Getty Images/Valentin Casarsa
The 2 billion member Millennial generation is reaching early adulthood, and they are already having a profound effect on the global economy. Businesses around the world are continually meeting and instituting reform in an attempt to capture the interests of the emerging market. So what do young people believe and how will the economy respond to their demands?
Millennials have a profound sense of community
A number of causal mechanisms have been proposed to explain why Millennials feel so connected to their peers, from their upbringing in the world of social media to their collective feeling of economic and political betrayal brought on by the global financial collapse. Regardless of the causes, which are probably more complex and nuanced than many tend to speculate, the result is the same. Young people value friendship, democracy, and a sense of transnational interconnectedness.
As evidenced by protests around the world, from Occupy Wall Street to anti-Brexit marches, to the Arab Spring, young people form collective groups who push for a more collective society. They believe wealth and power should be distributed and spread out more fairly among society. That’s not to say the world’s youth aren’t competitive and economically ambitious, they are. Data on the world’s Millennials shows economic achievement is still an important value, more so in developing countries than in the West, but that personal happiness and peer relationship are, in many ways, equally important to economic success.
Millennials tend to distrust government
Research shows young people around the world agree that government doesn’t operate with their best interests in mind. This is unsurprising considering the instability they’ve experienced in their lifetime. They saw the rich retain their wealth as they lost everything in the economic collapse, wars and terrorism rise in the Middle East, and genocide spread across Africa. Because voter participation remains low among the youth, politicians too often cater to baby boomers while ignoring their economic, political, and social demands.
Furthermore, data leaks have exposed issues of government surveillance, political bribes, and global corporate tax evasion that weaken trust even further. Young people feel like government is designed for the elites while ignoring working people. For older generations, this may feel like a moment or period of corruption. For Millennials, they’ve never known a world in which this wasn’t the norm. They’re likely correct in feeling that way; politics has always invited corrupt behavior, but the dispersion of technology has made it more transparent, and globalization has broadened its impact.
Climate change is a reality for the global youth. Many have experienced its physical impacts first hand, and those who haven’t accept the scientific consensus as more than just a hunch. When they search climate change on the internet, they see images of polar bears standing on melted ice and videos of major floods and fires. Those who don’t feel it can clearly see the devastation and potential catastrophe posed by the changing climate, and they see their politicians doing little to change it. While a baby boomer might see the Paris agreement as a major success, Millennials are more likely to feel as if relatively little is being done to solve such a major problem. After growing up in the “climate change era” and seeing the sluggish response, they have little faith in government to provide adequate resources to, in their eyes, save the future of the planet.
Millennials believe they can change the world
In spite of facing economic recession, climate devastation, the rise of transnational terrorism, and growing inequality, Millennials are exceedingly optimistic. 62 percent of Millennials signaled their belief that they can affect change locally. More than 40 percent believe they can institute global change. In some countries that number is much higher, including 68 percent of Mexican Millennials, 60 percent of Indian Millennials, and 52 percent of American Millennials. 67 percent of all surveyed say their countries best days are ahead of them.
This change, both local and global, comes primarily through education, say a majority of young people. Despite being labeled things the “A-D-D generation,” and having the perception of being overly immersed in cell phones, Millennials care deeply about education, both personally and for the world as a whole. If people are able to get a quality education, it is believed, innovation and entrepreneurship will create a brighter tomorrow.
What does this mean for the economy?
We’ve already seen global market forces adjust to cater to young people in some key ways. Environmental sustainability has become an important staple of marketing energy products. Organic foods and thoughtful dietary consumption increasingly dominates the food industry. There’s a race in the technology sector to create products that increase convenience and expand knowledge.
The technological convenience and fast paced world that Millennials grew up in means not only are they open to change, they expect it. Driverless cars, 3D printing, test-tube meat, and natural health services are all examples of products that older generations may not have willingly accepted, but that young people are eagerly demanding. Furthermore, today’s youth is embracing the sharing economy, which prioritizes usage over possession. The successful transportation, education, and energy companies of the near future will continue to create and improve upon communal products.
The surest thing we can say about the future economy is that it will involve rapid technological advancement, both for personal and industrial use. Millennials believe that they can be agents of change, and they believe that education and technology is the mechanism to do so. Combine this with their distrust of government, and companies find a major niche: Create personal technological gadgets that allow, or at least are perceived to allow, an individual to impact the world in a way their government can’t or won’t.
Some of the most lucrative industries today produce fossil fuels, sugary foods and drinks, and gas/oil powered transportation. That is almost certain to change. It’s impossible to know what the economy of the future will look like, but one thing is certain. The Millennial generation is one of the most unique in history, and their demands are going to have a profound impact on how the global economy of the future operates.