What do Millennials actually want?

Millennials on their mobile phones image
Source: https://www.apptentive.com/blog/2015/05/18/marketing-to-millennials/

It might be fair to say that few generations are quite as misunderstood or misrepresented as millennials. Often seen as privileged or entitled by their seniors, and viciously defended as the future of work and industry by their peers, there’s a lot of talk about what millennials are like – but what do they actually want?

In a fiercely changing world, millennials are about to enter the peak of their earning lives – but what drives them forwards? Do they carry the torch of their baby boomer parents, or do they have different priorities?

Who are millennials?

To answer this question, it’s fundamentally important to understand exactly who millennials are.

While there isn’t an exact science to determining the criteria for the millennial generation, there are a few universally accepted parameters.

Millennials are, for the most part, the children of the baby boomer generation. The consensus is that they were born between the early 1980s and the mid-1990s (although some researchers are more generous with their estimates, accepting people born in the mid-1970s into the demographic).

What’s striking is that this means the demographic includes young adults at the start of their working lives – in their very early 20s – and people who are approaching the peak of their careers. As a result, even within the millennial demographic, the wants and desires of various individuals will likely differ greatly.

It’s also worth noting that the world millennials have grown up in is a stark contrast to the world of their parents. Advances in technology and drastic changes to the global political sphere mean that the playing field of millennials and their elders is far from level.

It’s also worth noting that there isn’t a collective hive mind of the generation. As with any group of people, not all millennials want the same things, and conclusions can only be drawn by looking at general trends and statistics. Despite this, a few things stand out, and the picture that’s painted is that millennials have a very different set of priorities.

How do they want to live?

For many years there’s been a general consensus as to what most people aim to get from life – while of course not universal, broadly speaking, most hope to maintain job security, own a home, get married and start a family – a trite, but nonetheless accurate assertion.

But millennials are showing signs that this might not be what they want at all. Marriage levels are decreasing – rapidly. Some estimates predict that in the US alone, by 2035, marriage will be as low as 40%. They’re also more liberal towards premarital sex, and sex in general – but surprisingly, the number of sexual partners the average millennial has in a lifetime has decreased from generations prior. The implication is that millennials don’t have a problem with commitment – they just don’t think it’s synonymous with marriage.

When it comes to home ownership, millennials again seem to be bucking the trends of the past, although not in the way you might expect. House prices have risen dramatically, and fewer young people own homes, but when surveyed, millennials have indicated that in fact they do want to own homes – multiple ones. It seems that their attitudes towards home ownership are more ambitious, it’s just more difficult to achieve than it was in decades past.

What do they want to buy?

Millennial spending is an often-cited topic. Aside from a desire to own their own homes, (and drastically unfair assertions about their passions for avocados), millennial purchasing habits are a strange and imprecise science.

The world of consumerism has changed drastically with the advent of online shopping, and advances in technology – and millennial priorities have led to an interesting new model of spending. So what do millennials want to buy?

  • Food – jokes about smashed avocado aside, millennials care about what they eat. As wellness increases in popularity, and along with it our understanding of what we eat, millennials take more care in their food purchasing – and spend more on organic or Fairtrade food in particular. 
  • Technology – as digital technology increasingly becomes part of our everyday lives in countless ways, millennials spend a lot on devices. As new models of smartphones are brought out every year, and with many technology brands implementing ‘planned obsolescence’ (things designed to stop working properly after a few years), millennials have to spend to keep up with the latest tech. 
  • Craft beer – or anything artisanal. Millennials do spend a lot of money on big-brand goods, but from an ethical standpoint, they also really care about quality and craftsmanship. The soaring popularity of craft beer and breweries exemplifies this.

Investment is also an interesting topic for millennials – they invest less than their elders in stocks, but there are indications that when it comes to things like fractional ownership, millennials are on board. Opportunities to invest in things like luxury holiday homes, for instance, appeal endlessly to millennials who don’t want to feel tied to one space, and have a tendency for wanderlust.

Where do they want to go?

Wanderlust is a big deal for millennials. They travel and explore more than any other generation has done in the past, and simply the mention of the phrase ‘gap year’ conjures up images of youthful backpackers hacking through jungles and sipping cocktails from coconuts.

The key thing is that millennials prefer experiential travel. They don’t just like to visit somewhere and sit by a poolside, feast on chips in Irish bars, or shut themselves away inside the walls of their resort. They like to explore, and immerse themselves in the culture of the place they’re visiting.

Travel providers are tapping into these desires and everything from backpacking holidays to luxury travel options are finding ways to immerse consumers in global culture. The rise in popularity of things like volunteerism among millennials also galvanises this idea – that millennials don’t want to just visit places, they want to experience them in a meaningful way.

How do they want to work?

In recent years there’s been a stark difference in the working habits of young professionals. Specifically, the number of people now freelancing has risen greatly, and only looks to continue growing – research has predicted that in the next decade, half of the working population could be freelancers.

Millennials, born of the digital age, are taking freelancing to a new level. When trying to understand what it is millennials want from the workplace, the answer may be – they want it to move. In other words, they want to be able to travel as they work.

The increasing viability of digital, creative industries like marketing and graphic design, have enabled millennial freelancers to work remotely – and many are choosing to do this not from home, but from all over the globe.

These ‘digital nomads’ are a growing sector of the millennial workforce, travelling the world as they freelance remotely via the internet. It seems that when it comes to the workplace, millennials are less interested in the traditional 9-5, and instead are more interested in flexibility, to the nth degree.

Final thoughts

It’s easy, in hindsight, to make bold claims and sweeping generalisations about a generation, and in years to come the consensus on what millennials ‘wanted’ will likely shift and adapt. The simplest way of looking at the issue is that millennials are the generation born into a world of instability. Economically, socially and politically, the world is an unstable place.

The needs and wants of those born into the millennial generation, in essence, derive from the fact that the world is moving quickly. They appreciate convenience, care about their spending and their futures, and are acutely aware of the implications of the decisions they make about their careers.

Millennials aren’t, in fact, the avocado-guzzling, gap-year taking youths we often mislabel them as. They work hard, and care about their futures. They’re ambitious, considerate, and forward-thinking, and whether we like it or not, they’re the future of our planet – and they’re reinventing modern life.

James is a graduate of English and American Literature and a passionate writer, with a particular interest in travel, architecture, and technology. He's a member of the team at digital marketing agency Gooey Digital, and outside of work his hobbies include playing music, reading, and watching films.