Born in the fourth quarter of 1979, my wife and I barely made the cut as Gen Xers. We were almost part of the much talked about Millennial generation. Generational date markers are inherently loose and subjective. Maybe we are Millennials. These days we seem to live, love, and parent with one foot in each generation.
Generation X is commonly defined as those born between 1965 and 1979. We were the first generation of “latch key” kids. We came of age in the first real era of 2 income families. We watched as many families worked through the growing pains of this new dynamic. We watched our parents divorce at higher rates. We grew up in an age of rapid technology growth and a declining trust in institutional power. As a result, we are often characterized as entrepreneurial, resourceful, and self-sufficient. We loathe micro-management. We invented the flexible work schedule.
From a historical perspective, Generation X will likely be remembered as the demographic bridge between two behemoth generations – the Baby Boomers (1946-1964) and the Millennials (1980-1999). Today, Millennials account for 25% of the population, virtually equal to the Baby Boomers at 25.4%. By virtue of their sheer size and strategic location in the life cycle, intellectuals predict that the Boomers and Millennials are headed towards a looming generational show down.
The Millennials’ First Big Punch.
The 2008 presidential election is routinely cited as the best example of the collective purchasing power of the Millennial generation. The Millennials are largely credited with the unprecedented election of Barack Obama. In a country with a complex history of race relations, and during a time in which it was engulfed in a war on multiple fronts against radical Islamic extremists, an unknown African-American senator named Barack Hussein Obama was elected President. Regardless of one’s political ideology, we must all concede that the 2008 election was unprecedented in both process and outcome.
The Millennials supported Barack Obama over John McCain by a margin of 66% to 32%, while voters’ ages 30 and older divided their votes almost evenly (Obama 50%; McCain 48%). This was the largest disparity between younger and older voters recorded in 4 decades of modern exit polling. Perhaps most importantly, after decades of low voter turn out by the young, the turnout gap in 2008 between voters under and over the age of 30 was the smallest it had been in any election since 18-20 year olds were given the right to vote in 1972.
Since the 2008 presidential election, marketing firms, businesses, and political organizations have scrambled to analyze this unique generation in hopes of harnessing its power.
Who Are The Millennials?
Millennials are the younger siblings of the Gen Xers. The Millennial generation is commonly defined as those born between 1980 and 2000. They have transitioned into adulthood at the start of a new millennium.
The Millennials are the first “constantly connected” generation. Engulfed in digital technology and social media, their cell phones and tablets are indispensable lifestyle tools. 75% of Millennials have created a profile on a social networking site. 20% of Millennials have uploaded a video of themselves online.
Millennials are self-expressive within limits. Nearly 40% of Millennials have a tattoo. 70% of Millennials with tattoos say it is hidden beneath their clothing. Nearly, 25% of Millennials have a piercing in some place other than an earlobe. A majority of Millennials have privacy settings on their social media profiles.
Diverse and Single
Millennials are more ethnically and racially diverse than their parents’ and older siblings’ generations. Only about 60% of Millennials were raised by both parents. Perhaps as a result, Millennials are not rushing to the altar. Only about 21% are married now, half the share of their parents’ generation at the same stage in life.
Comfortable With The “Nontraditional”
Millennials are not as religious as older generations at the same stage in life. The traditional “boogeymen” social issues do not tend to resonate. Millennials do not fear homosexuality. 54% of Millennials say they have a close friend or family member who is gay. Millennials are the only generation to favor the legalization of gay marriage – they do so by a 50% to 36% margin, with the rest undecided. Support of the legalization of gay marriage declines fairly rapidly with the older generations: 43% of Gen Xers and 32% of Baby Boomers favor legalizing gay marriage.
Millennials place parenthood and marriage far above career and financial success when asked about their priorities. 52% of those surveyed said, “being a good parent” is “one of the most important things in their lives.” 30% responded with “having a successful marriage.” Only 15% of Millennials responded, “having a high paying career” was “one of the most important things in their lives.”
