• 04.29.13

Are Millennials The Greenest Generation? Maybe Not

If you think caring about the environment is the realm of young people, think again. They barely care about it at all.

Conventional wisdom says Millennials are the greenest generation in history. Surveys show that those born after 1980 are more likely to support alternative energy, and less likely to see global warming as a hoax, for example.


But two recent studies paint a different picture of young(ish) people today. Advertising agency DDB finds that “most are not willing to choose the environment over their wallets or quality of life.” Its Life Style Study finds that attitudes outrun behavior: the boomer generation is more reverent of the environment. Comparing Boomers and Millenials, 66% to 53% “make a strong effort to recycle everything they possibly can”; 64% to 53% separate their trash; 54% to 46% “use reusable grocery bags.”

Meanwhile, a study published by the American Psychological Association found that the current generation was more likely to be focused on “money, image and fame.” Three times more Millennials than Boomers of the same age said “they made no personal effort to help the environment.”

The popular view of the Millennials “as more caring, community-oriented and politically engaged than previous generations are largely incorrect,” says co-author Jean Twenge, a psychology professor at San Diego State University.

The paper is based the University of Michigan’s Monitoring the Future study of high school seniors (conducted since 1975), and the American Freshman survey (AF) from UCLA. The latter finds that, 32.8% to 24%, Boomers were more likely than Millenials to get involved in an environmental program:

Three times as many Millennials (15%) than Boomers (5%) said they made no personal effort at all to help the environment, and only 40% as many Millennials (9%) as Boomers (15%) said they made quite a bit of effort. Sixty-eight percent of Boomers and 60% of GenX’ers said they made an effort to cut down on electricity use to save energy, compared to 51% of Millennials.

Millennials were significantly more likely to be motivated by money in their careers, and significantly less likely to care for mainstream politics.

About the author

Ben Schiller is a New York staff writer for Fast Company. Previously, he edited a European management magazine and was a reporter in San Francisco, Prague, and Brussels.