Sean McDowell | June 20, 2014

Ten Insights About Millennials

Last week I had the chance to speak alongside David Kinnaman to the Biola University Staff about reaching Millennials. Along with the fact that I have been working with Millennials for the past decade, I did a ton of research to understand this generation. Here are ten key insights about Millennials, typically defined as those born after 1980 (although these trends apply most pointedly to younger Millennials). Please keep in mind that these are generational trends, and certainly not true of every Millennial.

Millennials are very quickly moving into positions of influence and leadership in our culture, so we better be prepared!

1. DIGITAL: Teens 12-17 send an average 167 texts per day, 18-24 year-olds send 110, and 25-34 year-olds send 42. 1 83% of Millennials say they sleep with their smartphones.2

2. DIVERSE: 15.5% of all new marriages in the US are interracial. Just 29% of Silents say inter-marriage is good, compared with 36% of Boomers, 47% of Xers, and 60% of Millennials.3

3. SKEPTICAL: Millennials have the lowest level of reporting that people can be trusted of any generation studied. 19% Millennials say most people can be trusted, compared with 31% of Gen Xers, 37% of Silents and 40% of Boomers.4

4. GLOBAL: 70% of Americans believe that America is the greatest country in the world, but only 58% of Millennials agree.5

5. PORNIFIED: Studies show that young people today first learn about sex from porn. In an article for Rolling Stone, Alex Morris wrote: “Millennials have not only come of age in a time of mass-media sexification, but they’ve also had the Internet to educate, titillate and ultimately connect them with others willing to engage in whatever sexual preference suits them.” 6

6. NON-RELIGIOUS: A record 1 in 5 American adults—and fully a third under the age of 30—is religiously unaffiliated.7

7. OPTIMISTIC: 60% agreed strongly and 36% agreed somewhat with “I believe I can do something great.”8 In his book on Millennials with Pew Research, Paul Taylor wrote, “The Millennials’ two seemingly incompatible characteristics—their slow walk to adulthood and their unshaken confidence in the future—are their most distinctive traits.”

8. PROGRESSIVE: 69% of Millennials support legalization of pot compared with 53% Gen Xers, 52% Boomers, and 30% Silents.9 Similar trends show younger generations increasingly support same-sex marriage.

9. ABANDONED: In 1960 just 5% of children were born to unmarried mothers. 41% are today.10 37% of Millennials grew up in a home where their parents were NOT married. This is true for 28% Gen Xers, 14% Boomers, and 11% Silents.11

10. INDIVIDUALISTIC: Nearly 4 in 10 Millennials have a tattoo, roughly 50% have 2 to 5 tattoos, and 18% have 6 or more.12 In her book GENERATION ME, sociologist Jean Twenge wrote, “Tattoos are a medium for self-expression and the communication of individuality. They fit the generational trend perfectly: they are outward expressions of the inner self. They allow you to be different and unique. It’s so important to be an individual, and to communicate that fact to others, that young people routinely tattoo it onto their skin.”13

This list is certainly not exhaustive and it is certainly not infallible. Other studies may reveal trends in a slightly different manner.

Another way to understand Millennials is to simply ask one about his or her generation! Some of my best insights come from simply asking Millennials questions like, “What is unique about your generation?” “What words best describe your generation?” or “How is your generation different from generations in the past?” Insights from individuals can be just as valuable (if not more valuable) than empirical research.

There is a tendency among older generations to view Millennials negatively. This probably has less to do with Millennials themselves but rather the tendency to resist change as we grow older. We must view the emerging Millennial generation as an opportunity, not a burden. In my next post I will discuss strategies for reaching Millennials.

Sean McDowell, Ph.D. is a professor of Christian Apologetics at Biola University, the National Spokesman for Summit Ministries, a best-selling author, popular speaker, and part-time high school teacher. Follow him on Twitter: @sean_mcdowell and his blog: seanmcdowell.org.