the part of young adults.)
The older Millennials, according to the authors, are facing stressful circumstances with the plummeting economy and are struggling to cope. When they came of age the economy was less daunting then it has become. They face circumstances that require them to save (unlike the younger Millennials who’ve moved back in with Mom and Dad).
As a whole, write the researchers, this generation is paying less attention to politics and are less likely to vote than older generations. (Note: The data for this study was collected in 2009 prior to the reelection of Barack Obama in 2012. Millennials represented 19% of all voters and 60% favored Obama).
It’s hard to say at this point, whether these researchers are correct in their beliefs that a new and less careful cohort is emerging as younger Millennials come of age. And it’s more than simply the miss about whether Millennials would turn out in the 2012 re-election of Barack Obama.
There is typically a large shift in what is seen as important between the ages of 18 and 25 and so we tend to think college juniors and seniors are still a bit young to have clearly formed the principles that will guide their lives. Nonetheless, this was obviously a much more rigorous effort than that engaged in by a marketing company early in 2012. We simply think we need to wait longer for the emergence of specific cohort groups within this still very young and emerging generational group.
Debevec, K, Schewe, CD, Madden, TJ, & Diamond, WD (2013). Are today’s Millennials splintering into a new generational cohort? Maybe! Journal of Consumer Behavior, 12, 20-31