Despite their tolerance for a wide range of “nontraditional” behaviors related to marriage and parenting, Millennials strongly embrace other more traditional family values. When it comes to the trend of more single women having children, they voice strong disapproval. Nearly 60% of Millennials say it is bad for society, compared with just 6% who say it is good and 34% who say it is neither bad nor good.
Perhaps the Millennials’ recognition of the benefits of a strong family stems from the necessity of relying on their own families longer than their predecessors. Millennials are on track to become the most educated generation in American history. However, the Great Recession has uniquely shaped their attitudes about career, family, and finances. Despite their unprecedented levels of education, many have struggled to find jobs in the midst of a deep recession.
Many Millennials have been forced to move back home and/or rely upon post graduation financial support from their parents. About 1 in 8 older Millennials (22 and older) report that they’ve “boomeranged” back to their parent’s home because of the recession. More than a third of all Millennials (36%) depend on financial assistance from their families, including 14% of all young adults who are working full-time. In contrast, only 6% of Gen Xers under 40 say they rely on financial help from loved ones.
Politically Liberal. But Not As Liberal As We May Think.
Politically, Millennials remain significantly more liberal than older generations. However, their love affair with President Obama has cooled dramatically. In a 2010 survey, 57% of Millennials approved of the way Obama was handling the presidency, down from 73% in February 2009.
The Millennial generation is more Democratic in their party affiliation than Gen Xers were when they were young. But Millennials are not substantially more Democratic than Baby Boomers were at comparable points in time.
In 2008, at the height of the Democratic Party’s advantage, 41% of Millennial voters identified themselves as Democrats while only 22% identified with the GOP. By comparison, in 1994, a strong Republican year, 34% of Gen X voters said they were Republican and 30% said they were Democrats.
More than half of Millennials (53%) say government should do more to solve problems, while 42% say government is doing too many things that should be left to businesses and individuals.
Views of the role of government are not the same across all Millennials. 64% of Hispanics and 61% of African-Americans say government should do more to solve problems. Only 47% of white Millennials agree. Young women are more likely than young men to agree that government should do more – 59% v. 46%.
While inherently less skeptical of government than older generations, Millennials are not necessarily supportive of an expanded governmental social safety net. In a 2009 survey, those under 30 were no more likely than Baby Boomers to favor an activist role for government in helping the poor.
Despite the Great Recession, Millennials are no more likely than other generations to say that big companies have too much power, and Millennials are nearly as likely as other generations to agree that the country’s strength is mostly attributable to American business.
The Rise Of Bayou Millennials In Louisiana.
A 2014 study by Governing Magazine ranked Louisiana as 7th in the nation for the prevalence of the Millennial generation. Millennials are now the majority generation in the state, representing 29% of the population. They recently surpassed the Baby Boomers who currently make up 25% of Louisiana’s population.
While no one can predict exactly how this demographic shift will affect the state, those businesses and/or political leaders that dismiss or ignore this dramatic change, do so at their own peril.
The LSU Reilly Center For Media & Public Affairs recently released The 2014 Louisiana Survey. The purpose of the Louisiana Survey is to “establish benchmarks and assess progress and regression in residents’ assessments of state government services.” The survey has been conducted every year since 2002. The 2014 survey provides a glimpse into the potential future impact of the Millennial generation in Louisiana.
In the short-term, the Millennials’ impact on social issues in Louisiana seems easiest to predict. As it relates to gay marriage, 42% of Louisiana residents surveyed in 2014 expressed support for the legalization of gay marriage. That number climbed 3% from 2013. However, a staggering 60% of 18-24 year old Louisiana residents surveyed supported same-sex marriage. Even those that oppose gay marriage acknowledge its eventual reality. 67% of Louisiana residents believe that same-sex marriage will eventually be legal in the state.
Support for the legalization of marijuana for personal use also continues to rise in the state and currently stands at 44%. Support for legalizing marijuana for limited medical purposes is much stronger at 79%. Younger Louisiana residents are most supportive of legalization with 63% of those in the 25-34 age group and 50% of those in the 18-24 age group expressing support for full legalization of marijuana. Again, regardless of their opinion of legalization, 65% of Louisiana residents believe that marijuana will eventually be legal for personal use in the state.
