There is a good chance that in 2018 your association will talk about millennials.
How do we know you’ll talk about millennials?
Because we’ve all been talking about millennials for a very, very long time. And we’ve been talking about them the exact same way, as though they were an entire generation of people that somehow remains frozen in time. If you need proof, you can check out this 2007 story from 60 Minutes, where the CBS program talks about millennials who “roll into work with their iPods and flip flops around noon” or this research paper citing earlier studies conducted as far back as 2002 that reference a generation of people who are “lacking in loyalty and work ethic.”
In some ways, the term “millennial” long ago became a proxy for “a younger person I do not like and/or refuse to understand.” The birth years that define a millennial in these articles and studies that are now a decade to a decade and a half old are also important to note. The 60 Minutes story defines a millennial as someone born between 1980 and 1995. The research paper identifies a millennial as being born between 1979 and 1994. That means that in 2018, older millennials will be nearing 40.
Of course, the definition of a millennial has changed over time—but that only underscores how flawed our discussions of millennials are. We started talking about them around the time American Idol debuted, and we’re still talking about millennials as a group of hoodie-wearing underachievers living in their parents’ basement. And, to justify that lack of evolution in our millennial discussion, we’ve adjusted the birth years: In Simon Sinek’s viral video about millennials, he identifies the first birth year for millennials as 1984.
The point is that the discussion about millennials is rooted in negative stereotypes and badly outdated. Yet, it’s still a hot topic among association leaders. Before your association has its next strategy session about how it can reach millennials, here is some data you should keep in mind:
- The average first-time father in the United States is roughly 29 years old. The average first-time mother in the United States is roughly 26 years old. Americans are becoming parents at later ages, but still, if you turn 29 in 2018, that means you were born in 1989. If you turn 26, you were born in 1992. No matter what years you choose to use to define a millennial, being born in 1989 and 1992 puts you solidly within the millennial cohort.
- Over the past ten years, many demographers and generational consultants convinced themselves that millennials didn’t want to own a home and instead preferred to rent. It was as though something in this generation’s water was just different, and they suddenly declined to participate in home ownership—which has been the historical foundation of the American middle-class. It wasn’t because there was a severe shortage of housing stock, lending restrictions tightened, or student loans weighed down borrowers. Millennials were just different, right? Wrong. Millennials are buying homes again. In 2016, more than two-thirds of new buyers were millennials.
- The youngest possible person who could have voted for George W. Bush or John Kerry will turn 32 in 2018. Let that sink in. If you’re 35 or older, it will make you feel old–but it should make you realize that millennials are aging. It happens to the best of us.
Yes, millennials are different than prior generations. They are more comfortable with specific technologies, and they have their own perspective on the world that’s informed by both their individual and collective experiences.
But the same thing can be said about every generation.
In 2018, your association needs to realize that when you talk about millennials, you’re talking about a group of people that includes millions of homeowners, parents, and even people who are realizing that retirement isn’t just an abstract concept. If your association is failing to reach millennials, it isn’t just because you haven’t figured out how to use Snapchat.
It’s because you haven’t figured out how to deliver or articulate your value to a group of people living very adult lives with very adult worries and concerns.
Let 2018 be the year your thinking and discussion about millennials evolves. If it does, you just may succeed at what you’ve been trying to do for the past 15 years: