By Samantha Reid
The term “millennial” seems to be everywhere these days. It’s become almost as pervasive as calling the younger generation “20-somethings,” with thousands of articles littering the Internet trying to analyze the generation of Twitter, selfies and student loan debt.
But “millennial” seems to carry a pejorative connotation these days. Older politicians, writers and analysts seem stuck on stereotyping our generation as lazy, entitled and spoiled — all terms far too broad for an entire age group of people, all of whom have grown up in different backgrounds and varying levels of hardship.
So what’s the truth? Pew Research Center took on the daunting task of defining the millennial by surveying a random sample of 18-to-33 year old Americans. What it found was sometimes predictable, sometimes surprising and almost entirely unique: a portrait of growing up in a rapidly changing world.
Among the unsurprising findings, millennials were the age group most comfortable with technology. Pew deemed the group “digital natives,” or “the only generation for which [new] technologies are not something they’ve had to adapt to.”
For our parents, things like smartphones and social media are a trend they’ve had to learn. For us, it’s something we’ve grown up with, as natural as reading a book or watching television. This makes us more adaptable to new technology as it arrives on the scene.
Pew also found millennials to be the most racially diverse generation and the most politically liberal. While half the demographic self-identifies as politically independent, the way they vote doesn’t necessarily match up. In the past two presidential elections, the Millennial Generation has overwhelmingly voted democratic.
This may be due to the importance millennials, as a group, tend to place on social issues. Survey subjects tended to side with liberal politics on hot-button issues like marijuana legalization and same-sex marriage.
One way millennials stood out most from older generations was in the realm of religion. According to Pew, “Not only are [millennials] less likely than older generations to be affiliated with any religion, they are also less likely to say they believe in God.”
Eleven percent of the 18-to-33 age range say they don’t believe in God, practically double the number compared to past generations.
Several Roosevelt University students agreed with the Pew findings, believing it accurately represented the place of religion amongst their peers.
“I feel that most of the people I’ve met [at Roosevelt] have no particular religious faith,” sophomore Angie Hernandez said. “I identify with a religion only due to family ties [to the religion].”
Another way millennials stand out starkly from their predecessors is in their reluctance to tie the knot. Where generation X and baby boomers placed a high premium on marriage, millennials seem to be delaying the practice considerably.
According to the study, “The median age at first marriage is now the highest in modern history — 29 for men and 27 for women.”
So, while our parents were rushing to get married straight out of high school or college, graduates are now taking their time. With high unemployment and skyrocketing student loan debt, finances are a common reason millennials hold off on spending what money they have on a wedding.
“Life gets in the way — education, jobs, money, travel and realism,” senior Jocelyn Dunlop said. Hernandez agreed with Dunlop’s sentiment.
“I feel as though our generation wants to get more out of life and complete our goals before we settle down,” Hernandez said.
The study also attempted to gage millennial opinion on matters like government and social environment. In a somewhat alarming show of social mistrust, only 19 percent of respondents agreed with the phrase “Most people can be trusted.”
“People are so consumed about worrying how people perceive them,” senior Michelle Papandrea said. “I think that accounts for some untruthful behaviors.”
But we’re not entirely cynical. When it comes to the future of the nation, millennials are more upbeat than any other generation.
Forty-nine percent of those surveyed said they felt that America’s best years are still ahead. In spite of growing up in a recession and wartime, young Americans maintained optimism that situations and government will improve.
The Pew study painted a decidedly different picture than the stereotypically entitled millennial. Instead, the data showed millennials as an almost direct juxtaposition to our predecessors: a racially diverse, technologically advanced generation with unprecedented liberal leanings. Growing up with more opportunity than ever before but also greater economic hardship than ever before has led us into a great unknown where our 20s are no longer necessarily built for settling down with a family, but rather, landing a competitive job and beginning to chip away at the debt we amassed to get there.