If you’d like to better understand the Millennial generation, also known as Gen Y – those born approximately between the years 1980 and 2000 – then I suggest you read the book The Millennials: Connecting to America’s Largest Generation by Thom Rainer and his son Jess Rainer. Thom is a Baby Boomer while Jess is a Millennial. I admire the collaborative effort they put forth in writing the book.
But before I say more about the book, let me explain a few reasons for my interest and possible bias toward both the generation and the book.
First, I”m a 56-year-old Baby Boomer with two sons who are Millennials born in 1980 and 1983. I spent a number of years doing college ministry seven days a week with Millennials. I wore with pride (and still do) the name “Blue” assigned to me by some of those college students, a name taken from the old dude who hung out with the younger crowd in the movie Old School (whose manager in real life was, coincidentally, named Jeff Ross). Part of my inclination to the Millennial generation may just be some of the values we tend to share in spite of the age difference, although we certainly differ in some significant ways, especially theologically. Still, for whatever reasons, I like this generation a lot and I enjoy being with them.
One reason I am predisposed to appreciate the book is because Thom is an acquaintance from having attended seminary with him in the 1980s. We weren’t in the same degree program and didn’t hang out together, but my wife typed up Thom’s PhD dissertation in those days with our suitcase-sized, 30 pound, cutting edge IBM “Portable” PC. But, I digress.
For the reasons above as well as the relevance of the topic to my work and church, I was eager to read the book.
A word of background about the authors… Thom is now president and CEO of Lifeway Christian Resources and has been highly involved in research on many subjects in his current and previous roles. He has written numerous books and is well respected, particularly in the evangelical Christian denomination we have both served for decades. Co-author son Jess Rainer is also in Christian ministry. While they do not hide (nor should they) their evangelical Christian perspective in the book, they go above and beyond to objectively analyze the research results of the 1200 Millennials studied. The group consisted of Millennials born between 1980 and 1991 – older Millennials. The results can be trusted as accurate for the population studied and any speculation that groups interviewed or results published are skewed to support a predetermined agenda on the part of the authors would be woefully incorrect.
It is no surprise that generations as a whole take on different characteristics than previous generations. Everyone reading this post can likely contrast his/her generation with that of their parents or grandparents, identifying broad, generally correct differences. At the same time, it is obviously wrong to assume that all members of any generation are alike in any, much less all, areas of study. I only need to spend a little time with my Baby Boomer peers to realize that we run the gamut of beliefs, values, motivations, and lifestyles. The same can be said for Millennials. There is also truth, though, in the fact that patterns and trends emerge when studying generations. One characteristic that may have been true for 60% of Boomers might only be true for 20% of Millennials, for example. It is important to keep these big-picture realities in mind when reading the book. It is vital to resist the temptation to paint all Millennials with the same brush just as it would be wrong to do the same with Boomers or any other generation.
That said, what about the contents of the book itself? Glad you asked.
Given the study of 1200 Millennials, the book addresses a variety of topics in its eleven chapters, beginning with an introduction to the generation. The first chapter, “Meet the Millennials,” sets the stage with some quick claims about the majority of Millennials who now make up the largest generation in America, surpassing Baby Boomers (those born between 1946 and 1964) in quantity. These general characteristics of Millennials include:
- They are the most educated generation in American history.
- They are marrying much later in life, if at all.
- 65% of them cohabit prior to marriage, compared to just 10% in the 1960s.
- They are a more diverse group than previous generations with minorities making up 40% of the total. This diversity is assumed, expected, and valued.
- They want to make a difference in the world, not focusing as much on self as on how they can make that difference. They are impatient with people or institutions that impose what they consider to be unnecessary barriers to positive change.
- They are a hopeful generation.
- They do not define greatness as other generations might.
- They are very relational, typically having strong ties with friends and family, including their parents whose advice they seek and respect.
- They are willing and able learners, eager to have mentors.
- They look to religion much less than previous generations. While a majority claim to be “spiritual,” a very small minority consider any type of spirituality really important in their lives.
- They are not workaholics. They seek a better work-life balance than their predecessors.
- They are “green” in that they think and act intentionally with environmental concerns, though not to the extremes some may imagine.
- They are communicators anytime, anywhere, with 70% saying the cell phone is vital to their lives. Texting is their primary means of communication.
- They are financially confused and tend to turn toward the government for help.
Given the opening overview points above, the remaining chapters then do a deeper dive into these characteristics, sharing the research results and sprinkling the chapters with a generous number of quotes and anecdotes from the interviews. Subsequent chapters focus on a Millennial’s perspective, family, openness and diversity, motivation, the workplace, their role as mediators, their connection with media, money, religion, and then a final chapter geared toward the church and how it needs to respond to this generation. A postscript section summarizes many of the book’s findings and challenges the reader to be thoughtful and intentional in working with Millennials.
I found the book to be very worthwhile, informative from a research perspective, unbiased in its analysis of data, carefully written so as not to dwell to a mind-numbing degree on research numbers, and for me very practical in that my workplace has a growing population of Millennials and my church wishes it did. Since the book was published in 2011, some of the stats such as the number of subscribers to social networks will jump out as very outdated, but there is no way around that in printed publications that have been around even one year, much less two, especially given the time involved between research and publication.
There is no shortage of articles and resources related to Millennials. A Google search will yield more than anyone could read in a lifetime. In just the past few days, my personal, normal, daily routine of looking at resources from people I follow on Twitter and elsewhere has produced the following resources with no search effort on my part:
My generation of Boomers is large, of course, but we’re now entering retirement at the rate of 10,000 Boomers per day while the even larger Millennial generation is making up more and more of the workforce. Yes, Boomers will probably be able to go to their grave watching reruns of Andy Griffith, M.A.S.H. and other staples of their earlier years. We’ll be able to find radio stations with songs from our youth, toys we grew up with, and more because there are still enough of us around to demand them. We’ll be self-centered enough to keep thinking the world revolves around us even when it doesn’t. But it is critical that those of all generations understand, get connected with, and learn to live, work, play, serve, and (maybe) worship with Millennials. Reading this book will be a good start.
As Thom Rainer and Jess Rainer write in their closing words:
“Are we ready for the Millennials?
We better be ready.
They are already here.
Here come the Millennials!”
I, for one, am glad.