As the oldest members of this oft-discussed group prepare to turn 40, the future of Millennials will have a significant impact on the global marketplace.
Although they haven’t suffered from a lack of media attention in the past decade, Millennials are worth another look simply because of their significant impact on the future. For example, they are currently overtaking Baby Boomers as the largest adult generation and approaching their Boomer parents in their share of the US electorate heading into the 2020 Presidential election. And in the past few years, they surpassed Generation X as the largest generation in the workforce.
Millennials may also be the first truly global generation. Technology has broken down geographic boundaries, and these young adults are the product of not just their native cultures, but the tumultuous time during which they came of age. A second look at Millennials uncovers three key lessons that will be essential for engaging with them meaningfully in the future.
Millennials are now the focal points of families and leading households that look quite different than those headed by previous generations. For example, GfK Consumer Life research shows that Millennials today are about as likely to be parents, but less likely to be married, when compared with Gen Xers at the same age in 2003. With Millennials leading more non-traditional households (e.g., single parents, unmarried couples), messaging needs to evolve to encompass these different types of families.
Even more interesting is the marked difference in the way that Millennial moms and dads approach parenting today. In contrast to the Boomer tendency to raise “latch-key kids,” and Gen X’s “helicopter” parenting approach, Millennials have their own unique take on the parent-child relationship. Research from GfK Consumer Life shows that they reject “over-scheduling” by reducing the amount of time their children spend on extracurricular activities, are more liberal when it comes to limits on a child’s technology and media exposure, and are eager to spend more time with their kids on a variety of activities, from video and board games to shopping and exercising. With less of a strict dividing line between parent and child preferences across categories like media, entertainment, and health, brands can rethink how their offerings are classified and marketed; they can also create more opportunities & platforms for parents and kids to interact.
Coming of age during the Great Recession left many Millennials with low incomes and record levels of student debt. In fact, the typical Millennial’s net worth is 40% lower than that of Gen Xers in 2001, and 20% below what Boomers experienced in 1989. What’s more, significant financial polarization exists within the Millennial group: income gaps by levels of education are significantly wider than those of previous generations, and the change in net worth among young adults over time has declined among unmarried Millennials while rising among those who are married. And while many did receive financial help from their parents during tough times, many Millennials actually have been playing the caregiver role with their own mothers and fathers. With many forecasting that a possible recession in 2020 will again hit Millennials the hardest, brands need to adapt pricing, marketing, and merchandising to reflect a challenging and more diverse economic reality.
Financial stress is just one of the reasons that Millennials have come to be known as the “burnout generation.” This segment—particularly those who are also parents—tends to lead on many indicators of modern-day “hustle culture” tracked by GfK Consumer Life. For example, they are very likely to report high stress levels and more likely than average to admit that they work most weekends and are often so busy, they can’t finish everything they need to do in a day. They’re not “lazy,” they’re simply exhausted – and it’s likely that shaky job security and major financial commitments are partially driving this mindset.
This tendency to “hustle” is not unique to Millennials in the US – members of this generation index higher than average on aspirational values such as social recognition and status across all regions of the world. But while Millennials tend to lead on many of these attitudes, they aren’t the only generation suffering from burnout; recent studies of Generation Z (the generation following Millennials) show record-high stress levels among this emerging segment as well.
Despite their stress – financial and otherwise – Millennials have not yet outgrown the focus that has long distinguished them from other cohorts: their desire to have a good time. GfK Consumer Life research finds that personal values such as enjoying life, excitement, and having fun are still prioritized more highly among this generation than older age groups.
Millennials’ signature optimism hasn’t taken too hard of a hit, either: they report high levels of confidence about their own immediate futures, as well as the lives their children will lead as adults; this mindset is consistently higher than average on a global level as well as in the US. Further, Millennials are more likely than average to seek novelty and fun in everyday products. Appealing to Millennials’ pleasure-seeking tendencies, and giving them enjoyable outlets in their daily lives, will inspire brand loyalty.
In just a few decades of life, Millennials have experienced significant social, political, and economic upheavals, many of which have had a long-lasting impact on their lifestyles today and prospects for the future. As they enter the “middle era” of their lives with different approaches than their predecessors, brands will be wise to understand that:
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