The Millennials’ impact on other economic and political issues remains harder to predict. Only 41% of Louisiana residents believe the state is headed in the right direction. Only 36% of residents have confidence that state government will effectively address the most important problems facing the state.
While Louisiana remains a solidly Republican state, the 2014 survey reveals overwhelming statewide support for a number of issues traditionally associated with the Democratic party.
For example, 74% of Louisiana residents (including 55% of Republicans) support increasing the minimum wage to $8.50 per hour. Significant majorities of Louisiana residents also support more government spending in a number of areas:
- 80% support increased primary and secondary education spending.
- 74% support increased higher education spending.
- 69% support increased road and infrastructure spending.
- 68% support increased economic development spending.
- 57% support increased health care spending.
Taxes do not seem to be as much of an issue with Louisiana residents. A majority of Louisiana residents do not feel that taxes need to be cut. Only 43% of residents believe that state sales taxes are too high and need to be reduced. Only 38% believe that state income taxes are too high and need to be reduced.
Whether the strong majority support for issues traditionally associated with the Democratic party is attributable to the rise in the Millennial population remains unclear. It also remains to be seen whether Millennials currently have any will to translate their positions into actual change in political leadership and/or public policy in Louisiana. However, with the 2014 senate and 2015 gubernatorial elections quickly approaching, we won’t have to wait long to find out.
Louisiana’s Embrace Of The Past And Future.
For those that may be a little apprehensive about the rise of this tattooed, pierced, highly educated, family oriented, demographic, our history tells us that we can rest easy. Things may change. We may be pushed beyond our traditional comfort zone. But we’ll be OK. Louisiana has always managed to embrace the future while holding on to its past.
We need look no further than my hometown – Natchitoches. This year Natchitoches will celebrate its 300th birthday. It is the quintessential small southern town. Big oak trees. Beautiful old architecture. A farmer’s market every Saturday. And a festival for every occasion. But if you scratch the surface, you find a little old town that has stuck around for a long time by holding on to its history while leaning into its future.
Natchitoches: Before There Was “Hollywood South.”
Since launching an aggressive tax credit program in 2002, Louisiana has been dubbed “Hollywood South” as it surged past California in 2013 for the number of feature films produced in the state. However, in 1989, little old Natchitoches launched the career of one of America’s darlings of cinema, Julia Roberts, with the filming of the Southern classic “Steel Magnolias.” In 1991, Natchitoches remained a lucky start for American actresses as it launched the career of Reese Witherspoon with the filming of “The Man In The Moon.” Not a bad little stretch of foresight for Natchitoches.
Natchitoches: An Incubator For Louisiana’s Brightest Teenagers.
Nestled deep in the protective cocoon of Natchitoches is the Louisiana School for Math, Science, and the Arts (commonly called the “Louisiana School”). Established by the Louisiana legislature in 1982, the Louisiana School is the preeminent state supported residential high school with competitive admissions. Students across the state apply during their freshmen or sophomore year to attend the Louisiana School during their final 2 or 3 years of high school. Admissions are highly competitive and graduates go on to routinely attend the best universities in the country. The annual merit based scholarships for graduating seniors exceed $10 million. For over 30 years, little old Natchitoches has nurtured some the state’s brightest high school students – purple hair, piercings, and all.
Natchitoches: A $23 Million Museum At The End Of A Brick Road.
The heart of Natchitoches is Front Street. Front Street, built with bricks in the early 1900’s, is lined with historic buildings, shops, and restaurants and overlooks Cane River. In 2008, Front Street was renovated. Rather than tearing up the bricks and replacing them with concrete or asphalt, each brick was individually removed, cleaned, and repositioned to form a smoother surface while preserving the historical integrity of the street.
In 2013, a dazzling, 28,000 square foot, $23 million, state of the art complex was built at the foot of Front Street to house the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame Museum. The museum was named the top architecture project in the world by Azure Magazine, a Toronto based design publication.
The lessons of Natchitoches remind us how well our past and future can compliment each other. We can reminisce about yesterday without obstructing tomorrow. Louisiana need not fear the rising tide of its Bayou Millennials. But we all might want to start thinking about how best to ride it into a more prosperous future.