The Millennials

January 10, 2012

Generation Y. Millennials. Echo Boomers.  The Boomerang Generation.

These names are used to describe the generation of young adults born between 1982 to the mid-1990s. They range in ages from about 18-29. They face high unemployment rates (37 percent are unemployed or out of the workforce) and because many graduated college during a recession, they will face the poor economic consequences of this on their salaries and careers for up to 15 years. Yet Millennials are extremely optimistic and are volunteering in record numbers.

As a millennial myself, I was curious to take a more in-depth look at this generation and how it impacts the field of volunteerism.

A Few Fun ( Possibly Superfluous) Facts

  • 2010 Pew Research describes millennials as “confident, self-expressive, liberal, upbeat, and open to change.”
  • 3/4 of millennials have profiles on a social network, while 1/5 have uploaded a video of themselves to the internet
  • Almost 4/10 have a tattoo and 1/4 have something other than their ears pierced
  • 37% of 18-29 year olds are unemployed or out of the workforce (This takes into account those going to school who are not employed; the December unemployment rate for 20-24 year olds was 14.4%, compared to the national average of 8.5%)
  • 2/3 claim that “you can’t be too careful” when dealing with people, but are less skeptical of government than previous generations
  • 6/10 millennials were raised by both parents, the lowest rate of any generation so far
  • 1/5 are married (Boomers’ marriage rates were twice that)
  • 1/3 are parents
  • Millennials are gearing up to be the most educated generation; 39.6% of those 18-24 were enrolled in college
  • 1/8 of those over 22 are living with their parents again (hence the term “boomerang generation”)
  • Only 2% are military veterans
  • They are the most likely generation to identify as liberal, are not as supportive of a strong national security policy, and back more progressive social policies
  • As a generation truly defined by their use of technology, 83% sleep with their cellphones

Delaying Adulthood

Sociologically speaking, millennials are delaying the traditional markers of adulthood, like completing school (more return to graduate studies), leaving home (we are the ‘boomerang generation’), becoming financially independent (more are taking national service positions), marrying (the average age for marriage is 26 for women and 28 for men, five years later than the Boomers), or having children. The name “Failure to Launch” generation came from this postponement of adulthood. If you somehow missed the intriguing article, “What is it about 20-somethings” written by Robin Marantz Henig in the New York Times in August of 2010, I would suggest a read. It debates the merits of putting off adulthood and whether this prolonged adolescence should be categorized as a new life state, “emerging adulthood.” But the reality is, that many 20-somethings are prolonging the journey to adulthood (by traditional markers).  And it has real consequences for their participation in volunteerism.


Millennials are volunteering in record-breaking numbers. According to the National Conference on Citizenship, “Millennials are showing strong interest in civic participation and reversing some of the declines observed among youth since the 1970s.” We are more civically engaged than both Gen X and the Boomers were at our age, at least when it comes to volunteering. Millennials are less likely to vote and participate in groups, church, or meetings.

Millennials may be more involved in service because of the proliferation of opportunities available to them. Many high schools and colleges require service hours and offer many opportunities to get involved. This is one of the reasons 18-23 year olds are more involved than the older half of their generation: they have access to more civic engagement opportunities.

There has been an increase in recruitment numbers for the PeaceCorps, AmeriCorps, and, recently, military service (though overall numbers for military service are down from previous generations). In fact, AmeriCorps applicants have tripled in the past two years, according to Gayle Baker of Due to financial times, and a desire to prolong adulthood, many choose national or international service as a way to purposefully spend a year or two while waiting for more job opportunities to become available.

Millennials volunteering numbers have been rising steadily, according to The majority of Millennials gave their time to educational and youth service institutions in 2010.


Millennials are characterized by their optimism, or as others may call it naivete. Millennials are optimistic about their economic futures, despite the fact that most of them are unhappy with our current salaries. 90% believe that they will eventually live a good (financially secure) life.

Millennials are continuing to follow their parents’ upbeat advice, “Follow your dreams.” Right now, that just means volunteering to find a job and remaining obstinately optimistic that our economic prospects will change.

Are you a millennial? Why do you volunteer? 

How do you engage millennial volunteers in your organization? What are the unique challenges or benefits that you see when trying to engage this generation? How can you capitalize on their optimism?

All facts, data, and information used in the article came from:

Pew Research Center (

National Conference on Citizenship


Generation Y or Millenials” by Gayle Baker, Marketing Director at

Kat Southard (; 651.255.00556)

Member Outreach Coordinator

AmeriCorps*VISTA (trying to put off adulthood!)

Minnesota Association for Volunteer Administration