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Antisocial, isolated, entitled, wasteful, irresponsible… Millennials get tagged with negative labels all the time by previous generations, but it’s generally the result of media-fueled stereotypes and/or isolated incidents. It certainly would be nice to see some data-driven evidence to either support or refute the accusations that get directed at millennials.

Interestingly enough, there actually is some preliminary data – provided by, of all sources, the U.S. Federal Reserve Board. It’s a study called “Are Millennials Different?” and it’s chock-full of statistics and regression analysis, along with some inferences that might surprise you.

Just to be clear, we’re defining generations as follows: millennials were born between 1981 and 1997, with ages ranging from 21 to 37 in 2018; Generation X was born between 1965 and 1980 (ages 38 to 53 in 2018); baby boomers were born between 1946 and 1964 (ages 54 to 72); the Silent Generation were born between 1928 and 1945 (ages 73 to 90); and the Greatest Generation was born between 1915 and 1928 (ages 90 to 103).

To start off, it’s worth noting that in the United States, we’re reaching that inflection point where millennials are just starting to outnumber baby boomers, who were the dominant generation for many years:

Courtesy: U.S. Federal Reserve Board

That’s why this study is so important: it’s about the generation that’s already in the process of taking the leadership position in America, whether they like it or not and whether they’re ready or not. It’s no coincidence that advertising agencies spend so much time, capital, and effort targeting this particular generational cohort.

This might not be completely unexpected, but the millennial generation is more ethnically diverse than any previous generation in America:

Courtesy: U.S. Federal Reserve Board

The authors of the research study state that the increase in diversity over the years has been due to multiple factors, including “immigration, interracial marriage, and differential birth rates.” Next, the researchers tackle the issue of educational attainment, which they conclude is “markedly higher” for each generation than it was for their predecessors:

Courtesy: U.S. Federal Reserve Board

Judging from their chart, I’m not sure if I would call the differential between the millennials and Generation X “markedly higher”; the increase in associate and postgraduate degrees seems to have stalled completely, and the uptick in bachelor’s degrees is less salient than between previous generations. Could it be that millennials are deciding that these degrees aren’t worth the crippling student loan debt that comes with them?

In any case, no one can accuse millennials of being an uneducated group. One could, however, accuse them of rejecting the institution of marriage, which they are apparently doing in record numbers:

Courtesy: U.S. Federal Reserve Board

The decline in the marriage rate over time is striking: roughly 6% of millennials were married at age 20, while 35% of the Silent Generation were married at that same age. But then, we can’t blame millennials for most of the decline: “For 20 year olds, the largest decline in marriage rates between successive generations is between the Silent Generation and baby boomers, a transition that occurred primarily after the late 1960s,” states the researchers.

And then we come to expenditures, which some might use as a quantifiable measure of financial responsibility. If you’re expecting millennials to be substantially bigger spenders than other generations, you might be disappointed to see what the research findings actually reveal:

Courtesy: U.S. Federal Reserve Board

When adjusted for inflation, millennials’ overall expenditures are fairly in line with those of other generations. Not only that, but the researchers found that “millennials in 2016 held more in retirement savings than other cohorts at comparable ages.”

It is worth noting, however, that the authors made some shocking findings regarding the burden of student loan debt carried by millennials. Specifically, they revealed that over 33% of millennials had a student loan balance in 2017; the median balance among millennial student loan borrowers was over $18,000; and the average student loan balance for millennials is more than double what was borne by members of Generation X.

So, to sum it up, millennials tend to have higher rates of racial diversity, higher educational attainment, marriage rates, and not much difference in terms of expenditures – except when it comes to student loan debt, which is decimating their finances.

Are millennials, then, really so different from everyone else just trying to find their way in the U.S. of A.? I would say, let’s make our character judgments individual, not generational – and besides, soon enough we’ll have newer, younger generations to complain about.

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