Amid the stereotypes, some facts about millennials

By Samantha Raphelson

Originally posted on NPR.

“Millennial” is the buzzword of the moment — with much of the national conversation focused on stereotypes and anecdotes. But are young adults today really all that different from those of previous generations?

A review of data shows that millennials do have characteristics that set them apart. Unlike their parents’ generation, millennials are ushering in an age when minorities will lead the U.S. population. Many of them aren’t too keen on marrying early. They are the most educated generation — but even so, a majority remains undereducated. And since they entered the workforce in the midst of a sluggish economy, many also remain underemployed.

Despite those hard realities, millennials as a group are optimistic about what their future holds.

We’ve charted some of the most interesting aspects of the millennial generation below. When compared with past generations, these shifts show how millennials are redefining what it means to be young in America.

A note on dates: There is no consensus on the exact years that generations begin and end. For this post, we’ve defined millennials as those born between 1980 and 2000; Generation X, between 1965 and 1979; and baby boomers, between 1946 and 1964. Also, these charts represent averages — there will always be exceptions to these trends.


The baby boom, so-named because of the huge spike in births in the U.S. after World War II, is often thought of as the country’s largest generation. But today, millennials outnumber the boomers by 11 million people — having boosted their numbers through a wave of immigration, just as boomers have aged and started to die.

To put this in perspective, the most common age in America right now is 22. By 2020, according to a Brookings Institution analysis, 1 in 3 adults will be a millennial.


America has, of course, always been a melting pot. But young people between 18 and 34 are the most racially diverse generation in U.S. history — and embody the changing face of America. Forty-three percent of millennial adults are nonwhite, the most of any current or previous generation. For comparison’s sake, baby boomers are 72 percent white, and Generation X is 61 percent white.

Hispanic and Asian immigrants, who have come to the U.S. in large numbers over the past half-century, and their children have contributed to that spike in diversity. The Census Bureau projects that the U.S. will become a majority-minority nation by 2043.


As we’ve reported, millennials are delaying marriage and babies and taking time to “find themselves” in their 20s. The average age of first marriage is 27 for women and 29 for men, up from 20 for women and 23 for men in 1960, according to a recent Pew Research Center report. Some millennials — 34 percent of 25- to 34-year-olds — are waiting longer to get married for financial reasons.

And while millennials are waiting to put a ring on it, many are in committed relationships. About 9.2 percent of millennials cohabit, compared with 5.8 percent of Gen X-ers. And 24 percent of now-married millennials say they bought a home with their current spouse before tying the knot.

Finally, millennials aren’t just waiting to get married — marriage is simply less important to many of them, too. The 2014 Clark University Poll of Established Adultsalso found that 1,000 young people between 25 and 39 do not consider marriage one of the major markers of adulthood. And a Pew analysis of census data projected that25 percent of millennials will never marry at all.

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