Millennials Will Take on Society’s Problems Their Way

We are so eager to know what the Millennial generation will do before it can write its own history that we parse every poll like the latest Pew analysis for hints of what they might do. 

From this 2014 poll, we learn that American Millennials are less likely to affiliate with political parties and religious institutions than preceding generations.  They are less eager to describe themselves as patriotic, religious or environmentalists. They also report lower levels of social trust. 

These Pew findings are not likely to reassure associations and other organizations that need Millennials to join and become their future leaders. 

Many futurists use the Strauss and Howe generations model to interpret how each generation responds to its experiences in the cycles of history.  According to this model, Millennials should be the next civic generation--a greatest generation for our times that will fix the really wicked problems mounting up in society. 

Futurist Sara Robinson, analyzing the Pew survey in a recent Association of Professional Futurists exchange, offered, “It is no surprise that Millennials feel no love for traditional institutions. Their parents have spent their lives tearing these institutions down. What’s left now of schools, churches, governments, law enforcement, healthcare, business, on and on, is dysfunctional and too corrupt.”  Yet she reminds us this generation has been “raised to be more cooperative and communitarian.”

“We’re just now hitting the point in the cycle where the Millennials are mostly in young adulthood and the serious conversations about what and how they rebuild is beginning to happen,” She said.  “They ‘need’ government, religion, education, health care, the economy and all the rest to work” to solve the wicked problems they will face.

So looking again at the Pew survey, we can see some hints of how Millennials might solve these problems. They are the best educated cohort with one third having a four-year-college degree or more. They are adept at using “the platforms of the digital era to construct personalized networks of friends, colleagues and affinity groups.”   They are more willing to describe themselves as liberals and they are more liberal on many of the social issues Pew probed. They are even more likely to support an activist government which may help them see government as a useful tool for change.

Millennials are not daunted by the problems ahead. Almost half report they are upbeat about America’s future and believe the country’s best years are ahead. Boomers at their age were not as optimistic according to the Pew analysts.

Millennials are optimistic, smart, highly networked, and more diverse than any other generation of adults.  When they exert their leadership in our religious institutions, political parties, government, associations and other organizations, their lower levels of social trust may drive them to be our next great generation of reformers.  They will create or remake organizations that will be worthy of their affiliation.