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New poll: Gen Y optimistic and embodies ‘what the future will look like’

In the US and abroad, millennials more focused on holding good jobs, less so on marriage and home buying

Despite a tough job market, mounting student loan debt and global unrest, millennials in the U.S. and Latin America expressed a sense of optimism in their future.

Members of this huge generation, coveted by marketers and politicians, saw bright prospects for themselves and their countries, according to a major survey of 6,702 people ages 18 to 30 on three continents — including 1,000 in the U.S.

The second annual survey by telecommunication giant Telefónica showed that almost 9 in 10 say they were satisfied with their lives.

“The millennials in the U.S. are more optimistic about the state of the country, about their personal lives, about their future and about possibilities” than are older Americans, said Alfredo Timermans, chief executive of Telefónica Internacional USA. “At the same time, they’re more concerned about the cost of education.”

Education and the economy ranked high in importance across the 18 countries surveyed in Latin America, the U.S. and Western Europe.

Millennials, also known as Generation Y, are a powerful wave of more than 80 million people in the U.S. — a number that surpasses the aging generation of baby boomers who have dominated the demographic landscape. (The youngest of 76 million boomers turn 50 this year, the oldest 68.) Millennials make up an estimated 25 percent of the U.S. population.

“The generation really is in the catbird seat, as far as their life stage,” said Cheryl Russell, a demographer and the editorial director of New Strategist Press, a publisher of demographic reference tools. “They’re at a stage where they’re embarking on a career, buying houses and establishing independent households. They are the largest generation in the nation.”

The greatest optimism came from millennials in Latin America, where 62 percent said they were “very optimistic” about the future, and the least from Western Europe, where only 22 percent expressed strong optimism. The U.S. was in between, at 43 percent, up from 35 percent last year.

Latin Americans also were much more likely to say that their country’s better days are ahead. That positivity extended to Hispanics in America. In the U.S., where half those surveyed were Hispanic, Latinos were more optimistic about the future of their country than their non-Hispanic peers (58 percent compared with 49 percent). Latinas are the most upbeat. Yet fewer U.S. Hispanics felt that they have had access to all the educational opportunities they desire.

‘[Millennials] are at a stage where they’re embarking on a career, buying houses and establishing independent households. They are the largest generation in the nation.’

Cheryl Russell

demographer, New Strategist Press

Tapping into this generation is a challenge for both marketers and politicians because they show an independent streak, often moving away from identifying with either the Republican Party or the Democratic Party.

New Orleans resident Samantha Capone, 24, who works in marketing for an athletic apparel company, is registered as an independent. “I wish that people who were running did not have to pick a party but just ran on their issues,” she said. “A Republican might think gay marriage is OK, yet they want to run for a big office and they’re probably going to advise him to say he’s against it. That’s one thing I find frustrating.”

Sheekha Raval, 29, who works in human resources for a parking and transportation company in Southern California, said that her views are more in line with the Republican Party but that “it’s more what that party or what that president is going to be able to do for that generation,” she said. “I’m a Republican, but in a way, I’m more independent as well. I would vote for whatever idea I agree with.”

According to the survey, millennials valued having a stable, well-paying job over traditional family milestones such as marriage and homeownership. But they have adapted mentally to a less stable employment climate.

“A lot of people used to work at the same company, and many saw their parents get laid off after working for a company for 30 years,” Capone said. “My happiness is more important than a job. A lot of people of my generation feel that it’s not worth it to be in a job that you’re not happy with.”

They saw more opportunity for entrepreneurship, with 84 percent of U.S. millennials surveyed saying they believe they have a chance to develop and bring an idea to market. Two-thirds of American millennials said they were interested in working overseas, primarily for the cultural experience.

Millennials and technology go hand in hand. Most said they feel comfortable with sharing personal information online but are wary of interference by companies. The majority believed that data collection and use should be regulated by the government.

The survey is seen as an important glimpse into potentially powerful coming demographic trends. “Millennials are the ones who are ahead of us, and it’s very important for us to know what the future will look like,” Timermans said.

But Russell warned against reading too much into studies of millennial consumers’ habits. For example, marketers should probably interpret Gen Y’s lack of interest in buying cars or homes not as a generational trait but as more of a sign of tough economic times. “In fact, it’s economics that are changing their spending patterns,” she said. “It’s important for them to keep in mind that they have pretty much the same aspirations.”

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