You heard constantly about the millennial generation—that they're tech-savvy, and different from everyone that came before. It's not just hype, or vanity on the part of the youngsters: People who are 18-29 right now have markedly different attitudes, beliefs, and mores than any generation preceding them.
This infographic by Online Graduate Programs does a good job of summing up all that data. Let's start with a definition of the generation, and their politics:
It's that second panel about politics that's really surprising: The percentage voting for Obama represents the largest age-based disparity ever recorded. It's worth pausing on that for a second, because voting, contrary to popular opinion, doesn't tend to change all that much as you age. Political scientists have consistently shown that who you vote for as a young person tends to define your voting patterns for the rest of your life. Thus, some people have concluded that the entire millennial generation has been "lost" to Republicans. (And if you think that they'll change their minds because of Obama's first-term struggles, think again: 60% blame his opponents for his inability to get anything done.)
But where the differences become truly stark are in lifestyle. Millennials are the most godless, least-married, and most tech-savvy generation ever:
But despite all these gifts—an ease with technology, excellent educations, a surprisingly durable optimism—millennials are at the same time cursed. Simply put, they were born at the worst time in 50 years as far as careers go, having entered a horrid job market:
Does that matter? In a word, yes: Sociologists have shown that being born in a recession dampens your earnings throughout your lifetime, simply because the first jobs you get are the ones that define much of your success in later life. Almost all the wage increases that you'll get arrive before you're 40. Thus, if you enter the workforce and struggle to find a job, you'll be consistently hobbled by a lack of experience and tenure.
But maybe that's a good thing. It may be that millennials are a generation apart in one sense that hasn't shown up yet in the data: Plagued by dead-end career prospects, many seem to have turned to everything from crafts to self-improvement as a way to find meaning outside of what they do. A less materialistic, more happiness-focused generation seems like a very good thing given how obsessed America has been with simply getting more, no matter what. But it might also be that a lack of prospects makes this generation the most entrepreneurial we've ever seen—after all, innovation is usually born during times of hardship.