They Will Run America

Posted March 07, 2010, at 5:15 p.m.

Before long, the current crop of 18- to 29-year-olds will be leading the political, business and cultural life of this country. The Pew Research Center has surveyed them to find out who they are and what makes them tick.

Pew calls them the Millennials, coming after the savvy , entrepreneurial Generation X (30-45), the noisy but aging baby boomers (46-64), the generally conformist Silent Generation (65-83), and the so-called Greatest Generation (83-?).

The report gives the Millennials high marks: “confident, self-expressive, liberal, upbeat, open to change.” It found them more ethnically and racially diverse than older adults. It said they are less religious, less likely to have served in the military and more educated.

It says careers and first jobs have been greatly set back by the current recession, but they are more optimistic than older adults about their own economic prospects and the country’s future, a welcome change from the current pervasive pessimism.

They are big on self-expression. Three-quarters have profiles on social networking sites. Four in 10 have one or more tattoos, though mostly hidden under their clothing. One in four have body piercing in places other than earlobes — that’s six times their elders’ rate. They text and use computers more. Like everybody else, they watch a lot of television. Forty-three percent say they read a daily newspaper.

Although one in four is unaffiliated with any religion, they pray about as much as their elders did at the same age. Their belief in God and an afterlife is strong and about the same level as for older generations. The Millennials get on well with their parents, although one-fourth of their parents are divorced or separated. They are cautious about human nature, two-thirds saying, “You can’t be too careful.” But they are less skeptical of government, believing that government should do more to solve problems.

There are many exceptions to all such generalizations, and people can change as they grow older. But the Millennials’ traits do raise questions.

Why are they so upbeat about the future when 37 percent of them are unemployed and one in eight older Millennials has “boomeranged” back to their parents’ homes because of the recession?

Where do they get their information for voting and good citizenship? The time they spend on the computer and TV raises doubts about their claim of reading a newspaper. And a scanning of the 140-page report turned up no mention of book reading.

Also, where is their work ethic, the quality that gave us Thomas Edison and Warren Buffett and Stephen King and Bill Gates and Steve Jobs and all the others who have made this a great country? The boomers and Generation X listed work ethic high on what made their generations unique. The Millennials skipped it altogether, listing only technology use, music and pop culture, liberal tolerance, smarts and clothes.

Pew’s survey is worth pondering. These folks are our future and the more we know about them — and what makes them tick — the better.

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