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Move Over Boomers, Millennials Gaining

November 18, 2011

There is one thing Baby Boomers had going for them that Millennials don’t. “Baby Boomers,” unlike “Millennials,” wasn’t tricky to spell. Nevertheless, Millennials — the largest demographic segment in American history — would like the Boomers to quit hogging all the space and breathing all the oxygen.

Slowly but surely, Millennials — those born between 1982 and 2003 — are gaining ground and importance, especially on issues of consumerism and politics.

In their second installment on the Millennial generation, Millennial Momentum: how a new generation is remaking America, authors Morley Winograd and Michael D. Hais delve more into how America’s newest demographic is changing the nation and will continue to do so, just like baby boomers and generations before them have since the American Revolution. Winograd is the former chairman of the Michigan Democratic Party and Hais is a media researcher.

Their first book, Millennial Makeover (See Dome, March 16, 2008, “Hold Tight to Your Smartphones, the Millennial Revolution is at Hand”), was written prior to the 2008 presidential election and explored how new technology and the Millennials were merging to create what they called a “seismic shift.” During the last election about one-third of the Millennials were eligible to vote, and vote they did, the vast majority of them for Obama.

The two authors predicted exactly that. And gloat they did.

Winograd said, “We took a victory lap with the paperback version of Millennial Makeover.” He called the introduction, “Nine thousand words to say I told you so.”

So get ready. There’s a presidential election in 12 months, and the seers are at it again.

The authors believe that the Millennial generation’s power is just beginning to be felt, especially in that they are still in the process of developing their political ideals. In 2012 three of every five of the 95 million Millennials will be able to vote. The authors say the first real evidence of the Millennial power was in the Obama election of 2008 and it will be felt even more in the upcoming election.

“Frankly, they’ve had more influence in other areas such as entertainment,” said Winograd. When it comes to music, games and movies, “Millennials are already the target audience.” But, he said, any group as big as the Millennials — by 2020 they will represent one of every three adults — will have a major impact on policy makers.

Winograd finds it interesting that the political world has trouble recognizing the importance of Millennials, when the entertainment industry is going full speed after them. “The political world is still talking about older voters.”

The Millennial generation has some “surprising” attitudes, which the book details.

Hais said the majority of the group has favorable attitudes toward labor unions. “They are a group-oriented generation and they work best as groups.”

That almost seems counterintuitive to another of their observations, that Millennials believe in both the individual and individual liberty.

Winograd said we saw some of that solidarity in Madison, Wisconsin, when crowds approaching 80,000–100,000 attracted by social media showed up to protest. The authors are unsure why nothing approaching that happened in Michigan.

The authors emphasize that the Millennial group is not top-down driven, but is fiercely independent. Even though they believe in smaller government, they are just as likely to become the nation’s most civic generation (much like their grandparents’ and, in some cases, great grandparents — the Greatest Generation).

The recent Occupy efforts across the country are a good example of Millennial effect, Winograd said. “It’s a bottom-up effort being joined by organized efforts [unions].”

Hais said there is some belief on the part of Republicans that “Millennials will outgrow their silliness.…“They believe if you wait five or ten years it will go away.”

But that runs counter, he said, to a large body of social science research that says attitudes formulated at a young age are the attitudes you keep the rest of your life.

Based on the data, Winograd predicts that this generation’s ideals will become more the mainstream over the course of the next decade. He said inclusion is one example, and the specific issues they care about are easy to find on social media sites.

“It will take just a little longer for them to be in charge,” he said.

Which brings up the question of what will happen in workplaces. Winograd says that supervisor control will diminish. In addition, Millennials believe that there still is a major role for government, but it will be smaller and driven more by individuals.

“However, they need to see success from government, and a long recession may make them more conservative,” said Hais. This argument may give credence to the conservatives’ goal of simply waiting out the wild seeds.

The book also details that a solid majority of Millennials currently lean Democratic, which, of course, Democrats will pin their hopes on for the 2012 election. By next November, Millennials will be a full one-quarter of all voters. Forty percent are African American, Latino, Asian or mixed race, and in total there are currently 27 million more Millennials alive than Boomers.

When it comes to social issues, Winograd says Millennials are much more tolerant of differences. Both Hais and Winograd say that it makes you wonder why some segments of the political spectrum are anti-immigrant when one-fifth of Millennials have immigrant parents.

