Hillary Clinton
Credit: Nathania Johnson/Flickr

During election seasons, we always like to – as Barack Obama said – “slice and dice” the voting population. One of the groups that has been under examination since the Democratic primaries this time around is millennials (those who were born between 1982 and 2000). Perhaps because of my inclination to question conventional wisdom, I’ve mostly been skeptical of what I’ve read about this group of voters. So I decided to take a look at some facts.

The first thing to note about millennials is that approximately 44% are persons of color. That makes them the most diverse group of voters in this country, where overall about 38% of the population are people of color. That’s why a poll like this one that sampled enough millennials to be able to break them down by race/ethnicity is so helpful. When it comes to the presidential race, here are their results:

In many ways, the choice for millennials in this election seems to mirror the choice of their parents and grandparents. Hillary Clinton’s support is highest among African Americans and lowest among whites – while the reverse is true for Donald Trump. Third party candidates (especially Gary Johnson) are performing better with Latinos and white millennials, but are getting almost no traction with African Americans. Even so, Clinton’s lead with all of these groups is pretty impressive.

One of the things I have been following for a while now is the sense of optimism in this country – which is sometimes captured in whether or not people still believe that the so-called “American dream” is possible. This is especially significant for young people, and we often read that millennials – many of whom came of age during the Great Recession – have become pessimistic. That doesn’t appear to be true.

Young adults—particularly young adults of color—remain very optimistic about the future. Sixty-three percent of African Americans and Asian Americans, 68% of Latino/ as, and 46% of whites believe that their generation will have a better life than their parents.

Notice that millennials of color are significantly more optimistic about their future than white millennials. That is another way that they mirror the perspective of their parents and grandparents. But given the disparities in outcomes as well as the overt racism we’ve been witnessing lately, that might surprise a lot of people. It is certainly something that deserves a lot more attention.

Another significant data point about millennials was captured powerfully by Rebecca Traister and relates more to gender than race.

In 2009, the proportion of American women who were married dropped below 50 percent. In other words, for the first time in American history, single women (including those who were never married, widowed, divorced, or separated) outnumbered married women. Perhaps even more strikingly, the number of adults younger than 34 who had never married was up to 46 percent, rising 12 percentage points in less than a decade. For women under 30, the likelihood of being married has become astonishingly small: Today, only around 20 percent of Americans ages 18–29 are wed, compared to nearly 60 percent in 1960.

It is a radical upheaval, a national reckoning with massive social and political implications. Across classes, and races, we are seeing a wholesale revision of what female life might entail. We are living through the invention of independent female adulthood as a norm, not an aberration, and the creation of an entirely new population: adult women who are no longer economically, socially, sexually, or reproductively dependent on or defined by the men they marry.

Traister goes on to say that this kind of change requires a new social compact as millennial women look to their future and see decades, perhaps even a lifetime, lived outside of marriage.

Millennials are also likely to demand changes in how we view employment. This one comes from Adam Poswalsky, author of The Quarter Life Breakthrough and someone who is described as “a millennial career expert.”

After interviewing hundreds of twenty-somethings, I learned that despite struggling with debt, recession, and the jobs crisis, millennials are not motivated by money. Rather, they are driven to make the world more compassionate, innovative, and sustainable. This isn’t a stereotype; it’s simply the truth.

Deloitte’s 2015 milllennial survey found that 75% of millennials believe businesses are too focused on their own agendas, rather than improving society. Only 28% believe their current organization is making full use of their skills. A full 50% would take a pay cut to find work that matches their values, and 90% of respondents said they wanted to use their skills for good. A recent Gallup report also revealed that 21% of millennials have switched jobs within the past year (three times the number of non-millennials), and only 29% of millennials feel engaged in their current jobs, making them the least engaged generation in the workplace.

Clearly, organizations are not responding fast enough to this generation’s desire to align their work with purpose. Millennials don’t want to move “up” on a career ladder. Overall, we are less concerned with traditional metrics of success, like savings and home ownership, and more concerned with creating lives defined by meaning, community, and shared value.

That adds a lot of depth to the reasons behind something we’ve been hearing a lot lately about millennials living with their parents – especially if you combine it with the fact that so many millennial women are not getting married. What we could be witnessing is a change in what young people think of as “the American Dream.”

As a baby boomer, I look at this data and find an awful lot to celebrate. If millennials become the generation that embraces a pluralistic society based on optimism for the future where women have choices in how they live their lives and work becomes a way to create “meaning, community and shared value,” then I’d say, “the kids are alright.”

Nancy LeTourneau

Follow Nancy on Twitter @Smartypants60.