Millennials – people aged 18-33 – are often described as entitled, coddled, and whiny, most notably by people who are not Millennials. Whether the previous labels are fair or rubbish is up for debate, but a study by the Pew Research Center has added a new list of adjectives for the Millennial generation: godless, politically independent, distrustful, broke, and optimistic.
The survey was conducted Feb. 14-23, 2014, among 1,821 adult Americans, including 617 Millennials and compared to previous studies dating back to 1990. The two other groups compared against Millenials were Gen Xers, aged 34-49, and Baby Boomers, aged 50-67. An important distinction for Millenials is that demographically approximately 43 percent of them are non-white, the highest share of any generation.
Millennials are easily the most godless generation of Americans, with 29 percent saying they are not affiliated with any religion and 11 percent saying they do not believe in any god at all, as compared to Gen Xers who are 6 percent atheist. As faith goes, only 58 percent of Millennials are sure of their beliefs, compared to 69 pecent of Gen Xers.
In addition to being the most godless generation, half of Millennials identify themselves as politically independent. “It’s not that they don’t have strong opinions,” said Paul Taylor, co-author of the report, but rather that they stray from party affiliation. While perhaps not labeling themselves as liberals or Democrats, Millennials tend to vote that way, especially on social issues.
Same-sex marriage continues to be a hot-button issue for Americans, but not so much for Millennials who now support its legalization by a whopping 68 percent. The two biggest factors standing in the way of same-sex marriage becoming legal under federal law in the US are tradition and the Bible. Being young, which Millennials are, makes it easier to detach from tradition, and if Millennials have a tendency not to believe in the Bible, it must follow that they are more accepting of marriage equality.
Millennials are also the most “plugged-in” generation. They are linked to each other through social media and they spend a large portion of their time online exchanging ideas and gathering information as the internet expands everyday. This may explain why they are also the least trusting generation. Gone are the days when celebrities, politicians, and world figures could escape the scrutiny of truth. All humans are flawed in one way or another, and those flaws are now broadcast on the 24-hour news cycle and are constantly going viral online. Books, like people, can also be flawed, which might explain why Millennials just aren’t as into the Bible as older Americans due to readily-available information.
Readily-available information might also explain why Millennials support the legalization of marijuana by 69 percent, as they are unburdened by false claims and retro paranoia. However, their views on gun control and abortion are nearly identical to older generations.
Millennials also are coming into adulthood in one of the worst economies in decades. They are also burdened by incredible student loan debt, as the fight to land and keep a job is a brutal one. Perhaps this is where the “whiny” label comes from. After all, Millennials grew up being told that they could do whatever and be whoever they wanted if they worked hard. For many though, the American dream is becoming harder and harder to capture. A side effect of being broke is that most unmarried Millennials (69 percent) say they would like to get married, but lack the finances to do so.
With all that being said, Millennials remain optimistic about the future, with 49 percent of them saying America’s best days are ahead. For that to be true though, the economy must drastically improve. The Millennial generation being politically independent and not overly bound to specific beliefs in God might go a long way to aid in that endeavor.
Opinion By Matt Stinson