Why Millennials Matter: The Numbers

by | 31 July 2015

As an offshoot of my recent post on Generation C, my next several posts will look at Generation Y, also known as Millennials, and explore some implications and predictions as this generation continues to come of age.  Typically classified as those born in the early 1980s, this generation is probably the most thoroughly studied cohort in U.S. history, according to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation. We’ve been talking about the impending arrival of the Millennials for more than a decade now, but the truth is they’re already here—in a big way. According to an estimate from Pew Research, Generation Y has become the largest share of the U.S. workforce, so it’s worth taking a fresh look at the most talked-about generation in history.

What do we already know about the Millennials?

First, much of the research and discussion was based on a picture of the generation as it was emerging in their late teens and early 20s. But the leading wave of the Millennials are well into their 30s now. Their opinions and beliefs about work and life are shaped by an additional decade of experience; they’re starting families, buying houses and taking stock of their careers. Is our view of the Millennial worker and consumer still appropriate?

Plus: Welcome to Generation C | How public-private partnership is fueling innovation across the world

Second, and perhaps even more importantly, one of the Millennials’ defining experiences was coming of age during the Great Recession. Do the fundamental conditions and pressures that shaped their worldview still apply as the global economy improves?

As a demographic phenomenon, Millennials are primarily American. For instance, Europe’s workforce may contract slightly by 2030, with a slightly smaller youngest cohort and stable growth at the older end. However, if Millennials retain a similar proportion over time, their worldview, working style, values and more will be a significant cultural phenomenon, which we’ll examine later on.

What’s in a name?

First, some basic terminology. “Generation Y” is a play on the name of their predecessors, “Generation X,” the children of the post-WWII Baby Boomers. Exact cutoff dates for these generations vary, but the following is pretty serviceable:

Generation Born … Age in 2015
Baby Boom Generation 1946 to 1964    51 to 69
Generation X 1965 to 1979    36 to 50
Millennials/ Generation Y 1980 to 1999    16 to 35

We’re also starting to see “Generation Z” (or “C”) in reference to young people born in the late ’90s, but some researchers continue to group the oldest of this new generation with the Millennials.

What are we learning about Millennials now? 

Recent U.S. Census Bureau data tell us some basics. In the U.S. in 2013, roughly 30 percent of the population was in the 18 to 34 cohort, or about 73 million.

1. Millennials are diverse.

Nearly 43 percent reported an ethnicity other than “Non-Hispanic White,” and nearly a quarter of young adults spoke a language other than English in the home. And, there are more than twice as many foreign-born 18 to 34-year-olds now than in 1980 (15 percent vs. 6 percent.) A 2010 Pew Research survey reported that 11 percent of Millennials have at least one immigrant parent.

2. Millennials were impacted severely by the Great Recession.

Economic uncertainty in Generation Y’s formative years seems to have left its mark. In 2013, 20 percent were living in poverty, their rate of employment was significantly lower than young adults of previous generations, and two-thirds were still living with a parent. While the Census has shown an overall trend toward later marriage in the U.S., a record 66 percent of Millennials were still unmarried in 2013.

Improving employment conditions may not yet have benefited the Millennials. For example, Generation Opportunity’s “Millennial Jobs Report” estimates that the unemployment rate among young adults remains significantly higher than the overall average.( for June 2015, 9.1 percent vs. 5.3 percent).

3. Millennials are entrepreneurs.

Conversely, the impact of the Great Recession may have contributed to a strong streak of entrepreneurship among a generation that many have identified as innately independent. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce reported that 29 percent of entrepreneurs were between 20 and 34 years old, and were launching 160,000 startups monthly. Also, more than 27 percent of Millennials were self-employed.

We see the basic statistical picture starting to form, one that shapes Millennial attitudes and our attitude toward them. In my next post, we’ll look at recent research on the values and goals of Millennials, which will in turn help our industry understand not only what workplaces we should be building but where we should be building them.

With the U.S. Census’ interactive mapping tool, you can examine demographic data on the Millennials at the national, state, county and metro levels, as well as compare today’s young adults to those of previous generations.

Dylan Taylor is President & COO of Colliers International. He leads more than 16,300 professionals in 502 offices in 67 countries. In 2011, Dylan was named one of the top Young Global Leaders in the World by World Economic Forum. Connect with Dylan on LinkedIn.