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The Deloitte Global Millennial Survey 2019

Societal discord and technological transformation create a “generation disrupted”

In business, disruption can promote innovation, growth, and agility. That, in turn, creates powerful and progressive business models, economic systems, and social structures. But unbridled disruption also has a downside, one that’s apparent in the 2019 Millennial Survey results. Notwithstanding current global economic expansion and opportunity, millennials and Generation Z are expressing uneasiness and pessimism—about their careers, their lives in general, and the world around them. They appear to be struggling to find their safe havens, their beacons of trust. As a result, these younger, especially unsettled generations are instigating their own brand of disruption, both inadvertently and intentionally.

Among this year’s key findings:

  • Economic and social/political optimism is at record lows. Respondents express a strong lack of faith in traditional societal institutions, including mass media, and are pessimistic about social progress.
  • Millennials and Gen Zs are disillusioned. They’re not particularly satisfied with their lives, their financial situations, their jobs, government and business leaders, social media, or the way their data is used.
  • Millennials value experiences. They aspire to travel and help their communities more than starting families or their own businesses.
  • Millennials are skeptical of business’s motives. Respondents do not think highly of leaders’ impact on society, their commitment to improving the world, or their trustworthiness.
  • They let their wallets do the talking (and walking). Millennials and Gen Zs, in general, will patronize and support companies that align with their values; many say they will not hesitate to lessen or end relationships when they disagree with companies’ business practices, values, or political leanings.

A generation disrupted

Why are these young generations filled with distrust instead of optimism? Perhaps it’s because they’re perpetually caught in the crossfire of social, political, and economic commotion. 

Chief among the influencing factors is likely the economic recession of the late 2000s. At one end of the spectrum are older millennials who were entering the job market as the crisis unfolded. At the other end are Gen Zs, many of whom have spent half their lives in a post-crash world. Studies suggest that entering the labor market during a recession has long-term negative effects on subsequent wages and career paths.1

In the United States, millennials who entered the labor market around the recession, or during the years of slow growth that followed, experienced less economic growth in their first decade of work than any other generation. They have lower real incomes and fewer assets than previous generations at comparable ages, as well as higher levels of debt.2 The cumulative effect has altered a wide variety of financial decisions. 

The complete impact goes deeper than economics. Unlike the postwar 1950s—which were characterized by international cooperation, a baby boom, and economic expansion that benefited most—the past decade has been marked by a steep rise in economic inequality, a reduction in societal safety nets, insular and dysfunctional governments, increased tribalism fueled by social media, radical changes in the contract between employers and employees, Industry 4.0 technologies that are redefining the workplace, and personal technologies that make people both more connected and more isolated. 

The impact of myriad, radical changes to our daily lives has hit younger generations hard—economically, socially, and perhaps psychologically. Through this survey, this “generation disrupted” is telling us that continuous change and upheaval have created a population that is different at its core. But, they’re also providing valuable clues about how society’s institutions can respond to those differences in mutually beneficial ways that could increase trust, generate positive societal impact, and meet their high expectations.

References

1. Lisa B. Kahn, “The long-term labor market consequences of graduating from college in a bad economy,” Labor Economics 17, no. 2 (April 2010): DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j. labeco.2009.09.002; Yuji Genda, Ayako Kondo, and Souichi Ohta, “Long-term effects of a recession at labor market entry in Japan and the United States,” Journal of Human Resources 45, no. 1 (2010): pp. 157–96; Philip Oreopoulos, Till von Wachter, and Andrew Heisz, “The shortand long-term career effects of graduating in a recession,” American Economic Journal: Applied Economics 4, no. 1 (January 2012): pp. 1–29.

2. Christopher Kurz, Geng Li, and Daniel J. Vine, “Are millennials different?,” Finance and Economics Discussion Series, Federal Reserve Board, 2018.

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