Numbers show the Millennial generation is averse to taking risks
“Go on adventures.” “Find your passion.” “Take a chance.”
These are common phrases in the world of high school and college students. They're words that are ingrained in the minds of children from a young age. As a result, an entire culture is constructed around the idea of casting off societal norms in pursuit of one’s true calling—often to the detriment of livable wages.
This same culture would appear to also breed a sort of restlessness in the Millennial soul, an intrinsic desire to take a risk.
But numbers are pointing to something entirely different.
According to Goldman Sachs, the Millennial generation—categorized as those born between 1980 and 2000—is not actually prone to taking risks.
At a forum held by the Pew Research Center, Neil Howe, president of Lifecourse Associations, said the CDC measures these tendencies by monitoring “youth risk surveillance indicators.” These indicators show just how much risk to which individuals are willing to dedicate themselves, and risks that used to be seen as commonplace in young adult behavior patterns are on the decline.
“[CDC researchers] keep over 50 of them: buckling up your seatbelt, did you have sex in high school, all kinds of various risk things,” Howe said. “The majority of these indicators are decisively down; the ones that aren’t are unchanged. … There’s only one that’s up, by the way, and that’s obesity—which is arguably the result of these kids just being kept at home by their parents too much.”
Howe said that as a result, Millennials are more likely to be planners rather than whimsical folk who jump the gun.
“That’s why their first question when they come for a job is not what’ll I get paid next week,” Howe said. “But ‘What are my odds here three or five years out? How do I kind of plan my life here?’”
And Millennials—the largest generation in history—are less likely to buy a house, be in a committed relationship with a live-in partner, put any trust in religion, or even move out of their parents' house post-college, despite an increased job market.
Thus, the future of entrepreneurship is also at risk. According to the Kauffman Foundation, the rate of new start-ups is higher today for every age bracket besides adults ages 20-34. Twenty years ago, around 34 percent of entrepreneurs were under the age of 34, and today that percentage is sitting at around 25.
Jean Twenge, the author of “Generation Me,” says there is even evidence that Millennials would instead prefer to work for big companies and maintain the same job for the entirety of their careers. Twenge points to the protective environments in which many Millennials were raised as the potential culprit for their comfort-seeking tendencies. “Everybody got a trophy,” Twenge told the Los Angeles Times.
But a lack of desire to leap into the start-up world could be due to financial anxiety, too. The unprecedented burden of student loans and shifting economic conditions is making an impact. According to a study conducted by Northwestern Mutual Planning & Progress, 60 percent of Millennial respondents said financial anxiety is influencing their career trajectory negatively, versus the 41 percent of the general population who also answered.
Trust in other human beings is shown to be markedly lower as well. According to a 2014 study conducted by Pew Research Center, only 19 percent of Millennials believe that most people can be trusted. By contrast, Generation Xers are sitting at 31 percent, Silents at 37 percent and Boomers at 40.
Dr. Bryan Poole, professor of psychology at Lee, says the source of the general skepticism and mistrust likely comes from the economic and political environment into which Millennials were born.
“Some hypothesize that skepticism, that mistrust, comes from us being burned during the recession,” Poole said. “It may be driven by the unstable economy or the wavering politics that we endure. Those are things that are vacillating every single day. And I think we have a trust issue because of that.”
And for Millennials, strengthening government is becoming much more preferable than striking out on their own into a less-controlled society. Many see bigger government as a means to provide for those who are less fortunate—something the generation, as a whole, has a higher tendency to care about.
Indeed, Senator Bernie Sanders—a democratic-socialist presidential candidate who openly campaigned for higher taxes and free college in the 2016 election—remarkably dominated votes from the Millennial generation in the Democratic Party primary.
Sanders received almost 30 percent more votes from Millennials than Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump combined.
“They actually trust big institutions like government more than older people [do],” Howe, who was the first to use the term ‘Millennial,’ said. “They believe we could put in a strong set of community and national organizations that would assume a high degree of dependence on these institutions. … We would all give more to the community, and the community would give us back in an equitable way.”
But for all their intrinsic aversion to risk, Millennials are becoming known for their mission-driven style of giving and volunteering. According to NBC, around 80 percent of Millennials give charitably in some form per year, and their methods for giving are mostly through digital means.
“[They are] a primed generation willing and wanting to do good action into causes and issues they care about,” Derrick Feldmann, founder of Achieve—a website that delivers data-driven info on Millennial behavior patterns—told CNBC. “Millennials are very excited...to do something good for the cause.”
Poole maintains that this chase for a more fulfilling lifestyle and career may show up in modern economics in a virtually unprecedented fashion. The job market, ever-expanding as it is, is likely to show positive rather than negative shifting.
“Being risk averse might lead to different ways to solve a problem,” Poole said. “It seems like Millennials are finding creative ways to solve old problems: creative ways of alternative energies, for example—creative ways of getting around. I don’t know that it will lead to fewer jobs. I wonder if it’s going to lead to different kinds of jobs because Millennials are adapting to the ever-changing culture.”
That change in culture, despite inciting a great deal of hesitancy, also appears to be inspiring optimism.
Millennials are choosing to see the glass half full when it comes to America's future as a nation. In fact, 49 percent of Millennials say the country’s best years are ahead.
But Poole warns Millennials to check themselves when it comes to political discourse. He says their trend toward risk aversion could be manifesting itself in that area, in particular.
“I think we have a problem with not being okay with other people’s opinions,” Poole said. “I think that creates conflict that doesn’t need to be there.”