Education and Skills

7 ways millennials are different from their grandparents 50 years ago

Singer Rihanna and her grandfather Lionel Braithwaite share a laugh at the First Annual Diamond Ball fundraising event at The Vineyard in Beverly Hills, California December 11, 2014. The event benefits the Clara Lionel Foundation (CLF).

Singer Rihanna and her grandfather Lionel Braithwaite share a laugh during a fundraising event in 2014. Image: REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni

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In 1966, the Vietnam War was raging, the Soviet Union and the US and its allies were locked in a nuclear arms race and John Lennon had proclaimed The Beatles were “more popular than Jesus”.

That year America's "Silent generation", now mostly in their 70s and 80s, was entering adulthood. During the intervening five decades they’ve witnessed huge changes to US society and culture.

Institutions like political parties, religion, the military and marriage no longer play such an important role in the lives of Americans, especially millennials. Today a majority of women are in the workforce and are more likely than men to have a college education. And at the same time, the US has become more racially diverse.

This is according to the Pew Research Center, which has compared US millennials with the Silent generation 50 years ago to reveal a string of changes that have occurred in young people’s lives.

The research highlights seven ways that millennials are different from the Silents, many of whom are old enough to be their grandparents.

1. Millennials are better educated

Only 7% of Silent-generation women aged 18 to 33 had completed at least a Bachelor’s degree. Today, millennial women are nearly four times (27%) more likely to have attained that level of education.

Millennial men are also better educated than their Silent predecessors. About 21% have at least a Bachelor’s, compared with only 12% of young men 50 years ago.

 Millennials on track to be the most educated generation to date
Image: Pew

2. Millennial women are better educated than millennial men

Millennial women are six percentage points more likely than men in the same age group to have achieved at least a Bachelor’s degree (27% vs 21%).

By comparison, when Silents were aged 18 to 33, women were five percentage points less likely to have finished at least four years of college education.

But the first generation of women to be better educated than their male peers were Gen Xers, the cohort following the Baby Boomers, who had gained a two percentage point advantage by 1998.

3. Millennial women are much more likely to be working

In 1963, a majority (59%) of young women were not in the labour force and just 38% were employed. That trend began to reverse as early as 1980. And now only 31% of millennial women are out of the labour force, while 63% are employed.

As young women, silents were about twice as likely as millennials to be out of the labor force
Image: Pew

4. Millennials face a tougher job market

Many millennials entered the workforce during the worst recession for decades, following the financial crisis of 2008 – a fact borne out by employment figures.

Some 78% of men in the Gen X, Boomer and Silent generations were employed at ages 18 to 33. This share has fallen to 68% among millennial men.

5. Millennials are much less likely to marry

Some seven in 10 millennials (68%) have never been married. And those who do marry, tend to wait until they’re older – typically 27 for women and 29 for men in 2014.

By comparison, in 1963, the average American woman married at 21 and the average American man at 23.

When the Silents were the same age as millennials are now, just 32% had never been married.

6. Millennials are much more likely to be from ethnic minorities

Immigration, marriage between people of different ethnic backgrounds and higher fertility rates among some ethnic groups have led to changes in the ethnic makeup of the US.

As a result, millennials are much more racially and ethnically diverse than their predecessors.


7. Millennials are far less likely to be war veterans

Young Silent men in 1963 were over 10 times more likely to have served in the military – only 3% of millennial men are veterans, compared with 35% of Silent men, who came of age during the Korean War and its aftermath.


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Related topics:
Education and SkillsEquity, Diversity and Inclusion
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