Who are the Millennials? Aside from being born in the 1980s and 1990s, they comprise a generation that continues to elude a neat definition. With the popularity of HBO's Girls, whose main character thinks she's the voice of this new generation ("Or at least a voice. Of a generation."), Millennials have come under renewed focus in the media, among the literati, and in the boardrooms of marketers trying to pinpoint what this demographic wants. Here, nine ways that Millennials have been described:
1. They're natural entrepreneurs...
Call it "Generation Sell" — Millennials are less inclined to join a commune or a movement, and would rather start a small business, says William Deresiewicz at The New York Times. Brought up in the "heroic age of dot-com entrepreneurship" that defined the 1990s, and distrustful of "large organizations, including government," the Millennial views small business as "the idealized social form of our time."
2. ...But they aren't acting on whatever entrepreneurial instincts they have
As a 1984 baby, Mark Zuckerberg sits comfortably in the Millennial generation. But the social network magnate is, in this view, the exception rather than the rule. Older American entrepreneurs are now 30 percent more common than younger ones, says David Yanofsky at Quartz. And this divide is only going to grow wider. According to the Kauffman Foundation report, in 2012, the Millennial generations' business initiatives declined to a six-year low. For every 100,000 young adults, only 230 startups were created. Whereas in the 55 to 64 and the 35 to 44 age groups, 340 business per 100,000 people were created.
3. They're spendthrifts...
Studies show that Millennials, who have been swamped by ad campaigns since they were in the crib, are more likely than their elders to spend big, "especially on new technologies," says Julie Halpert at The Fiscal Times. These studies say Millennials are addicted to instant gratification, and view new gadgets as needs, not wants. Millennials are also "the fastest-growing demographic of those who purchase luxury goods," says Rachel Krause at The Frisky, engaging in the kind of "lavish, indiscriminate consumerism" that will lead to the "death rattle" of their bank accounts.
4. ...And they're broke
A new survey shows that 25 percent of Millennials "reported not having enough money to cover their basic needs," a much higher percentage than older generations, says Corilyn Shropshire at Business Insider. Millennials have been hit hard by the recession, and are weighed down by ever-growing mountains of student debt. They're also less financially literate than their parents, and "the lack of financial savvy among Millennials could have a trickle-down effect with detrimental consequences for society," says Hadley Malcom at USA Today.
5. They're socialists
Looks like the "right-wing cries of 'socialist takeover!' may be based in more than paranoia," says Nona Willis Aronowitz at Good. Polls show that 49 percent of Millennials "view socialism in a favorable light," compared with 43 percent who view it unfavorably. Millennials are also the generation of Occupy Wall Street, the anti-corporate movement, and "it's not hard to figure out why our generation isn't so gung-ho about capitalism — it has disappointed and, in some cases, straight-up failed us."
6. They're narcissistic
Millennials "may not be the caring, socially conscious environmentalists some have portrayed them to be," says Joanna Chau at The Chronicle of Higher Education. One study says that Millennials are more narcissistic than their elders, and increasingly value "money, image, and fame more than inherent principles like self-acceptance, affiliation, and community." While college students in 1971 ranked "being very well off financially" as their number-eight concern, for Millennials it's consistently at "the top of the list."
7. They're politically engaged
Many assume that Millennials can't "be bothered to put down their bongs and go out to vote," but the the truth is that Millennials "are voting in increasing numbers," says Fred Bayles at Metro. Millennial support for President Obama was a key to his 2008 victory, and they overwhelmingly supported him over Mitt Romney in 2012, too.
8. They're less religious
A new study shows that college-age Millennials are increasingly moving away "from the religious affiliation of their childhood," says Joe Carter at The Gospel Coalition. About 25 percent of younger Millennials are unaffiliated with a religion, up from 11 percent who were affiliated with a religion in childhood. About 76 percent of Millennials feel that modern-day Christianity "has good values and principles," but 64 percent object to the church as being "anti-gay."
9. They're stressed out
Millennials are more stressed out than previous generations, according to a recent study, says Alice G. Walton at The Atlantic. The biggest sources of stress for Millennials are "money, work, and the cost of housing." They are also "more likely to say that relationship problems were sources of stress," and less likely "to express their feelings in their relationships." Millennials are more likely than older generations to turn to yoga and meditation as stress relievers, as well as going online or playing video games.
This story — originally published on May 21, 2012 — was last updated on April 18, 2013.