Are Millennials The Greenest Generation? Maybe Not

If you think caring about the environment is the realm of young people, think again. They barely care about it at all.

Conventional wisdom says Millennials are the greenest generation in history. Surveys show that those born after 1980 are more likely to support alternative energy, and less likely to see global warming as a hoax, for example.

But two recent studies paint a different picture of young(ish) people today. Advertising agency DDB finds that "most are not willing to choose the environment over their wallets or quality of life." Its Life Style Study finds that attitudes outrun behavior: the boomer generation is more reverent of the environment. Comparing Boomers and Millenials, 66% to 53% "make a strong effort to recycle everything they possibly can"; 64% to 53% separate their trash; 54% to 46% "use reusable grocery bags."

Meanwhile, a study published by the American Psychological Association found that the current generation was more likely to be focused on "money, image and fame." Three times more Millennials than Boomers of the same age said "they made no personal effort to help the environment."

The popular view of the Millennials "as more caring, community-oriented and politically engaged than previous generations are largely incorrect," says co-author Jean Twenge, a psychology professor at San Diego State University.

The paper is based the University of Michigan’s Monitoring the Future study of high school seniors (conducted since 1975), and the American Freshman survey (AF) from UCLA. The latter finds that, 32.8% to 24%, Boomers were more likely than Millenials to get involved in an environmental program:

Three times as many Millennials (15%) than Boomers (5%) said they made no personal effort at all to help the environment, and only 40% as many Millennials (9%) as Boomers (15%) said they made quite a bit of effort. Sixty-eight percent of Boomers and 60% of GenX’ers said they made an effort to cut down on electricity use to save energy, compared to 51% of Millennials.

Millennials were significantly more likely to be motivated by money in their careers, and significantly less likely to care for mainstream politics.

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  • bgsmith

    Well-informed Millennials are aware that cooperation resulting in national and international climate-change policies are necessary.  Bringing reusable bags to the grocery store or lowering the thermostat a few degrees is useful in allowing people to feel part of the sustainability movement, but results in negligible benefits when compared to the million+ cities popping up in developing countries seemingly daily.
    Previous generations believed that reduce, reuse, and recycle was all that was necessary.  This thinking has led to the lack of broad policies we have today.  I take issue with studies and journalism that frame Millennials poorly for living in the world Boomers are leaving us.

  • JBo796

    Millenial here!  What's an environment?  That's the cars toyota makes, right?

  • Reina Carpeso

    Sad but true. Most of them don't even care about their own health, how much more the environment. I just hope spreading the awareness pays off.

  • kjmclark

    I'm a Gen-Xer, so no iron in this particular fire.  I would point out, however, that it's a bit disingenuous to ask people who are doing fairly little environmental damage what they're doing to protect the environment, then comparing the responses of people who are doing significant damage, but are doing lots of tiny indulgences. 

    Go back and ask these questions:
    - Do you own a house? 
    - How many square feet of living space does your residence have per person?
    - How many gallons of gasoline do you use per year?
    - How many miles of airline flight did you take last year?

    I think you'd find that the Millennials are living in less opulent housing, they tend to be renting more than owning, they use very little gasoline compared to the Baby Boomers, and they fly far less than the Boomers do.  None of that would be surprising, since the Boomers are well along in their careers, but the Millennials have had little time to earn and save money and buy resource-intensive things. 

    Turn that around, and you find the Millennials are more concerned with jobs and earning money, because that's the phase of life they're in.  Not to mention graduating into this lesser Depression.

  • Resti

    Agreed - it's mainly just a matter of different stage of life.

    I'm from the Millennial herd but at the very least, I regularly make humble efforts to improve at least my (and my future children's) quality of living by saving the earth.

    Of course we cannot generalize especially when there are environmentally-conscious and earth caretakers in some places (if you look closely). These independent swarms are (slowly) attempting to help mother earth from deteriorating too quickly. It might not be a grant movement, but it is omnipresent. Some probably just observe not enough scope to draw fair conclusion.

  • Abhishek Nair

    Thanks, KJM for adding some substantive context here. I find it ironic, but also delightful, that your single comment is 10x better than the article above purporting to a thought piece. This is what passes off as writing/reporting these days.