Millennials get a bad rap, which isn't exactly surprising—nobody likes a youthful generation while they're youthful. If you're lucky, like Gen X, people stop paying attention to you when the next whippersnappers come along. If you're like the boomers—and millennials look a lot more like the boomers, both in terms of size and outlook, than Gen X—people will keep right on maligning you through AARP eligibility. But boomers have, over time, shed some of the most outrageous or unfair of the stereotypes assigned to them, and hopefully millennials will grow out of their's as well. In the service of helping that along, allow me to attempt deconstruction of several prominent millennial myths.
Myth #1: Millennials are young
Some are—with the outer bounds of millennial birthdom stretching as late as 2000 by some accounts, the youngest millennials are currently in their early teens. But the oldest of us were born in the early 1980s (some even say late '70s), placing us firmly in our early 30s these days. Millennials are getting married and having babies and running companies and all kinds of crazy stuff by now, despite the media portrayal of millennials as pretty much perpetually college-age. By 2020, Gen Y (as millennials are alternately known) will account for some 46 percent of the U.S. workforce.
Myth #2: Millennials are all living in their parents' basements
Much has been made over data seeming to show that adult millennials are living with their parents in record numbers. According to the most recent U.S. Census Bureau data, more than half of adults under 25 are living at home. But as Derek Thompon at The Atlantic recently pointed out, the census statistics count college students who live in campus dorms or apartments as living "at home." Because young people are attending school in record numbers, this skews the results comparative to previous generations and makes it appear like many more millennials are in dire straights than actually are. When you remove college students from the equation, the share of 18- to-24-year-olds living at home has been steadily declining since 1986.
Myth #3: Young millennials are doing significantly worse than older millennials
A new poll from Zogby Analytics looked at differences between older millennials, which Zogby defined as those born in 1979-1989, and the younger millennials born 1990-1996. Lauren Alix Brown recently summarized some of these findings at Quartz: "The older cohort was more apt to have a college degree, consider their current job a career, and less likely to have lost a job in the past 12 months." But while this may be perfectly true, it doesn't really mean much of anything. Older millennials in this study are currently 25- to 35-years-old, while the younger cohort is 18- to 24. Of course the former are going to be more likely to have finished college and landed in a job they consider career potential.
Myth #4: Millennials want to ban abortion
Those who want to make abortion illegal in all circumstances often assert that they have the younger generation on their side—perhaps even that millennials are "more pro-life" than either boomers or seniors. PolitiFact.com tackled that one earlier this year and found it patently "false." In a 2013 study from the Marist Institute for Public Opinion, only 40 percent of millennials called themselves "pro-life," compared to 45 percent of Gen X, 47 percent of boomers, and 53 percent of seniors.
A study this year from the Public Religion Research Institute did find that 65 percent of millennials said the term pro-life describes them "at least somewhat well"—but 74 percent of this same group said the same thing about "pro-choice". It seems many millennials simply don't feel comfortable pinning themselves neatly within these old labels. In the same study, 52 percent of millennials said they personally believe abortion is "morally wrong," compared to 36 percent that said it was "morally acceptable." Yet 55 percent believe abortion should be legal in all or most cases, compared to only 41 percent that believe it should be illegal in all or most cases.
Myth #5: Millennials are anti-capitalist
Perhaps Occupy Wall Street cemented this myth in Americans' minds. But if anything, it's more accurate to say that millenials are anti-corporatist. They distrust the collusion of Big Business and Big Government. But as I explore in Reason's October issue, even countercultural millennials aren't anti-money, anti-profit, or anti-entrepreneurship in the way that previous youth movements have been. "Ultimately, money is power, and if you have more power you can use that power for good things," one millennial entrepreneur told me. "Profit isn't seen as such an evil thing anymore," said another. "It's more about how that profit is used."
A 2009 poll from the Center for American Progress found nearly equal numbers of millennials agreed that "the free market is still the best way to organize our economy" (39 percent) as those who said "our current economic problems show what happens when you rely too much on the market and reduce regulations on corporations" (42 percent). In the 2014 Reason-Rupe poll of millennials, 64 percent said they supported a free-market economy over a government-managed one, and 55 percent said they have entrepreneurial ambitions.