Saturday, September 18, 2010

What are Millennials like?

Other notes/reactions from this lecture series ⇐click
Like every generation, the Millennials differ from their GenX or Boomer parents. Some significant differences:
  • "Miracle" vaccines are being called into doubt.
    This is a crisis of faith in institutions.
  • Very complex, highly engaging electronic games.
    WoW and Second Life are so engaging that people spend real money buying (in some cases renting) things in these virtual worlds.
  • Use/trust Wikipedia (and its ilk) more than print.
    Community-based vetting rather than review boards (institutional).
  • They've not gone through nuclear bomb drills, but they've all had school lock-down drills.
  • They're now in the biggest economic recession since the Great Depression.
  • 60% of them have done time in institutional day care, vs. 1/3 of GenXers and 2% of Boomers.
  • And they are the most racially/ethnically diverse generation in US history, with 52% of the 21-and-under crowd being non-white.
    20% of Millennials have an immigrant parent; 10% have a non-citizen parent.
With this background, what are these Millennials like? A few observations.

Wanted and prized

Their parents may have been told, "You can have it all! Education, career, children..."

So these GenXers went to grad school, built their careers, and at age 40 tried to get pregnant. Harder than they thought it would be, and maybe they went to a specialist (I see a lot of ads these days). When they finally do get pregnant, they've been trying very hard, and the result is their prize. A wanted child.

This obviously isn't the case for every Millennial, but it does describe quite a few. Our girls are certainly our pride and joy, though the lovely Carol didn't need special assistance to get pregnant.

Sheltered and protected

You've heard of "helicopter parents"? Millennials are "blessed" (or afflicted) with these hovering figures.

At a recent college orientation (UC Santa Cruz), parents were told that as college students, their children were expected to learn to take care of themselves in new ways. The message apparently didn't stick for one parent, who asked how often someone would come in to change the sheets.

In a similar vein, an applicant at a theological seminary (graduate school) was accompanied by her parents -- who wanted to be present during the admission interview!

Again, this isn't universal, but it's there.

Optimistic about the future; privileged and entitled

They're optimistic even in this recession. Note, however, that people who "disappeared" are missing from this survey. (I don't remember who did this survey; was it the Lilly study?)

It looks like about 27% of Millennials will have a bachelor's degree by age 25 (vs. 22% for GenX and 25% nationally). So there's more willingness to invest in education. The dark side of this seems to be that, according to some hiring managers, Millennials tend to want instant gratification and lack long-term planning and perseverance.

Team-oriented, cooperative, achievement-oriented

They learned some of this in institutional day care. My kids had a lot of team projects starting in junior high school -- a lot more than I had in school. (Wikipedia's success is consistent with this.)

And everybody gets a trophy! The downside is: individual excellence is lost. Gangs are also part of the downside -- if people aren't willing to stand as individuals.

More on this from Souls in Transition

This is a longitudinal (time-series) study, from Christian Smith's book. There were over 3300 phone interviews in 2002-2003, then in-person interviews in subsequent years: 122 in 2005, 111 more in 2007-2008. A few key findings:
  • Growth of higher-education opportunities
  • Later marriage: in 1950, first marriages were at age 20.3 (women) and 22.8 (men); in 1980 it was 26.9 and 28.5, influenced (we think) by career, higher education, and the availability of contraception.
  • Global economy undermining stable, lifelong careers.
  • Parents spent something like $48,000 supporting their children from ages 18-34 (beyond college I guess). Boomerang effect.

How Millennials look at things, given that background

  • Transitions: they figure everything will change. Jobs will change.
    • Also true in the church: 20-30 year pastorates are disappearing in favor of shorter terms. On the other hand, the Methodists seem to no longer require a change after 3 years.
    • A reaction: When kids leave town and don't go to church, perhaps it's because they didn't find the church experience they had growing up -- but that experience doesn't exist any more, even at home.
  • High-tech, high-touch. Twentysomethings are are taking up knitting, as hand-made items are increasingly prized.
  • Having to stand on one's own (More so than in the past? Or a reaction to the many team experiences mentioned above?)
    Colleagues/friends at work are also competitors (but it has ever been thus)
  • There's a lot to figure out. (The obvious path that I took isn't so obvious today.)
  • Not enough money. (Connection to the privileged/entitled mentality?)
  • Optimism.
  • Hard to articulate any regrets.
    The interviewers were looking for "took the easier major rather than my passion" or "took the higher paying job rather than the more meaningful one." But nothing like this came out.
  • Relationships with parents improved (i.e., in 2007-2008, vs in 2002-2003)
  • Hard to see reality beyond self. To function as an adult, one needs to develop this. Need to step outside self, assess the relationship. If you're counseling someone and start developing an inappropriate attachment, need to be aware, so can deal with it. (People who are caught in bed with someone and "don't know what happened" -- they didn't develop 3rd person perspective-taking.)

    PERHAPS this has been happening all along but wasn't as evident. Fifty years ago, a child walked to school, neighbors recognized them; teacher taught her dad when he was a boy; people at church know the family; she goes to college where Mom or Dad went.

    But today, parents may be divorced, kid spends time in two homes, attends magnet school (not in neighborhood), two churches or maybe not go to church half the time, go across the country for college. With a less constrained social atmosphere, some deficiencies may be more evident today.

    This supports the claim (Chap Clark?) that many teens and emerging adults have abandonment issues.

  • Right and wrong are pretty easy (to figure out)
  • Karma will catch you -- what goes around comes around, or moralistic therapeutic deism.
  • Education is instrumental -- not an end in itself but for career
  • Drugs (alcohol) are pervasive but getting boring
  • Amorphous relationships
  • Devastating breakups
    But they tend to believe the personal myth (Elkind), viz., "It can't happen to me."

What do they think of the above?

When showed the above, Millennials may say, "Yeah, so?"

The 21st century church may be what these young people need to survive the rootlessness (parents divorced, nobody knows them in neighborhood, go to college across the country where nobody from the family has gone before, and so on).

Another comment

Chap Clark's Hurt: Inside the World of Today's Teenagers, the result of research at one California public school, has a different point of view than Christian Smith's study (which is rather larger). Clark suggests that Smith's study may be biased toward conventional church kids. Tony Jones has a third perspective, described for example in this blog posting. The discussion in the comments is also provocative.

What's the best description for kids and emerging adults in your congregation or mine? I'm going to guess that Smith's description is a good starting point, but that we need to be prepared for kids who are postmodern seekers, as well as those who are abandoned and hurting.

Or anything else for that matter! Any congregation is small enough to have 100% of its young adults (or teens) come from an atypical minority group. But I think the above perspectives provide some important guides to what we may find.

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