Millennials: Distrustful, non-religious, debt-ridden and optimistic

Published 13 March 2014  |  
PA

Optimism still abounds among Millennials despite being the most unmarried, distrustful and debt-ridden generation since the 1930s, new research has found.

From a survey of 1,821 US adults, Pew Research's 'Social & Demographic Trends Project' found that just under half (49%) of those aged between 18 and 33 agreed with the statement that "the country's best years are ahead".

This view was higher than the 42 per cent of those aged 34 to 49 (Generation X), 44 per cent of 50 to 68-year-olds (Baby Boomers), and 39 per cent of 69 to 86-year-olds (Silent Generation).

The trend of young and hopeful vs old and fearful is the opposite of what was seen when the Baby Boomers were young. In 1974, almost half of those under 30 said they had "quite a lot" of confidence in America's future, while over two thirds of those older than 30 shared that view.

Young people today may trust the future is bright, but they are less trusting when it comes to those around them.  Only 19 per cent of Millennials said they were trusting when asked whether they felt that most people could be trusted or whether they were inclined to belief that "you can't be too careful in dealing with people".

This is compared to 31 per cent of Gen Xers, 37 per cent of the Silent Generation, and 40 per cent of Boomers.

This distrust extends to political organisations also, with half of Millennials considering themselves political independents, not aligned strongly with any one party, far higher than Gen Xers (39 per cent), Boomers (37 per cent), and the Silent Generation (32 per cent).

Only 31 per cent of Millennials say that they can see clear differences between the parties, compared to 43 per cent of Gen Xers, 49 per cent of Boomers, and 58 per cent of the Silent Generation.

However, despite shunning specific party allegiances, the Millienial generation tend to vote Democrat, and Millenials are the only generation in the US where liberals outnumber conservatives.

There is also distrust towards God. While only between 5 and 6 per cent of Gen Xers, Boomers, and the Silent Generation do not believe in God, among Millennials that number jumps to 11 per cent.

The percentage "absolutely certain" there is a God falls from 74 per cent of the Silent Generation, to 73 per cent of Boomers, 69 per cent of Generation X, and 58 per cent of Mllennials.

While over half of Millennials might say they believe in God, fewer of them regard this belief as part of who they are, with only 36 per cent identifying themselves as a "religious person".

Optimism is high among Millennials despite other Pew Research data suggesting Millennials are the first generation to have "higher levels of student loan debt, poverty and unemployment, and lower levels of wealth and personal income than their two immediate predecessor generations".

Two thirds of those who have recently graduated with a batchelor's degree will have an average outstanding student debt of $27,000. By contrast, 20 years earlier only half of all graduates had debt, and when they did it was averaging at $15,000.

It is believed that because of this economic hardship, Millennials are choosing to either defer marriage untill later life or dispense with it altogether.

The current median age for a first marriage is the highest in recorded history, 29 for a man and 27 for a woman.

Marriage is also becoming a class symbol in the way it was not previously, with more educated and wealthier people marrying earlier than those less so. According to Pew Research, this trend is a "contrast to the patterns of the past, when adults in all socio-economic groups married at roughly the same rate".

It is unsurprising then that Millennials are also, as a group, far more likely to have children outside of marriage than older groups.

In 2012, 47 per cent of Millennial women who gave birth were not married, compared with 21 per cent of women from older generations. This compares to 35 per cent of births to unmarried Gen X women in 1996, when they were the same age.

However, one thing Millennials have in common with older generations is a similar disdain to single parenthood, with 60 per cent of Millennials, Gen Xers, Boomers, and the Silent Generation all agreeing that "more children being raised by a single parent is bad for society".

Reprints

More News in Society