Across the country, millions of young adults are attending their first classes of the new semester. Millions more are realizing that this is the first September in memory that they haven't had to do the 'back-to-school thing.' Both are members of Generation Y, a group made up of those born between 1977 and 1994. They are a generation expected to have a huge impact on America, coming of working age just as the Baby Boomers move to retirement. What makes this generation of roughly 73 million tick? That will be the billion-dollar question for businesses across the country.
"They're a very family and friend-oriented generation. They don't want to sacrifice their personal relationships in order to advance their career. Their values are more aligned with more traditional values," explains Harlan Wahrman, director of corporate and market research for Northwestern Mutual. Wahrman and Northwestern Mutual designed a study to examine the attitudes and perceptions of members of both the class of 2001 and 2004. "They're very driven by selfless goals. They want a career that has some core meaning to it. They're not driven by getting the highest pay. Rather, they're driven by positions that give them some overall sense of wellbeing."
In fact, when surveyed, less that 30 percent of Gen Yers were willing to sacrifice family time to 'get ahead.' What's more, 67 percent of 2004 graduating seniors and 70 percent of post grads said that what they do with their time is more important than their income. Fifty percent of 2004 seniors are looking to continue their education and 21 percent expect to marry/start a family in the near future.
The importance of family and community may be a direct reflection of the sense that this generation was forced to grow up very suddenly. Forty-eight percent of respondents pointed to 'less innocence/growing up faster' as among the biggest concerns for Generation Y. September 11th became the defining event for the generation, dramatically changing the world, as they knew it, in a matter of hours. "I watched all these people mourning the loss of their friends, family, and co-workers -- not the loss of the buildings that stood for the world's financial headquarters. I realized that their business meant nothing to them in the face of this horrible personal tragedy," explains Brittany Richmond, a member of the class of 2004.
When asked what the biggest advantage of being part of this generation, computer technology won handily, with 66 percent of 2004 seniors and 71 percent of post grads citing its importance. Not surprisingly, 33 percent of 2004 seniors use instant messaging daily to stay in touch with friends and family. But half also said they thought taking on the financial responsibility for taking care of their elderly parents would be a priority, which suggests a level of seriousness not typically ascribed to young adults.
All of these factors appear to have promoted a widespread desire for control of their own destinies. That might be the most valuable insight for the business community moving forward. They are committed to maintaining control of their lives and technology is helping them to achieve that. Marketers interested in tapping into this market will need to understand how to communicate with a generation that is entering the workplace in a temperamental economy. Generation Yers' family first attitude may be more in line with the values or their grandparents than their older brothers and sisters in Generation X.