In standard age-bracket terms, all US millennials are now adults. The youngest (24 in 2020, by the definition we use) have aged out of their undergraduate years; the oldest (now 39) are eligible for midlife crises. And while distinctions between younger and older millennials remain important, the whole cohort is converging on a life stage—with families, homes and careers—that is certifiably grownup. 

There’s no doubt that the Great Recession delayed many millennials in achieving financial independence and the attributes of adulthood it enables. But more and more are reaching familiar markers of adulthood. 

Coming of age along with smartphones and social media, millennials are heavy users of digital technology. They are at a point, though, where there is more stability in their usage than in past years. They’ve found what works for them, and the earlier appetite for experimentation has abated.

Millennials terms and definitions

What are Millennials (Gen Y)?

Millennials, also known as Generation Y, include anyone born between 1981 and 1996 (ages 26 to 41 in 2022) and represent about a quarter of the US population. Much of this cohort entered the workforce at the height of the Great Recession, and have struggled with the subsequent widening of the generational wealth gap.

Millennials have led older generations in technology adoption and embracing digital solutions. Their financial status and tech-savviness have fundamentally changed how they live and work—earning them stereotypes that they job hop and have killed a number of industries. Prior to Gen Z, millennials were the largest and most racially and ethnically diverse generation.

What is Generation Z (Gen Z)?

The cohort that comes after millennials, Generation Z is the most ethnically-diverse and largest generation in American history, comprising 27% of the US population. Pew Research recently defined Gen Z as anyone born after 1996. Gen Z grew up with technology, the internet, and social media, which sometimes causes them to be stereotyped as tech-addicted, anti-social, or “social justice warriors.”

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FAQs about millennials

How much do millennials make?

The most recent figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, covering 2018, show income before taxes for households headed by 25-to-34s at an average of $74,082—not far short of the $78,635 average for the total population. For the partly millennial 35-to-44 bracket, average household income is $96,581.

Older millennials came into the job market just as the recession was pushing unemployment up and pushing wages down. And those effects tend to linger long after a recession has ended. But income for millennials has become at least respectable in recent years. The real black hole in their finances is wealth. 

While a majority of millennials earn enough to have escaped from parents’ basements, the sizable spending endemic to their life stage (on homes, cars, kids and so on) gives scant leeway to set money aside. As an October 2019 report by New America remarked, “Rather than wealth, millennials are accumulating debt.”

That’s reflected in their share of US household wealth. As of Q3 2019, Federal Reserve data showed 23-to-38s with 2.9% of the total—a barely visible wedge in this pie chart.

How many millennials are there?

Millennials surpassed Baby Boomers in 2019 as the US’s largest living generation with 72.1 million, according to Pew Research. American millennials continue to grow as young immigrants join the cohort, but Gen Z has since taken the mantle as the largest (and most diverse) living generation in the country.

How to market to millennials?

Millennials, as well as Gen Zers, expect brands to be inclusive. Many of today’s consumers, especially younger demographics, LGBTQ individuals, people of color, and people with disabilities, are rewarding brands that realistically capture real-world diversity, share their inclusive values, and espouse causes that support diversity and social equity. 

In August 2019, The Female Quotient, Google, and Ipsos surveyed nearly 3,000 US consumers from diverse backgrounds in an attempt to understand the relationship between ads that were diverse and inclusive and people’s behavior after seeing those ads. The study found that 64% of overall respondents reported taking some type of action after seeing an ad they thought was diverse or inclusive. These percentages were significantly higher among millennials (77%) and teens (76%).

Millennials stats and facts 

Millennials are less inclined than in younger days to seek what’s new and buzzy in digital. 

Millennial social media usage

Making the most of their smartphones, millennials have adopted newer devices in lackluster numbers. In social media, they don’t rush en masse to embrace the most novel options and tend to stick with what’s already familiar. Millennials and Gen X are still Facebook’s main users and, together, will make up more than half of Facebook’s US user base in 2022. Millennials also much prefer Instagram to Snapchat and TikTok

Millennial smartphone & smart device usage

Smartphone penetration among millennials is stable partly because there is scant room for growth. We estimate that 94.4% of US millennials will have smartphones this year.

Some millennials try restraining their digital time. In July 2019 SurveyMonkey polling of internet users for USA Today, 63% of 25-to-34s reported attempting to reduce usage of smartphones for “everyday tasks.” But there’s some sense of addiction, as 35% said they would find it very hard to give up their smartphone for a week.

This dedication to their phones helps explain why majorities of millennials have yet to embrace other mobile devices. We estimate that 37.0% of millennials are smart wearables users, with little growth expected during the next several years. A September 2019 survey by Activate Inc. looked at the number of non-users who were interested in becoming users. Even the sum of those who are already users and those interested in becoming users barely nudged above 50% among 25-to-34s and fell under that level among 35-to-44s.

Millennial shopping behavior

In terms of buying behaviors, ecommerce now accounts for much of millennials’ purchasing. Highly digital in other aspects of their lives, millennials naturally incorporate digital into their consumer behavior. Nearly 86% were digital buyers in 2020 according to Insider Intelligence estimates.

Millennials made up more than 40% of buy now, pay later (BNPL) service users in 2021 and will continue to make up the greatest share of the BNPL user base through 2025. They also believe loyalty and rewards programs are important when deciding on companies or brands to buy from.