generation x
How Different Are Millennials?

Since at least 2008, some commentators have proclaimed Millennials to be a transformative generation—more diverse, economically stressed, and progressive than their predecessors, less attracted to faith and patriotism, and likely to dramatically reshape American political and social life. We’ve always been skeptical of this theory, arguing in particular that the Baby Boomers who came of age in the 1970s had many of the same qualities that some pundits now say will make Millennials unique.

A new post from the Pew Research Center provides some support for our wait-and-see approach, noting that Millennials’ much-vaunted pessimism about the future of the country was also exhibited by both Gen Xers and Boomers when they were young:

Two decades ago, Gen Xers, then in their teens and 20s, stood out for their lack of confidence in the nation’s future. In 1994, just 30% of Gen Xers said they had quite a lot of confidence in the future of the U.S. Among older generations at the time – Boomers and Silents – half or more had a lot of confidence in the nation’s future.

And two decades before that, Boomers were less bullish than their elders in assessing the nation’s future. In 1975, when Boomers were the youngest generation, 49% had a great deal of confidence in the future of the U.S., compared with 62% of Silents and 67% of the Greatest Generation.

The Pew post only covers Millennial attitudes on one relatively narrow question. But it’s worth noting that the conventional wisdom about Millennial distinctiveness along other dimensions has also been challenged in recent years. Often described as individualists skeptical of marriage and the nuclear family, many Millennials are in fact opting for relatively traditional family structures. Often described as peaceniks skeptical of America’s international role, Millennials turn out to be hawkish when it comes to fighting ISIS. And for all the commentary about a Millennial-powered Emerging Democratic Majority, young Americans’ loyalty to the Democratic party may be attenuating.

None of this is to say that there aren’t important demographic and economic differences between Millennials and earlier cohorts of young people—there are. But it may be too early to say how those differences will affect the Millennial worldview a generation from now, once today’s young people have children, get promotions, and are entrusted with real influence.

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