Here's a riddle: I'm a 26-year-old college graduate. I binge-watch The Big Bang Theory and have streamed Inception on Netflix, like, 10 times. I listen to R&B and hip-hop using Spotify. I do everything online. I text more than I talk. I'm on YouTube and Instagram every day -- okay, several times a day. If it's made by Nike or Apple, I'll buy it. Who am I?
If you answered "Millennial" or "Gen Y-er," you'd be right. Born between 1982 and 2000, millennials, also called the millennial generation or Generation Y (Gen Y), represent over 25 percent, or 83.1 million, of the nation's population, making them the largest living generation in the United States. Add to this the fact that they're the most ethnically and racially diverse generation. Let's learn more about this cohort.
Millennials have been called "spoiled," "lazy," "entitled," and "self-centered," mainly by non-millennials. It seems unfair and even harsh to generalize about a whole generation. Still, there may be some degree of truth in these stereotypes.
In a Time article titled "Millennials: The Me Me Me Generation," columnist Joel Stein describes millennials' characteristics, attitudes, and behaviors, including the rise in narcissism among young adults. Stein cites: "The incidence of narcissistic personality disorder is nearly three times as high for people in their 20s as for the generation that's now 65 or older, according to the National Institutes of Health; 58% more college students scored higher on a narcissism scale in 2009 than in 1982."
Many millennials are driven by extrinsic goals, like money, status, and fame. For example, young people are enthralled with celebrity culture, and many want a piece of fame -- and think they can get it. This self-assurance could be linked to an overexposure to reality television and video-sharing websites, where instant stardom has been achieved by the likes of the Kardashian/Jenner clan and young YouTubers, such as KSI, PewDiePie, and Zoella.
The Digital Sixth Sense
Called "digital natives," the millennial generation grew up with the Internet of Things (IoT). On the whole, they spend significantly more time texting and using social media than previous generations.
Take texting. On average, young adults ages 18 to 24 send or receive 109.5 text messages each day, clocking in over 3,200 messages each month, according to a Pew survey.
Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat are to millennials today what online chatrooms and IM'ing were to baby boomers in the '90s. A majority of millennials (71 percent) use social media sites at least once a day, as compared with watching TV (60 percent) or emailing, texting, and chatting (49 percent).
Probably no other group has embraced selfies more than millennials. A study estimates that the average millennial will devote about an hour a week to snap up to 25,700 selfie shots during his or her lifetime, reports Teen Vogue.
The Boomerang Kids
If you were an empty nester and now have a grown child who has returned to the nest, you're not alone. A Pew Research Center analysis found that, in 2014, for the first time in over 130 years, young adults ages 18 to 34 were slightly more likely to have taken up residence in their parents' home than they were to be living with a spouse or partner in their own household.
What's fueling this trend? One explanation is the Great Recession of 2007-2009. During it, college enrollments spiked, which led to an attendant increase in the number of young adults living with their parents.
Still, recessions come and go, yet many young adults are staying put in the family home. So there's got to be more to this pattern than meets the eye, and indeed there is. A generational shift in attitudes toward marriage has occurred. Many millennials are putting off marriage and also homeownership. What's more, 25 percent of today's young adults may never get hitched.
"Feeling the Bern," Party of Nones
We've heard or read reports that most millennials are big fans of Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont. Scratching your head and wondering what a grandfatherly politician would have in common with young voters? Apparently, a lot. Sanders' liberal views on a wide range of political and social issues, such as favoring same-sex marriage, ending federal marijuana prohibition, and passing comprehensive universal health care, match those of many millennials.
Millennials are known to distrust traditional institutions; they've grown skeptical of political institutions and organized religion. A Pew survey found that half of this generation call themselves independents, while over a quarter say they have no religious affiliation. These findings are "at or near the highest levels of political and religious disaffiliation recorded for any generation in the quarter-century that the Pew Research Center has been polling on these topics," says Pew.
As more baby boomers are heading for retirement, more millennials are taking over the workplace. Millennials are now the most dominant generation in the U.S. workforce. In 2015, more than one in three American workers were adults ages 18 to 34. An impressive number of millennial students have thrown their graduation caps in the air, making them the most educated generation so far. Fully a third (34 percent) have earned at least a bachelor's degree.
In spite of their superior numbers and educational preparedness, millennials have struggled in the job market. Young adults represent about 40 percent of the nation's unemployed, reports MarketWatch.
Incurable Optimists, Rational Realists
For better or for worse, millennials are Pollyannaish about their current and future well-being. An overwhelming majority of them (more than 80 percent) say that they either currently have enough money to lead the kind of life they want (32 percent) or expect to have the funds to do so in the future (53 percent).
At the same time, millennials are realistic about economic challenges that they could face down the road. For instance, young people are concerned over the financial status of the Social Security program. About 25 percent of them don't expect to get retirement benefits, says a CNBC article.
So what do you make of the millennial generation? Will they become the next "Greatest Generation" or the next "Lost Generation"?