When the baby boomers were kids there was a generation gap. We boomers believed in long hair; our parents wanted us to cut our hair. We voted for Kennedy, Johnson and McGovern. They liked Ike and supported Richard Nixon. We wanted to turn on, tune in and drop out. They wanted us to go to school and get a job.
Of course that's an oversimplification of the early days of the baby boom. But there are some generalizations about today's baby boomers (born between 1946 and 1964) and our children, the millennials (born between 1981 and 1995), that are more grounded in fact. Paul Taylor of the Pew Research Center has written a book called “The Next America” which relies on public opinion surveys and demographic data to highlight some of the contrasts between the generations. Here are some of the major differences between baby boomers and millennials:
1. It's true that people get more conservative as they age. According to Pew Research, 59 percent of baby boomers favor smaller government. Millennials exhibit no more trust in the establishment than baby boomers did, yet the majority of millennials, 53 percent, say they want a bigger government that offers more services.
2. The generations basically agree on Social Security. Despite their preference for small government, boomers oppose making cuts in Social Security to secure the long-term future of the program. Millennials are slightly more open to Social Security reforms, with 37 percent thinking some reductions to Social Security need to be considered, compared to just 29 percent of baby boomers. But for many Millennials it's a moot point. Half of millennials don't believe they will receive Social Security when they retire.
3. Millennials are more progressive on social issues. According to Pew Research, baby boomers oppose gay marriage by a slim margin. But a solid majority (68 percent) of millennials support gay marriage. An equal number support the legalization of marijuana. Millennials are less likely to be religious. Less than 70 percent of millennials say they are affliliated with a particular religion, compared to 80 percent of the general population.
4. But they are not necessarily Democrats. Despite a more liberal bent, millennials are reluctant to identify with a political party. Half of millennials say they are Independents, compared to 27 percent registered as Democrats and 17 percent as Republicans. Some 70 percent approved of President Obama when he was first elected president, but that support has declined to about 50 percent.
5. Millennials are less affluent. This generation is the first in U.S. history to enter adulthood in worse economic shape than their parents. The unemployment rate for millennials is higher than it was for their parents at the same age, and they have higher student debt. A new Pew Research report says 37 percent of U.S. households headed by an adult younger than 40 have student debt. Households with student loans have a median net worth of $8,700 compared to $64,700 for households without student debt.
6. Millennials are reluctant to get married. But when they do, they are more likely to marry someone of a different race. Back in the 1960s, less than 3 percent of marriages were between people of different races or ethnicities. Today, it's 15 percent. More than a quarter of Asians and Hispanics marry outside their ethnicity, as do one out of six African Americans and 10 percent of whites. Half of millennials say intermarriage is a good thing for society, compared with a third of boomers.
7. But maybe they do want to buy a home. Millennials have flocked to the cities. But the jury is still out as to whether millennials will move back to the suburbs when they get married and have children. According to a study by the National Association of Realtors, fewer than 25 percent of 30 year olds own their own home, compared to 80 percent for boomers, and the number of young homeowners has been declining. Yet according to the Washington think tank NDN, 64 percent of millennials say it is “very important” to own their own home. Another survey by TD Bank found that 84 percent of renters ages 18 to 34 intend to purchase a house in the future.
8. More millennials live at home than their parents did at the same age. More than a fifth (22 percent) of households currently have two or more adult generations living under the same roof, a level not seen since the end of World War II. But while this is a symptom of the new generation gap, it does not mean there's a war between the generations. “It’s hard to wage a war when you’re living under the same roof,” Taylor says.