America: Millennialized

by Dan Coates, President, Ypulse

Summary

What defines the character of a generation and how does each generation develop its unique identity? We’ve all heard one or more of the current generational monikers: The G.I. Generation, The Silent Generation, Baby Boomers, Generation X and, most recently, The Millennials. Are there substantive differences between each of America’s generations, or is this all a lot of hot air?

Background

Since 2004, Ypulse has studied members of the millennial generation – a generational appellation coined in the year 1992 by Neil Howe and Bill Strauss in their book “Generations”, defining those born between 1982 and 2004 as ‘Millennials’ for the simple reason that their earliest members would graduate from high school at the turn of the Millennium.

In studying this generation, we’ve witnessed firsthand how and why generations develop the way they do. Ypulse was founded in the year that the last batch of millennials were born, studying them from the year when their youngest members were still in diapers to a time when 7,500 millennials become parents each and every day in the year 2015.

In order to understand millennials, you have to understand their parents. In order to understand the parents of millennials, you have to understand the parents of the parents of millennials. History is a powerful predictor.

Discussion

Children born in the year 1982 were mostly born to Boomer parents. As with all other stages and phases of their journey through history, the Baby Boomer generation reinvented parenting as an expression of what they didn’t like about their own childhood. Boomers were parented largely by the G.I. Generation who were strong advocates of order and hierarchy, so Boomers often heard phrases like “children should be seen but not heard” and “children should speak when they are spoken to” as they grew up. Boomers rejected this authoritative mindset and vowed that as they themselves became parents, they would ensure that their children were given central, meaningful roles within the family structure. In fact, in their attempts to create a flattened family structure, some Boomers put their kids in charge of the household, relegating themselves to the role of customer service representative dedicated to satisfying each and every whim of their precious offspring.

While the 60s and 70s represented a time of great change and upheaval in America, the 80s marked a significant shift toward stability and security. Children went from living on the periphery to being centrally important and a number of cultural moments showed that a special generation of children had made their way onto the scene. The founder of Safety 1st, Michael Lerner, was inspired in 1984 to create the ‘Baby on Board’ sign when he had to drive his baby nephew home in busy traffic and found that other vehicles were aggressively passing him. While the rapid spread of this yellow sign in the windows of cars piloted by proud Boomer parents was literally the first sign that things were changing, there were others as well: the demonic representation of children within movies from the 70s (e.g. Rosemary’s Baby, Beyond the Door, The Omen Series) ceded to an angelic representation in movies in the 80s (e.g. Three Men and a Baby and the Look Who’s Talking series). Children were precious and to be sheltered, inspiring a multitude of laws created to protect them (e.g. Megan’s Law and Amber Alerts).

The 80s were also the beginning of a sustained economic boom that many of us wistfully remember today. Americans prospered and in their prosperity had children. While Baby Boomers had children a little behind schedule in the 80’s and 90’s, Generation X had children a little ahead of schedule in the 90’s and early 00’s, creating a generational doubling down on childbirth – everyone was doing it. This sustained 22-year period of reproductive production is what has made Millennials the largest generation in American history – currently 99 million strong.

Many of the core characteristics of the millennial generation stem from this time of great affluence: they are confident and optimistic and see their lives’ journeys as meaningful and imbued with a higher purpose. They seek out solutions that are inherently ‘win-win’ and cite the greed of a few individuals as the root cause of the Great Recession. Not since the days of President Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal has a generation of youth been more inclined to solutions that work for everyone. They are environmentally aware, societally conscious, and expect companies and brands to reflect their values by making the world a better place as they pursue profits.

Institutions groaned under the stress of shepherding this massive generation through the system and the individualistic perspectives of Boomers and Generation Xers gave way to a much more team-oriented spirit. While Generation Xers were wary of authority figures and had uneasy relations with law enforcement, millennials were taught that society and social institutions were in their corner, looking to help and protect them. They worked in team environments throughout their academic years and bring a consensus driven approach to their relationships.

The most notable societal shift that has defined millennials is the rapid rise of digital media.  Millennials soaked up new technology during their childhood, becoming proficient and savvy users of a myriad of media formats. As children, they were granted the title of Chief Technology Officer of the household, deciding what technologies and tools would best meet the family’s needs and expected to unbox the latest Xbox and connect all the cords as their parents watched in awe and amazement.

As the oldest of the millennials enter their early 30s they become the emerging parent class, with more than 70 percent of the nearly 4 million children born in 2014 having millennials as parents. It is in this newfound role that millennials become most relevant to the beef industry. While they had opinions and an influential voice when they lived with their parents, they’ll determine the fate of a number of food products as they form their own households. We’ve been diligently studying the thoughts and attitudes of millennial parents within our work with the Beef Checkoff, and the good news is that millennials are on the lookout for healthy, natural and high protein solutions, crediting beef with a number of positive attributes.

Conclusion

In addition to forming new households, more than 10,000 millennials join the workplace each day, re-shaping the way we work as well as the way we live. As they ascend the corporate ladder, millennials will supersede Boomers in their economic power by the year 2017 and already lead spending in many product categories today. By the year 2020, one-third of all American adults will be millennials and while we have already had a taste of their political power in the last two presidential elections, they will come to dominate the political landscape after the 2020 presidential election. By the year 2025, millennials will be fully in charge of the American experience, bringing with them a positive, team-oriented and family-friendly approach to solving the future challenges of our nation.

Additional Resources

 

Tags: Beef Issues Quarterly, Spring 2015, Trends Analyses

March 28, 2015