Welcome to the age of the millennial. 2015 marked a major milestone in American history, as those of us born between 1982 and 2000 are now the largest demographic group in the United States. Not only do we look very different than previous generations (more than 40% of us belong to minority ethnic groups), we also have radically different values and consumer tastes. Our demographic strength has already begun to change the trajectory of the economy. Millennials are flexing their financial muscle with their growing disposable incomes, and it’s causing noticeable economic disruption.
A lot of chatter about millennials is centered on the growing political strength of this new demography. In reality, millennials aren’t a political force to be reckoned with—at least not yet. This is because of low voter turnout and widespread apathy toward establishment politics in the age group.
Other conversations about millennials focus on our alleged lack of stick-to-it mentality. The Chinese call us the strawberry generation, because they say we bruise easily just like the fruit. Human resource departments and managers everywhere are baffled by our work habits. Our parent’s generation is growing increasingly alienated in a society that now caters to our whims and not theirs.
This is exactly what’s not being discussed; the simple reality that the new economy is oriented toward us, the new majority. Millennials are disruptive, and not surprisingly, our consumer tastes are causing some pretty dramatic changes in American life.
We live a fundamentally different lifestyle than the boomers do. We don’t want to live in random tract housing in some far flung suburb thirty minutes from the center of urban life. We want to live in walkable, human-scaled, moderately dense neighborhoods that are hip, hence the explosion in the cost of living in major American cities like New York and DC.
Examples of our influence over modern business are numerous. Our fingerprints are all over the decline in demand for retail space (We shop on Amazon, we spend less at brick and mortar stores than past generations). Another trend that is largely our doing is the slowdown in growth of mid-price restaurants (We like high quality, quick service restaurants like Chipotle and Five Guys; give us good, reasonably priced food and forget the tacky awnings, tipping, and the gimmicky seasonal specials).
We like the sharing economy. No matter what powerful lobbies are trying to do stop the new economy, we are an unstoppable force in consumer trends. Sorry taxi lobby, we will not get into your cabs, we prefer Uber and Lyft—we simply don’t care how much you paid for your medallions. Sorry hotels, we love Airbnb. We wish you the best of luck with the glut of hotels you’ve built in recent years.
Entrenched business interests are of little concern to us, as we demand a wholly different set of products than our predecessors. We Instagram, we Pinterest, we Groupon, we Snapchat. We’re very different, and we’re still trying to define our generational identity. For the rest of you, I would suggest paying close attention to us because we are the future of the American economy.
Photo by hahn.elizabeth34
David is the Editor of Bold. He's especially passionate about millennial economic empowerment. A former local news reporter, David is originally from the Little Havana area in Miami, and later became a pioneer resident of the Disney-inspired town of Celebration, Florida. David holds a Master’s in Public Policy from the Harvard Kennedy School.