Millennial Study: The Kids Are Actually Alright

“Millennial” — you’re not the only person who’s a little tired of the word. Yet we wouldn’t be making too risky a wager if we bet that attendees at last week’s Advertising Week events heard it once an hour. On average.

Today Adweek posted a survey of one hundred such consumers and noted some revealing (if unsurprising) trends: they love iPhones, 49 percent of them don’t own TVs, and they pronounce GIF with a hard “G.”

Here’s a video:

Stereotypes aside (and there were a few in that 90-second clip), the most important thing that marketers don’t understand about this demographic is their state of mind.

Contrary to the popular image of Millennials as a group of co-dependents with no confidence about their own place in the world, it turns out that many are OK with where they are…even if that place happens to be their parents’ house.

We recently spoke to Jeffrey Arnett, Ph.D., on the topic. Mr. Arnett is a Research Professor in the department of Psychology at Clark University and an expert on “emerging adulthood.” He’s behind a series of studies on “emerging” and “established” adults, and he recently provided commentary to The New York Times Magazine for a June trend piece on Millennials staying home.

Arnett discussed some Millennial misconceptions with us.

What surprised you most about your recent surveys?

“We have this cultural narrative in American society that parents can’t wait to get rid of their kids and move on with their own lives and that when kids remain home or come back home in their twenties, then parents are groaning and scheming from day one to get them out of the household.

Well, that turns out to be total fiction.”

In what sense?

“A nationwide survey of over 1,000 parents of 18 to 29-year-olds [found that] 38% of them had an 18 to 29-year-old currently living in their household, which tracks very well with census data…But what was really surprising was how positive parents are about that living situation.”

So parents of Millennials don’t actually see them as an annoyance?

“We had a question, ‘Which best describes your feeling about your child living with you now?’ and we gave them three options: mostly positive; mostly negative; or equally positive and negative…I was surprised that 61% of parents said mostly positive. Only 6% said mostly negative, and then the remaining 33% said it was equally positive and negative.

We asked further questions about the consequences of having a child living at home…and a majority of parents said things like, ‘I feel closer to my child emotionally,’ (67 percent) ‘I have more companionship with my child,’ (66 percent); ‘My child helps with household responsibilities,’ (62 percent).  So, again, that’s at variance with this idea that they’re just leeching off their parents and they’re lazy and useless.”

What did you take from these findings?

“They like having their kids around. These are very positive relationships, and when we surveyed the 18 to 29-year-old ’emerging adults’ they say the same thing.

Three-quarters of them say they would prefer to live independently of their parents…but 62 percent of parents said, ‘We get along well and my child likes living here.'”

How can these findings help marketers get a better sense of how to address this audience?

“We haven’t caught up with the reality that it does take longer to reach adulthood now than it did 20, 30, 50 years ago and that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

It’s too bad that they get stuck with all these negative stereotypes that aren’t fair and aren’t true.We somehow keep expecting them to become adults at 20 or 21 and that doesn’t really happen, and so we make fun of them and say nasty things about them.

It’s important to recognize their optimism as well as their anxiety.”

And what does this research tell you about their involvement in the social responsibility/non-profit sector?

“They’re very keen to serve, to volunteer for nonprofits that they believe in, and they do in large numbers — more than any other segment of the population, actually.

They might not be able to contribute a lot of money, but most of them are willing to contribute some money. [And] if you have an organization they believe in, it could be they’ll be contributing in one way or another all their lives.”

What would you recommend for organizations trying to reach this audience based on your research?

“Take them seriously and respect the fact that they are striving hard to make their way in life; they’re striving hard toward independence.

Anything that makes fun of them, portrays them as materialistic and doesn’t take them seriously will be rejected.

That’s not the way they feel about their lives.”

Transcription furnished by:

@PatrickCoffee Patrick Coffee is a senior editor for Adweek.