August 19, 2019

Millennials and Gen Zers grew up in a political and economic climate that drastically differs from the world previous generations grew up in. As a result, there are some significant differences in how those young adults see the world.

Access to technology and information has also changed the way millennials and Gen Zers learn about issues and take action to make a difference. The experience of those generations is also vastly different since they are far more diverse than any generations that came before them.

Young adults are redefining what it means to make a difference. They see democracy differently, care about several crucial causes and have different expectations from elected officials.

Young adults and activism

Students making a difference through Up to Us.

The definition of activism is changing. While 52% of millennials think of themselves as activists, that generation is likely to associate activism with protests and similar forms of engagement. Conflict is not seen as a positive force for change. Millennials would rather look for other ways to be heard and engage with their causes.

There are different attitudes regarding who should take action to address the issues we are facing:

  • 64% of millennials think the government should do more to solve problems.
  • That percentage goes up to 70% for Gen Zers.
  • 70% of millennials believe they can create change.
  • 90% of millennials think they can make the U.S. a better place.

Young adults expect more from elected officials in terms of addressing important issues. They are more likely to hold them accountable. Gen Zers grew up in a world where it's easy to reach out to candidates and officials on social media to initiate a direct dialogue, a trend that will continue to shape democracy in the future.

Corporations are another piece of the puzzle. Young adults are more likely to expect brands to support social causes compared to previous generations. A huge majority (94%) of Gen Zers think companies need to tackle important issues. Young consumers are more likely to choose products from brands that support causes and to switch brand if a company isn't perceived as being socially conscious.

What do young adults care about?

Millennials care about a wide range of issues. The top issues that are mentioned in surveys and studies include education, wages, health care and the economy.

Gen Zers consider those issues to be important too, but poverty and hunger also appear on the list of issues that generation cares about.

Climate change rally sign reads "climate change is bad for economy."

Climate change is another issue young adults consider to be important. Compared to older generations, young adults are far more likely to agree that there is a connection between climate change and human activity. Gen Zers are more likely to see addressing climate change as a priority since 89% of them say they are worried about the planet.

When it comes to federal spending, 61% of millennials don't believe that budget cuts would address the long-term problem of funding Social Security. Reducing the federal deficit is seen as a top priority by approximately 42% of millennials, a percentage that is slightly lower than for older generations.

Political alignment

There is a noticeable difference between millennials and the silent generation born between 1925 and 1945 when it comes to Donald Trump's approval rating or issues such as immigration or discrimination.

Trump's job performance approval rating was at around 30% for millennials and Gen Zers in 2018 while 54% of members of the silent generation approved of his job performance.

In 2016, 43% of millennials identified as liberals while 50% identified as conservatives. Seven percent of young adults were either neutral or chose a different political alignment. Two years later, another study found that millennials were less likely to identify as conservative compared to older generations.

Polls for the 2018 midterms found that 62% of registered millennials voters were in favor of electing Democratic candidates. The millennial generation currently has the largest share of left-wing voters since 25% of them consistently vote for liberal candidates.

How are young adults making a difference?

Social media engagement in politics.

We can't talk about young adults taking a stand for the causes they care about without talking about digital platforms. Gen Zers are the first generation that grew up online. For digital natives social media is seen as a way of making a difference. Being connected also helped Gen Zers become socially conscious at a young age.

Members of Generation Z are slightly more likely to get engaged online since 58% of them believe that supporting social or environmental causes online is more effective than doing something locally.

Historically, young voters have always had a low turnout rate compared to older generations. That trend could be changing.
During the 2018 midterms 3.3 million of 18- to 29-year-olds voted early. Millennials had a turnout of roughly 50% in 2016, and votes in the 2018 midterms nearly doubled compared to the 2014 midterms due to increased turnouts among Gen Xers, millennials and Gen Zers.

Gen Zers could become a significant force at the polls. In 2018 only 4% of that cohort was old enough to vote but a third of them went to the polls.

The 2020 elections will confirm whether or not young adults are more likely to vote. Ten percent of voters will be between 18 and 23, and the electorate will be more diverse than ever before, mostly due to millennials and Gen Zers being more diverse generations.

However, longer life expectancy means that 23% of voters will be 65 or older in 2020. Even though young adults will influence the outcome of the 2020 election, other generational cohorts are still significant and turnout remains unpredictable.

Donations and volunteering are other avenues young adults are likely to explore to make a difference. Millennials are slightly more likely to volunteer than previous generations. A third of them volunteered for at least 11 hours in 2017. It seems that millennials prefer direct engagement such as volunteering rather than donations. Volunteering could become more common as more employers create programs to help their employees make a difference by volunteering.

Trends and statistics show that young adults are more aware of social issues and more likely to expect the government to take action to solve those issues. They also believe they can make a difference through engagement, voting or even their choices as consumers.

Optimism is a defining factor behind those behaviors, but millennials and Gen Zers are aware that their generations face unprecedented economic issues linked to irresponsible fiscal policies. It's an issue that needs to be discussed and addressed due to how it will impact economic growth in the future and potentially limit the government's ability to address other issues such as education or climate change. It's Up to Us offers events, programs and resources to help you draw attention to that issue and make a difference on your campus!