We knew it would happen and it has. 

Millennials now outnumber Baby Boomers, 83 million to 75 million, becoming the largest of two gigantic lumps in the United States’ demographic snake.

The U.S. Census Bureau officially announced the rout last summer, meaning that the Boomers, my generation born into post-World War II America between 1946 and 1964, have been eclipsed by many of our own children, those born roughly between 1980 and 2000, although the exact defining dates remain fluid. Many Boomers continue hale, hearty, and in charge of at least themselves if no one else. Millennials, though, are clearly ascendant, with notables such as Mark Zuckerberg and Taylor Swift already driving
forces worldwide.

We all know and probably love some individual Millennials, but as a group, who the heck are these people? How are they different from the Americans who proceeded them? What makes them who they are?

Millennials’ most defining characteristic is that they are the first generation in all of human history to have grown up with computers in their homes. Not all of them, of course, but as a group they have never known a time without wireless communications and the reality that knowledge about almost any topic is literally a few key strokes away. Rapid communication via social media is a major factor in their daily lives, and for many, there is no such thing as the “slow lane.” The rest of us are “digital immigrants,” but Millennials are the world’s first “digital natives.”

They are highly diverse, with almost half — more than 44 percent — being part of a minority race or ethnic group, meaning they are not single-race white. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce notes that 11 percent of them are the children of at least one immigrant parent. This diversity trend is not slowing down anytime soon. Of the generation coming behind Millennials, those born since the turn of the 21st century, just over 50 percent is part of a minority race or ethnic group.

The Census Bureau also finds that Millennials are on target to be the most educated generation in American history. Seventy-two percent graduate from high school, and 68 percent enroll in college, with a graduation rate of 58 percent in six years. Many go on to graduate programs — perhaps to wait out our slowed economy — and while many do take on significant student debt, they do so because they understand the long-term value of education. 

Millennials may be interested in education, but religion — not so much. A full quarter of them say their religion is “None,” according to the Pew Research Center. Nor do they readily embrace marriage as have prior generations. A slowed economy is part of this trend, which is more pronounced among the working class who are less likely to marry and have children within marriage than college educated Millennials. In addition, Millennials are living at home longer than prior generations, perhaps from economic necessity but perhaps not, earning them the moniker of the “Peter Pan” or “Boomerang” generation.

These are just the facts, but there is plenty more as everyone from scholarly researchers to Boomer parents tries to figure out Millennials. 

What caught my attention as the mother of three of these folks is a recent piece on Inc.com entitled “3 Reasons Millennials are Getting Fired.” The author posits that Millennials are handicapped in the work place by the cold, hard facts that bosses are not their helicopter parents eager to cheer them on, that work is not always fun or accomplished on their personally flexible schedules and by their childhood experiences of receiving a trophy simply for showing up for the game. In fact, Millennials are sometimes called the “trophy generation.”

Researchers at the University of Michigan and UCLA have found that Millennials value wealth about 30 percent more than Boomers do, are less interested in political affairs, though they are classically liberal on social issues, and centrist on fiscal ones, and have little interest in “developing a meaningful philosophy of life” — whatever that might mean.

Of concern to Millennials, their parents and economists is what effects the Great Recession has had on Millennials and whether they are permanent. Many of them came of age during the Great Recession and found themselves either under employed or unemployed. No one knows yet whether slow starts in the workplace will mean Millennials will not achieve the American dream of doing better than one’s parents.

What emerges here is a portrait of a generation still defining itself, and it matters because Millennials are the largest generation in American history thus far. They, like their parents the Baby Boomers, will shape and leave their stamp on every aspect of American life, for better or for worse. Like many of my generation, I had no idea I was a Boomer until I was almost an adult, and my guess is most Millennials are just as clueless. They are busy figuring out their own lives, not their generation’s impacts and legacies. 

Does all of this sound like anyone you know and love?

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