Looking Ahead: Change on the Horizon


January 11, 2019

For almost forty years, my major area of research has been religion and values in American (USA) society. My brain still works and my vision is clear. I try to keep up to date with professional literature and I do on-site research each year. About religion and contemporary society today I am a realist. About tomorrow I see big socio-cultural changes on the horizon and I am guardedly optimistic.

Perhaps it is my age – old men dreaming dreams – but my special interest and focus these days is more and more on the young people who are creating tomorrow.

I have written about Millennials before and have no desire to repeat that here per se. Some people are rather negative about Millennials. I am not. I find the stereotypes of Millennials as entitled, self-centered, and shallow as great distortions and misrepresentations of an entire generation of young people. All major studies about Millennials reinforce a more positive viewpoint, as does my own regular interaction with Millennials at my university.

In 2019, Millennials are expected to overtake Baby-Boomers in our US population, as Millennial numbers swell to 73 million and Boomers decline to 72 million.

Most demographers and researchers see the start of the Millennial generation in the mid-to-late 1970s until around 1996. For the Boomer generation, researchers use starting birth years from the early-to mid-1940s and ending birth years ranging from 1960 to 1964. Baby Boomers peaked at 78.8 million in 1999.

Baby-Boomers will be mostly gone in fifteen years. By midcentury, the Boomer population is projected to dwindle to 16.6 million. A very significant shift.

In their social and political views, Millennials are clearly more accepting, than older Americans, of homosexuality and more inclined to see evolution as the best explanation of human life. Millennials are also the world’s most connected generation. Some 80 percent sleep with their cell phones next to their beds. Some three-quarters have profiles on social networking sites. Millennials are also more climate change and social justice oriented than Boomers.

A Public Religion Research Institute study also found that Millennials are considerably more racially and ethnically diverse than the general population, with less than 6 in 10 self-identifying as white. Thoughts about white Christian America? When it comes to religion, Millennials are the least overtly religious American generation in modern times and have mixed feelings about contemporary institutional Christianity.

Millennials of course are just part of the contemporary big change story. And no, I am not thinking right now about Donald Trump and his big wall changes nor about Pope Francis and his major institutional sex abuse problems. Those issues are big but something much bigger is happening with major implications for political and religious life. The post-Millennials have arrived…..

Already, we see a new post-Millennial generation of (USA) Americans taking shape and moving towards adulthood. I am very interested in their attitudes, behaviors, and lifestyle. More than the Millennials, I believe they will change the demographic fabric and socio-cultural make-up of the United States.

A new Pew Research study finds that the “post-Millennial” generation is already the most racially and ethnically diverse generation in US history. Only a bare majority of 6- to 21-year-olds (52%) are non-Hispanic whites. Most are still pursuing their K-12 education; but the oldest post-Millennials are enrolling in college at a significantly higher rate than Millennials did at a comparable age. This is greatly due to the fact that the parents of post-Millennials are more well educated than the parents of Millennials and those of previous generations. More than four-in-ten post-Millennials (43%) are living with at least one parent who has a bachelor’s degree or more education. Interestingly, the high school dropout rate for the oldest post-Millennials (ages 18 to 20 in 2017) is significantly lower than that of similarly aged Millennials in 2002.

The changing patterns in educational attainment among post-Millennials are driven in part by the shifting origins of young Hispanics. Post-Millennial Hispanics are less likely than Millennial Hispanics to be immigrants. Contrary to what Mr. Trump asserts, the post-Millennial generation is being shaped by changing immigration patterns. Immigration flows into the USA peaked in 2005, when the leading edge of the post-Millennial generation was age 8 or younger. As a result, the post-Millennial generation has fewer foreign-born youth among its ranks than the Millennial generation did in 2002.

Some other demographics:

Post-Millennials are more metropolitan and more racially and ethnically diverse. One-in-four post-Millennials is Hispanic. A bare majority (52%) of post-Millennials are non-Hispanic white. The share of post-Millennials who are black (14%) is nearly identical to the share of Millennials who were black at a comparable age (15%). Black representation among the nation’s youth has changed little since the early Boomers in 1968.

Asians account for 6% of the post-Millennial generation, up slightly from the 4% of Millennials in 2002 who were Asian. The remaining 4% of post-Millennials are non-Hispanics of another racial identity, mainly youth of two or more races.

Already a majority of post-Millennials are nonwhite in urban areas and in the USA Western states.

While it’s still much too early to draw conclusions, initial signs suggest that post-Millennials are on track to become the most well-educated USA generation yet. Black post-Millennials are also outpacing the previous generations of black youth in terms of college enrollment. Post-Millennial women are also showing major strides in college enrollment. In 2017, 64% of women ages 18 to 20 who were no longer in high school were enrolled in college. That’s up from 57% of Millennials.

More than any other generation before them, post-Millennials do not stress a religious identity. They may be drawn to things “spiritual,” but they have a different starting point from previous generations, many of whom, “back then,” received a basic education in the Bible and Christianity.

Post-Millennials tend to see organized religion and the Bible as working against generally accepted anthropological understandings. Here issues of evolution and human sexuality stand out. They have far more flexible views about sexual preference and gender identity. They are far more likely to reject societal conventions when it comes to ideas of masculinity and femininity, which they see as evolving and changing. For them LGBT issues are simply facts of human life..

My concluding observations: The post-Millennial influence on our culture, values, and political system will be driven by who the post-Millennials are and who they are becoming —- more educated, and more racially, ethnically, and religiously diverse. They really are – even more so than the Millennials — a transitional generation sitting between what America was and what it will become.

Post-Millennials may not solve all of the country’s ongoing challenges when it comes to climate change, poverty, and health care, or to discrimination whether it’s based on gender, race or religion; but they may very well take us one big step closer. Yes I am guardedly optimistic.

Jack

12 thoughts on “Looking Ahead: Change on the Horizon

  1. Very valuable, Jack.

    And, we’re not has beens, yet.

    Just 0 degrees here this a.m.

    Leaving for vacation on Sunday afternoon: Maui, Grand Canyon and Sonoma, AZ. Home on the 31st. But, will have contact.

    Doug

  2. Excellent, Jack! The perfect essay in these gloomy times to brighten our days and give us hope for the future. Thanks so much.

  3. Wonderful to open an email and read a positive and hopeful societal forecast. Personally, I am excited about where post millennials will lead us with regards to religion and spirituality. I’m ready for a post-hierarchical, post-fundamentalist Christianity. Which is why I am now in a UCC church that is Open and Affirming of the LGBT community, and of women in ministry.

  4. Hi Jack! Interesting statistics. I assume they describe specifically the USA. Our human nature seems to naturally resist change or evolution, perhaps because it challenges our comfort zone. But without that change it is impossible to move forward to a better place. Instead we fear that that forward movement leaves the best behind and takes us to a bad and frightening place instead. It is still so hard for us to embrace All as Christ did. Happy 2019, Sue

  5. There is great hope for the future. I will not be here to see it fully unfold, but am happy that my children and grands will be the beneficiaries.

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