‘Millennials’ is an abused term, misused to the point where it’s often mistaken for just another meaningless buzzword. But its original and conventional use is far from empty.‘Millennials’ is a working title for the c.15-year birth cohort born around 1980-1995, which has unique, defining traits. Unfortunately, many of the claims made about millennial characteristics are simplified, misinterpreted or just plain wrong, which can mean real differences get lost. Equally important are the similarities between other generations – the attitudes and behaviours that are staying the same are sometimes just as important and surprising.
We are generational researchers and believe in its power to predict future directions, but that doesn’t mean we want to explain everything as generational. In fact, the opposite is true: we see our job as separating the different types of effect and not to claim generational impact when the evidence is weak.
One of most important conclusions from this review is that we should often take a ‘culture before cohort’ approach: the differences between countries (outside a tight-knit group of US, UK and similar Western democracies – but also often even within these) generally dwarf the differences between cohorts. Even within the generational effects we do see, understanding these more global trends is vital: one of the key drivers of generational difference in the West is the seismic shift of power to the South and East, making a brighter future for the young in established markets much less certain. It is increasingly important to understand this first: these emerging markets are where most Millennials are,and where power is moving. The data we have on them is more limited, but this will improve.