Also, where Millennials want to live breaks most stereotypes. Hais says research shows that Millennials’ first choice for the ideal place to live is the suburbs, with big cities and rural areas ranked next in importance. “It was the older generation who idealized small-town living.”

Hais says there is good reason to be optimistic about the future and that it’s “not pie in the sky.” He says research shows that the Millennials will force the country to address long simmering problems such as race, immigration, financial security and income distribution.

“During all great periods of change, history shows that all the problems have been resolved in a positive way,” he said.

Both authors think it strange that two 60ish, chubby-cheeked guys are the gurus of the Millennials. “We are 40 years older than Millennials,” Hais said.

Winograd and Hais base most of their assumptions for Millennial behavior on well-accepted observation and research documenting that about every 80 years in our country’s history the populous has reassessed its collective values.

Hais said the first re-evaluation occurred during the Revolutionary War, then the Civil War and then during the last monumental event, the Great Depression. The two cite authors William Strauss and Neil Howe for their seminal books on the impact of generational change.

Strauss and Howe laid out four types of generations that appear in each cycle: idealist, reactive, civic and adaptive. They claim that each cycle has what is called a fourth turning or significant generational change, and each time there have been identifiable events that always run in order: catalyst, regeneracy, climax and resolution.

According to the authors of Millennial Momentum, the country is currently in what is called a FUD — a time of fear, uncertainty and doubt. (What better three words could describe where we are right now in the cycle?) We have already seen the catalyst, which Hais and Winograd say was the collapse of the nation’s financial system, and the beginning of the regeneracy, which might be best characterized by the bailouts. But they stress in the book that there appears to be no consensus about what the climax event is or what the resolution will be. Both are open for discussion.

And that’s why the first characteristics of fear, anxiety and stress from this realignment usually run a decade before there is a dramatic climax. We seem to be bogged down in FUD, which for the authors means they might have a couple more books in the cue looking at the evolution of this demographic segment.

The authors said that they wrote the second book to help the country “understand the choices before it.” The title of the second chapter, “Millennials Are About to Take Over America,” lets Boomers know where they stand, especially since Hais and Winograd say Millennials are much more in tune with the GI generation. One example they offer is that both generations love musicals. The popularity of the musicals Glee and High School Musical represents the spirit of camaraderie.

In their book the authors write that the path to a new, possibly drastically different, civic ethos can be “vigorous, and riotous,” adding, “Regardless of the tenacity of this debate, what will win out can be found in the beliefs and values of the Millennial generation.”

The authors say below are some of what we know of those values. Millennials:

  • Love to serve country
  • Hold a concern for the environment
  • Believe there is a serious inequity in the economy and in the education system
  • Want to marry and have children
  • Believe in global connectivity and a multicultural world.

Hais and Winograd throw stones equally at Republicans and Democrats for their clumsiness in accepting Millennials: Republicans for what the authors call “the just say no attitude,” and the Dems for Obama’s failure in adopting the “vision and values” that got him elected.

Millennial Momentum is not just a book for political junkies, but also for marketers and those who care about the future of our education system, where we will live, how work places are organized, and our relationship with the rest of the world.

The bottom line to both authors is, “tweaking existing systems will not work, and they must respond to new values.”

Bill Castanier, a retired state government administrator and Michigan State University advertising graduate, writes a weekly literary column for Lansing City Pulse and manages the blog mittenlit.com, a daily look at Michigan literature and authors. He also is a member of the Michigan Notable Book selection committee and the board of MSU Press.

November 18, 2011 · Filed under Bookit

30 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Lily // Nov 25, 2011 at 8:00 pm

    Haaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaha

    1.Love to serve country, I will not fight in your illegal war. You must an idiot to think , we are falling for that.
    2. I do love the environment that your generation screed up. I’s bleeding and we must fix it.
    3.Believe there is a serious inequity in the economy and in the education system. Well duh.
    4.Want to marry and have children. I will not bring a child into this world unless I am certain that these problems are fixed.
    5.Believe in global connectivity and a multicultural world. Well duh, I mean the reason people are on earth is to interact, I won’t let bigot old American ways get in the way of my speaking to someone from Europe or China.

    Stop kissing our butts. It’s quite irritating, we don’t want cheerleaders, we want justice.

  • 2 Lynn Ochberg // Dec 2, 2011 at 11:06 am

    Lily says it like I hear from all the Millennials I know, but many of us old Boomers are still supporting the Millennials financially, and the resentment that engenders means we’ll be left out in the cold when we get to our 80s and 90s and need help from our current dependents.

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