How to Understand the Millennial Generation

Dina Indelicato Posted by Dina Indelicato.

Dina Indelicato is a blogger enthusiast and freelance writer. She is always open to research about new topics and gain new experiences to share with her readers. You can find her on Twitter @DinaIndelicato and Facebook

How to Understand the Millennial Generation

Millennial Generation

“Caricatured as navel-gazers, Millennials are said to live for their 'likes' and status updates. But the young people I know often leverage social media in selfless ways.” - Chelsea Clinton

Ms. Clinton expresses very positive sentiments about millennials. Unfortunately, her voice sometimes seems to be in the minority. Millennials are often characterized as lazy, entitled, and narcissistic.

Granted, millennials can be a bit of a frustrating enigma to other generations. While generational clashes are nothing new, there’s always been an expectation that when the younger generation matures they will, as a general rule, adopt the values of the previous generation. Then, presumably it will be their turn to cast aspersions on the next generation.

There’s just one problem. As millennials are hitting age thirty and older, that just isn’t happening. They’re holding strong to their beliefs and values.

More importantly, they are well on their way to replacing boomers and members of Gen X in the workplace and elsewhere as primary stakeholders. They are now the most financially powerful consumer group.

What does this mean? Whether millennials are your potential employees or customers, you better understand them, what motivates them, what they care about, etc. To get started, keep reading.

Their Values And Priorities Have Been Shaped By Their Experiences…

...Not a desire to perturb members of older generations, political bloggers, or talk show hosts. Just like boomers and members of generation X, millennials lives and priorities have been shaped by events and decisions beyond their control. Here are a few examples:

  • Increased Parental Involvement in Daily Life
  • Parent’s Prioritizing Planned Activities Over Free Play
  • 9/11
  • Social Media
  • School Shootings
  • Watching Parents Displaced From Employment And Struggle Financially
  • Middle East Conflicts
  • 24 Hour News Coverage
  • Soaring Tuition Costs
  • Climate Change
  • Cell Phones And Internet as a Constant Presence
  • Unbalanced Expectations From Parents And Other Members of Older Generations
  • Participation Trophies

The list goes on. On one hand, this is a generation that was exposed to a lot of very adult issues and concerns early on. In contrast, many of them were also a bit sheltered at the same time. Imagine being a child who can access news of war and political strife on television 24/7, who can view websites dealing with very adult topics, but who cannot walk to the park down the street without parental supervision.

They are often mocked for having grown up receiving participation trophies and constant hovering parenting. Ironically, the mocking is usually done by members of the generation that initially decided that participation trophies and helicopter parenting were good ideas.

It’s also important to remember that many millennials have witnessed the way that life has treated their parents. Many have seen parents lose retirement savings, or watched as they lost jobs, sometimes after years of loyal employment.

This combined with wage stagnation and dying industries has changed their approach to work. To them, the idea that landing a job and being a loyal employee is the key to success has proven to be a myth. They are more likely to change jobs frequently. Further, many choose career paths that prioritize overall lifestyle, personal fulfillment, and enjoyable work environments over high salaries and prestigious job titles.

They Don’t Think in Lockstep

Keep in mind that millennials were born between 1982 and 2004. That’s a 22 year span. Someone born in 1982 likely has more in common with members of Gen-X than their own. Obviously life experiences and status in society vary greatly between 13 year olds and 35 year olds.

It isn’t just the age gap that causes differences between the members of the millennial generation though. Politics can also vary greatly. For example, liberal internet personality Hasan Piker of Young Turks and conservative vlogger Tomi Lahren are both in their mid twenties but couldn’t have political beliefs that were further apart. In fact, millennials can be just as critical of other millennials members of other generations.

They’re Constantly Connected And Really Don’t Care What You Think About That

Millennials are rarely without their mobile devices. They are constantly connected with one another and are very used to being able to obtain information in the moment. Many prefer communicating with one another via messaging apps or texting, as opposed to speaking over the phone.

For example, a millennial traveler would much prefer to search for and find a translation services guide, seek out reviews of hotels, and check flight availability from their personal devices, rather than relying on others to feed that information to them.

They’re very aware of the jokes and comments people make about millennials missing out on life and human connections because they are always tuned into their devices. However, millennials see these devices as tools that facilitate human connections, and allow them to share their life experiences with others.

Use of devices does reveal some differences in the way that millennials socialize with one another. While previous generations tend to socialize around planned activities such as going to the movies, holding a cookout, or going to a sporting events, millennials often take a more relaxed approach to socializing. It’s not unusual for a night with friends to mean sharing a space, enjoying companionable silence, watching television, and simultaneously engaging with their devices.

They Care About Social Justice And Making a Difference

According to a Nielsen survey, 73% of millennials are more likely to spend their money if they can do business with a company that prioritizes sustainability. They’ll research companies before doing business with them, to see what their stance is on various social issues, or if they do good works as part of their business model. For example, Tom’s Shoes is extremely popular among members of this generation because they don’t free shoes to needy people each time a customer makes a purchase.

In addition to this, when a company or representative of a company behaves in  a way that goes against the principles that many millennials have adopted, this generation is often quick to act. Not only will they stop doing business with that brand, they will use their social media presence to pass information along to their friends and contacts.

They Aren’t Big Spenders

Millennials are much less likely than their parents and grandparents to spend money on lavish items. In fact, they’re also less likely to spend money on items or activities that previous generations saw as casual expenditures such as going out to eat at chain restaurants.

Part of this is simply having different priorities than other generations. On the other hand, to understand millennials it’s important to understand that being tight fisted is also a necessity. Taking inflation into account, millennials earn significantly less than past generations, especially in entry level/unskilled jobs. Many also struggle to find full time employment that offers insurance or other benefits. In the meantime, their expenses have, in general, been adjusted for inflation.

They Are Questioners And Disrupters

Try googling the phrase ‘things millennials have killed’. You’ll find a slew of stories, some serious some tongue in cheek, about industries, habits, norms, and traditions that millennials are apparently sending to their deathbeds.

To be honest, millennials are killing things. But, they aren’t doing so out of maliciousness or laziness. They are doing so because they feel empowered to question why they should embrace things simply because their parents did.

Consider shopping malls and department stores as an example. For other generations these were go to places go shopping, to socialize, to see movies, etc. Many children were drug to the mall as children, and then identified the mall as a place to hang out and socialize as teenagers.

Millennials as a whole don’t have that experience. Their parents tended to shop at freestanding, big box stores rather than department stores. Many never experienced the mall as a social setting because many malls adopted rules that banished them from entry.

Did millennials kill the department store or shopping mall, or did the powers that be in those industries simply fail to make them feel included as customers?


The importance of understanding millennials cannot be overstated. Like them or hate them, they will be your neighbors, employees, customers, and bosses. Don’t fall into the trap of stereotyping this key generation. Instead, take time to understand them and their needs and motivations. They may not be as unrelatable as the blogosphere makes them seem.