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PewResearch-Generational-Identification-Sept2015A majority of US Millennials (18-34) don’t consider themselves part of the Millennial generation and only 30% say that the “Millennial” label applies well to them, reveals the Pew Research Center in newly-released survey results. It’s actually not the first survey this year to come to that conclusion: earlier this year, a poll from the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) found just one-third of 18-35-year-olds believing that the label “Millennial” describes them well.

One reason why Millennials might not identify with that label? They don’t see their generation in a very positive light.

The Pew survey identified a host of traits and asked respondents whether those qualities (both positive and negative) describe their generational overall. Intriguingly, there was a strong age skew in the majority of the results, with older generations more likely to see themselves in a positive light and Millennials most likely to ascribe negative traits to their generation.

Positive/Neutral Traits

Pew-Applicability-Generational-Traits-Sept2015

The following is a brief overview (see the above table for more details) of the differences in how the generations perceive themselves when it comes to various positive or neutral (as identified by Pew) traits.

  • Just 12% of Millennials believe that the term “patriotic” describes their generational overall, a figure that rises to 52% of Boomers (51-69) and 73% of Silents (70-87).
  • Likewise, few Millennials believe that the terms “responsible” (24%) and “hard-working” (36%) apply to their generation, although strong majorities of Boomers and Silents believe those qualities apply to their respective generations.
  • About one-quarter of Millennials see their generation as being “self-reliant,” and Gen Xers (35-50) aren’t too far ahead (37%). Boomers (51%) and Silents (65%) are more confident in their generations’ self-reliance.

As Pew notes, though, “responsibilities tend to increase with age,” such that many of these traits may be indicative of the respondent’s age rather than being unique to their generation.

There was much more parity in generational perceptions when respondents were asked about being “entrepreneurial” (32-35%), “environmentally conscious” (37-41%), “tolerant” (33-38%) and “rigid” (6-8%). The low rates for Millennials concerning some of these traits are surprising. For example, several studies (such as this one [pdf]) have found Millennials identifying themselves as entrepreneurial (even if data doesn’t necessarily support that). And likewise, research has found Millennials to be the most likely to take corporate social responsibility into account when evaluating brands. Finally, studies – such as this one – have found Millennials to have a far more liberal stance on social issues than their older counterparts, so it’s interesting that they’re not more likely to view themselves as being tolerant.

In fact the only trait for which Millennials topped the other generations in self-perception, according to the Pew survey, was for being “idealistic.” Even there, however, the gap with other generations was not large.

Negative Traits

PewResearch-Attribution-Negative-Traits-by-Generation-Sept2015

Interestingly, while Millennials were most likely to see themselves as being “idealistic,” they were also the generation most likely to see themselves as being “cynical.”

Besides being cynical, Millennials were far more likely than others to perceive their generation as being:

  • Self-absorbed” (59%, versus 30% of Gen Xers, 20% of Boomers, and 7% of Silents;
  • Wasteful” (49%, compared to 29% of Gen Xers, 20% of Boomers, and 10% of Silents); and
  • Greedy” (43%, versus 24% of Gen Xers, 19% of Boomers, and 8% of Silents).

Generational Awareness Runs Low Among Some

The Pew survey shows that Boomers are the most likely to identify with their generation’s label, with an impressive (in the context of other results) 79% considering themselves part of that generation. By comparison, 58% of Gen Xers see themselves as being part of their generation, while even fewer Millennials (40%) and Silents (18%) identify with their generations. It’s notable to see Gen Xers having a relatively strong identification with their label, given that prior research has found only 41% relating most to their own generation.

The low identification rate for Silents is due in part to a high percentage (34%) identifying as part of the “Greatest Generation” (who were born prior to 1928, unlike Silents). Amusingly, 8% of Millennials identified as the “Greatest Generation,” with these respondents displaying not only some confusion about generational labels but also clearly not siding with other members of their cohort who hold fairly dim views of their own generation…

Awareness of the Silent generation label appears to be fairly low. In fact, just 15% of respondents overall said they had heard of the “Silent” generation. By comparison, 56% have heard of the Millennial generation (the others clearly haven’t been reading marketing trade publications), 71% of Gen X, and 89% of the Baby Boom generation.

Finally, another part of the reason for low rates of identification with generations, Pew admits, is that these are largely the constructs of social scientists and market researchers, and that the age ranges used when discussing the generations are “somewhat variable and subjective.” Those varied age ranges can lead to very different summations of how many Millennials there actually are in the US.

For more research related to these topics (these are contained in hyperlinks cited above), see the following articles:

For an in-depth look at ways to reach Baby Boomers, see the MarketingCharts report, Advertising to Baby Boomers: The Why and How.

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