Millennials emerge as the U.S.’s most confident generation: LinkedIn

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By George Anders, LinkedIn — They’re bartenders, aerospace workers and web developers. They’re YouTube stars, financial analysts and nurses. Look for millennials in the U.S. economy, and you’ll find these workers — ages 25 to 40 — practically everywhere.

Even so, in both pre-pandemic and current times, there’s a constant media tendency to treat this entire generation of 72 million people as deeply troubled — and a bit annoying, too. By various accounts, millennials are downwardly mobile, self-centered, and (gasp!) way too fond of fancy coffee drinks.

Maybe it’s time for the critics to give it a rest.

Millennials today stand out as the most confident generation in the United States, according to the latest edition of LinkedIn’s Workforce Confidence survey. On a scale of -100 to +100, where +100 is most confident, millennials score +43.

As the chart below shows, that’s two points higher than millennials’ two neighboring generations: the younger cohort of Gen Z (age 24 and under), as well as their older counterparts in Gen X (ages 41 to 56). Baby boomers (ages 57 to 75) are the least confident, nine points lower, at +34.

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Because the Workforce Confidence surveys have been carried out every two weeks since the spring of 2020, it’s possible to see how generations’ confidence levels have fluctuated over time. Gen Z was the most optimistic as recently as this past February, but its mood has flattened out. Gen X has shown fairly steady improvement; boomers’ attitudes have picked up only slightly.

The latest readings are based on surveys of 10,005 LinkedIn members from August 14 through September 10, 2021. The overall confidence levels are based on responses to three interlinked questions: how confident people feel about their immediate job situation, their personal finances over the next six months and their overall careers in the next year.

Digging deeper into the numbers, it turns out that millennials are the generation that’s most upbeat about work at the moment. Their confidence reading (+61) is far ahead of Gen Z’s +50 or boomers +48, while also being slightly above Gen X’s +58.

Life’s natural coming-of-age cycle may be millennials’ best ally here. Bear in mind that millennials no longer are the fresh college graduates still trying to find a job that justifies their expensive educations. (That’s Gen Z’s burden now.)

With most millennials now in their 30s, they’re more likely to see their careers ascending. That’s the stage when promotions and pay increases are especially likely to make going to work cheerier.

It’s important to remember, too, that only a tiny sliver of the 72 million-strong millennial population is living out the cliche of the overeducated barista in her or his late 20s. More typical is someone like Jackie Beckwith, a millennial government-affairs specialist in Washington, D.C., who advocates for unmanned vehicles.

She graduated from Gettysburg College in 2016 with a degree in political science, and she has quickly found her way in the lobbying world. “I like being the middle link between companies and government,” Beckwith explained as a recent guest on the Trucking for Millennials podcast. “If you’re friendly and can be nice, you can get a lot done.”

Meanwhile, demographic generations across the board are more cautious about their financial outlooks. Millennials are at (+32), Gen Z at +31, Gen X at +30 and boomers at +27.

During the latest survey period (late August through early September), income-support programs related to COVID were coming to a halt, which might have contributed to all generations’ financial wariness. It also may be that with the pandemic not yet securely under control, respondents’ general anxieties about the future translate into financial caution.

When asked about specific factors that shore up their confidence, millennials are the generation that’s most upbeat about earning more money (55%) and expanding their current skills (52%). They’re essentially tied with Gen Z about the prospects of reaching the next level in their field.

Gen Z appears to be the most stressed generation, with 48% saying their confidence is suffering because of the status of the coronavirus pandemic. That’s less of a worry for millennials (38%), Gen X (34%) and boomers (31%).

The likely reason for this gap: Gen Z workers are especially likely to be entry-level store clerks, restaurant servers and the like — coming into close physical contact with a lot of people in the course of each work shift.

Methodology

LinkedIn’s Workforce Confidence Index is based on a quantitative online survey distributed to members via email every two weeks. Roughly 5,000 U.S.-based members respond to each wave. Members are randomly sampled and must be opted into research to participate. Students, stay-at-home partners and retirees are excluded from analysis so we can get an accurate representation of those currently active in the workforce. We analyze data in aggregate and will always respect member privacy. Data is weighted by engagement level, to ensure fair representation of various activity levels on the platform. The results represent the world as seen through the lens of LinkedIn’s membership; variances between LinkedIn’s membership & overall market population are not accounted for.

Alexandra Gunther and Adam Cohen from LinkedIn Market Research contributed to this article.

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