Study Shows 'Millennials' May Be the Most Educated Generation in History

Feb 27, 2010

The Pew Research Center just released a study of American 18-29 year olds, dubbed the 'Millennial Generation.' They found that this group is becoming the most educated generation in history, and while the recession has set back their early careers, most Millennials remain upbeat about the future.

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College Students of the Millennium

High Aspirations for the Next Generation

In 2006, the Pew Research Center conducted their first survey of the Millennial Generation in conjunction with the PBS series 'Generation Next.' This report, The Millennials: Confident, Connected, Open to Change, expands on their original research, attempting to paint a more complete picture of what distinguishes American 18-29 year olds from other generations. The data was primarily drawn from a telephone survey Pew conducted in January 2010, which included 830 Millennials out of 2,020 adults nationwide. These findings were supplemented with information from several other surveys conducted by the Pew Research Group, including two in 2009, as well as an analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data.

College Plans for Millennial Generation

From The Millennials: Confident, Connected, Open to Change, page 40.

The survey's results look very promising for education advocates. The Millennials haven't yet surpassed Generation X in educational attainment, but they are on track to becoming the most educated generation in history. Only 19% currently have a degree, but 39% are still in college and 30% plan to earn a postsecondary degree in the future. The most common reasons for postponing higher education are a lack of time or money, but the survey points out that many Millennials overcome these obstacles: 24% attend school and work either full- or part-time.

The Millennial Generation also has exceptionally high aspirations for their postsecondary education. Of those who are currently enrolled in high school, college or graduate school, almost half plan to earn a graduate or professional degree. The numbers aren't as high for those who aren't currently in school - only 32% expect to earn a degree beyond college - but they still reflect a generation that strongly values higher education.

Employment of 18-29 year olds

From The Millennials: Confident, Connected, Open to Change, page 46.

Unfortunately, the economic downturn has had an exceptionally negative effect on the employment rates of this generation. In 2006, Pew found that half of all 18-29 year olds were working full-time. In 2010, after the recession hit, only 41% still have full-time jobs. By contrast, the proportion of older adults participating in the same surveys reporting full-time employment stayed about the same. And the recession is still hurting Millennials - 10% report losing their jobs recently, as compared to 6% of older adults.

Nevertheless, the Millennial Generation has kept a positive outlook. Although 68% say they're currently not earning enough money to live the lifestyle they desire, a full 88% say they expect to earn enough in the future to live the 'good life.' The Pew survey suggests they have a good reason to be optimistic. This is a young group that will still be in their prime working years as the recession resides, and with all that education they're pursuing, they'll be prepared to enter the workforce at full stride.

Teens Texting

Expressing Themselves: Tattoos and Texting

The Millennial Generation has also embraced many different modes of self-expression. Thirty-eight percent are tattooed - half of those have two to five tattoos and 18% boast six or more. Almost one in four are pierced somewhere other than their earlobes, about six times more than the number of adults with body piercings. The survey's authors relate these 'look at me' tendencies to Millennials' online habits. Three-quarters of 18-29 year olds have a profile on at least one social networking site, and one in five have posted a video of themselves online. However, Millennials aren't without caution. The majority of them use privacy settings on their profiles and 70% hide their tattoos behind clothing.

Unsurprisingly, Millennials also use cell phones a lot more than other groups. Although they're only slightly more likely to have a mobile than Gen Xers - 94% as compared to 90% - a full 41% of them have a cell and no landline, as opposed to 24% of Gen Xers. They also text a lot more. Eighty-eight percent use their phone to text, as opposed to 77% of Gen Xers, and 80% of the 18-29 year old survey respondents had texted in the past 24 hours. Of those, 25% are 'power-texters,' having sent over 50 messages in the 24 hour period. Unfortunately, all this cell phone use leads to some bad habits - although Millennials are no more likely than other groups to talk on the phone while driving, 64% report texting while driving.

The full report also covers demographics, civil engagement, family values, ideology and much more. You can download the report and view the data with Pew's interactive comparison graphic at Pewresearch.org/millennials.

How Millennial are you? People of any age can take the Pew quiz to find out how much you have in common with this generation.

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