People Get Ready: Here come the Millennials

Cue up Curtis Mayfield and the Impressions. Last week’s release by the Pew Research Center of its “Millennials in Adulthood” analysis suggests there’s a train a-coming. And its steady progress is likely to force changes in community development over the next couple decades.

Here’s what the Pew report suggests and how it lines up with some other projections of demographic impacts:

First of all, there are a lot of folks in the Millennial age group, who in 2014 are between 18 to 33 years old. They currently comprise about 27 percent of the U.S. population and are destined to increase that share as the other giant generational bulge, Boomers currently 50 to 68 years old, ages out of the picture.

Unlike the Boomer cohort, with its 28 percent non-white population, the Millennials are the most racially and ethnically diverse generation yet, with 43 percent non-whites.

PS-Racial Makeup

Unlike the Boomers, the Millennials are aging into an unpredictable economic environment, complicated by student loan debt for many and by low-paying, long-hour entrance-level jobs. That’s especially true in places many Millennials want to be — like culture and network-rich urban environments with rising prices for acceptable housing.

Democrats and Republicans hoping to sell this generation on politics as usual face a near-impossible task. Experience growing up with people from a variety of racial and ethnic backgrounds has made Millennials more socially liberal than other generations. And their coming of age in an era of declining trust in institutions has made them more likely to embrace the “independent” political label than their elders.


Here’s another distinction between generations. Whether it’s for financial or lifestyle reasons or some combination of both, Millennials are delaying marriage and families later than older generations at this point in their lives.


So what does all this suggest for housing demand and community planning? With a growing population of risk-averse, cash-strapped singles, what will the impacts be on settlement patterns and housing choices built around easy credit for young families in a booming economy?

Here’s a PlaceShakers post from a year ago outlining the likely prospects for neighborhood locations, housing scales and for sale/for rent choices given the double whammy of aging Boomers and coming-of-age Millennials. And it’s worth repeating this warning from an article in the Nov./Dec. 2010 Washington Monthly by Patrick C. Doherty and Christopher Leinberger:

“Both of these huge demographic groups want something that the U.S. housing market is not currently providing: small, one-to-three-bedroom homes in walkable, transit-oriented, economically dynamic, and job-rich neighborhoods.”

Because we Boomers have so far dominated the housing trends discussion, we’ve tended to see the future challenge as one primarily about an undersupply of choices for aging in dignity in community. The impact of Millennials’ needs and preferences has been treated as a shadow, multiplier effect. If the Millennials share the same preferences and comprise a similarly huge segment of the population, why haven’t their voices made a bigger impact on the people who decide community investment and planning priorities?

One reason is that, despite their numbers, Millennials — and especially the large minority sub-group within the cohort — “punch below their weight,” as another Pew analysis puts it. Their disdain for the political squabbling in the two main political parties underlies their embrace of the “independent” label. And some of that indifference is reflected in their underrepresentation among likely voters. Which gives political leaders the opportunity to delay the inevitable reckoning with demography.

PS-Voter Turnout

The inevitability of demography, however, imposes a time limit on reality avoidance. With Boomers panicking about their limited choices for aging comfortably and the younger, more diverse generations aging into periods in their lives when they’re likely to vote in numbers more reflective of their demographic clout, change is coming.

So people get ready. Time to get on board.

Ben Brown

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  1. Speaking to the issue of political “independence”, something this article doesn’t mention is the vast array of state laws that make it hard for actually-independent politicians to come to the front and offer their ideas. While most Millennials may be registered as “independent”, for the most part we face the same boring two party candidates as we have for decades when it comes time to vote.

    In many states, it is prohibitively expensive to run an independent campaign, due to, say, signature requirements being several times higher for independent candidates than Democrats or Republicans (such is the case in Pennsylvania). In my opinion, ballot access for truly independent candidates is the issue we have to tackle if we really want to make an impact as a generation. People of my generation just aren’t going to register with the two major parties to vote in a primary to control the direction of the Democratic or Republican parties. Their ideas are seen as weak and tired. Simply put, we need independent candidates with fresh, innovative ideas for the 21st century.

    For what it’s worth, I’m a 29 year old living in a “walkable, transit-oriented, economically dynamic” old, inner-ring suburb of Philadelphia on a commuter rail line. And though you may call me politically “independent”, I’m actually a registered Green Party member.

    • I too live in Pennsylvania. I was a moderate Republican for years. I was, and still am, an independent voter, but I swtched to D after Congress nearly took the US over an economic Niagara Falls with their irresponsible votes on the Debt Ceiling and after it became obvious thart right wing agendas were racially based. Other factors were the “redistricting” that occurred in Pennsylvania after the R party took over the State house and the governorship and the hypocracy in the opposition to “Romboma Care”, which was written by the Conservative Heritage Foundation when Newt Gingrich promoted it as an alternative to what was labled “Hillarycare”. In my state the R’s put up a Tea Party candidate for US Senate and for my own Congressional District. Both won, Now the people that supported them with huge amounts of outside money wrtie teh scripts for their postions and call the shots on outcomes. . Now we have a big problem that sustains this system. Voters can only vote for primary candidates from their own party. If a voter registers as an Independent, that voter is not eligible to vote in a primary election. If they register “Socialist” or “Green” or “constitutional’ he or she can only vote for a primary candidate that has absolutely no chance of winning in a general election. By the time a registered”independent” or “third party registrant” gets to vote, the extremes of the base have decided upon a candidate that reflects the narrow, old school philosophical views of those that finance campaigns or use citizens united to pay for negative ads. . If Millenials want to change this system, get out there, organize and demonstrate support for open primaries..Don’t just sit back ,especially in Daddy and/or Mommy’s basement, and do nothing!!! In every measurable way the country is declining faster than a sinking ship:.So if you all don’t want to a live ina Boomer determined world in the future , get out there and get active now., and yes the Koch Brothers are borderline upper level boomers.

  2. SMC - Taylor Machado says

    As Millennials enter the work force the business world will change, from internal to external culture, to how business is done, and what is expected in business. The way communities are ran will change, whether that be the level of involvement or the types of food provided at the local grocery store. There will be some uncomfortable time of change and growing, but in the end hopefully America will come to a more diverse and accepting community overall.


  1. […] and designing open spaces.  Even the coveted Millennial generation that’s migrating to cities is more ethnically diverse than all previous generations.  If planning and design are not sensitive to cultural difference then we will not only exclude […]

  2. […] GenNext next: The location might have also explained the number of welcome new faces at the Congress, especially the under-30 crowd from across the border and from universities in easy travel range of western New York. Here come the Millennials. […]

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