The Self-Aware Millennial

What a new Pew Research report shows about the millennial perception of itself.


The millennial generation now makes up the largest share of the United States workforce and will soon be the largest living generation. It’s no secret that credit unions and businesses from other industries compete heavily for the business of this generation. We’ve written about them from time to time at as well.

And yet, what we know about millennials is largely unemotional: they spend on this, they save on that; they prefer one product-type, they dislike another. And yes, that information is valuable to any marketer.

But what about the emotional? The personal? What are the personality traits that define this particular generation? Because in understanding those, credit union marketers, MSRs, and others who directly or indirectly interact with these individuals can better tailor an effective message.

In a recent Pew Research Center report, the fact tank publicized the results of a survey showing how the country’s four primary generations — Millennial (ages 18-34), Gen X (35-50), Boomer (51-69), and Silent (70-87) — view themselves.

Here are three takeaways from the report:

1. Millennials Are More Likely To Attribute Negative Traits To Their Generation

The data in the Pew report comes from 3,147 adults surveyed online or by mail from March 10 to April 6 through the American Trends Panel, a nationally representative panel of randomly selected U.S. adults. In it, respondents were asked to select the personality traits they felt described their generation. 

Generational Traits

Source: Pew Research Center 

Noticeably, millennials have a poor generational self-image. Those surveyed believe the generation is self-absorbed, wasteful, greedy, and cynical, more so than those individuals surveyed in older generations. But they also describe themselves as idealistic; having and hoping to achieve lofty goals. 

2. Millennials Don’t Really Identify As Millennials

The millennial generation encompasses, according to Pew, those born between 1981 and 1997. However, just 40% of respondents considered themselves millennials. Of those ages 27 to 34, 43% actually consider themselves a part of Gen X, while 35% identify as millennials. Still, of those ages 18 to 26, fewer than half (45%) consider themselves part of the generation. By comparison, just 4% of Gen X identify as millennial.

It’s possible that individuals who completed the survey had a poor understanding of generational monikers or were being self-absorbed by identifying, as 21% did, as a part of the boomer, silent, or greatest generations. But it’s more likely that those who, by age, fall into the millennial camp don’t identify by the negative traits associated with that label.

Just 8% of millennial respondents said their generational label applies very well to themselves, while 22% said it applied fairly well, for a total of 30%. In comparison, 38% of Gen X believed their label fit very well or fairly well and 70% of boomers said the same.

3. Generational Gaps                             

Not only do millennials ascribe negative traits to those of their generation, they have a hard time seeing themselves with any kind of positivity.

Generational Traits


Source: Pew Research Center 

Based on the report, millennials don’t believe their generation exhibits traits such as responsibility, hard-work, willingness to sacrifice, morality, and self-reliance. However, it’s possible, as thereport contends, that some of these differences between generations relate more to “age and life stage than to the unique characteristics of today’s generations” as “responsibilities tend to increase with age.”

But credit unions aren’t targeting millennial members in a few years when their responsibilities increase and their overall views of the world and their own generation evolve. They are trying to attract them now. And to do that, institutions must know the personality of this group. After all, credit union’s should be marketing to me, not my mother.


Sept. 10, 2015


  • Very interesting article, if not incomplete. Here are some pretty obvious follow-up questions that should have been answered within: 1. What is the cause of the very visible "negative self-awareness" trend? 2. How does each of these generations receive their information? (newspaper, word of mouth, social media, etc.) 3(And the most sorely missed opportunity for real debate on this site). How can credit unions tap into this self awareness - in this case, particularly Millennials - to gain business of their target market? My opinion, for an answer to question #1, is that Millennials are given the opportunity to see more of the world around them, for better or for worse, than previous generations through the birth and flourishing of the global market. Example? My grandparents only really knew the detailed condition of their hometown due to media censorship (WWII media coverage and Vietnam War media coverage were two different beasts) and technological inabilities, plus small towns fostered participation and kinship. This just simply isn't possible in a great majority of lives today.
    Matt M.
  • This is interesting information, but I am struggling to see how it will help market to this group. How does one design a marketing campaign to a group consumed by self-loathing? Wouldn't it be better to understand how this group feels about technology and what services they want? Then use that information to design products and services that fit those needs and sell them on the benefits.