Distrustful, Debt-Ridden and Disengaged: the Millennial Generation

March 7, 2014 - 4:13 PM

Young adults today - the generation referred to as Millennials - are more distrustful of people than ever, less likely to belong to a party or religion, more in debt, and say they are unable to marry because "they lack a solid economic foundation," according to new analysis by Pew Research.

"Now ranging in age from 18 to 33, they are relatively unattached to organized politics and religion, linked by social media, burdened by debt, [and] distrustful of people," the study says.

An overwhelming majority (81%) of Millennials said "you can't be too careful" when asked this question:

"Generally speaking, would you say that most people can be trusted or that you can't be too careful in dealing with people?"

Millennials and Distrust

Mellennials and Distrust

Only 19% of Millennials felt that "most people can be trusted," with 31% of Gen Xers (34-49 year olds, the generation just above Millennials) agreeing, 40% of Boomers (50-68 year olds) and 37% of Silents (69-86 year olds) also agreeing.

Pew Research surveys show that 50% of Millennials describe themselves as political independents and 29% are not affiliated with any religion. "These are at or near the highest levels of political and religious disaffiliation recorded for any generation in the quarter-century that the Pew Research Center has been polling on these topics," Pew says.

Only 26% of Millennials are married. 69% of unmarried Millennials say they would like to marry; "but many, especially those with lower levels of income and education, lack what they deem to be a necessary prerequisite-a solid economic foundation." (When other generations were the age that Millennials are now (18-33) 36% of Generation X, 48% of Baby Boomers and 65% of the members of the Silent Generation were married.)

Millennials are also the first in the modern era 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 (Gen Xers and Boomers) had at the same stage of their life cycles.

Their difficult economic circumstances in part reflect the impact of the Great Recession (2007-2009) and in part the longer-term effects of globalization and rapid technological change on the American workforce. Median household income in the U.S. today remains below its 1999 peak, the longest stretch of stagnation in the modern era, and during that time income and wealth gaps have widened.

The timing of these macro-economic trends has been especially hard on older Millennials, many of whom were just entering the workforce in 2007 when the economy sank into a deep recession from which it has yet to fully recover.

While Millennials have liberal views, typical of young generations, on same-sex marriage and the legalization of pot, they also trend with the views of older adults on abortion and gun control. They agree with their elders in a favorable assessment of business and the role of government.

Does all of this sound just a little too familiar to you? If so, you can take this quiz to determine, on a scale of 0-100, your "Millennialness."

None of what this study finds is truly surprising. Millennials came of age during the Monica Lewinsky sex scandals and the 24/7 news cycle of endless negativity. They are the first generation that cannot reasonably hope to do better than their grandparents did, and they've had to take on an outsize amount of college loan debt for jobs didn't open up when they graduated college. Instead, the economy tanked. As if all that wasn't bad enough, the government has been taking on debt that this generation knows it won't be able to pay back.

No wonder they're so distrustful.