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The Good And Bad News About The State Of Millennials Worldwide

New global research shows that millennials are optimistic, but cities may not be equipped to serve them.

The Good And Bad News About The State Of Millennials Worldwide
[Photo: Ferran Traite Soler/Getty Images]

Perhaps you’ve heard that millennials have become the largest generation in the workplace, surpassing gen X this year, according to Pew Research. To accommodate this new group of workers and leaders, employers have had to evolve their practices around productivity and engagement.

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On a larger scale, the number of young people in the workforce is also affecting cities. Densely populated urban areas can be hotbeds of innovation that drive the global economy if they can properly channel the energies and intelligence of their millennial populations.

As large cities are predicted to grow by 28% by 2030, 100 million more youth will be added to their populations, according to a recent report commissioned by the Citi Foundation from the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU). The study aimed to find out the difference between the perception and reality that this “youth bulge” will have on cities. On the one hand, the additional population taps a world in which resources are already scarce; on the other, such a deep pool of talent can contribute to a better future.

To do this, the EIU polled over 5,000 people between the ages of 18-25 in 35 global cities during February and March of this year. Cities ranged from Casablanca to Chicago, Lagos, Lima, Istanbul, and Shanghai. Among the respondents, 63% were 22 to 25 years old, 52% were women, and half live in households that earn less than the city median income, while the other half have incomes above this level. Just under half (45%) say they’ve completed undergraduate studies, 62% are working, and 33% are both working and studying.

The result of this global research initiative shows how these cities in all parts of the world are supporting young people’s economic ambitions.

And it’s not always a pretty picture. According to the resulting Accelerating Pathways report, while young people surveyed remain optimistic about the future and favor an entrepreneurial mind-set, they are struggling to get jobs. Current global unemployment levels for millennials are roughly 3.4 times higher than for other segments of the population. The millennials surveyed also said they are having trouble getting access to technology, pay equity, and support networks.

One global theme that emerged was how many youth still need financial support. Over three-quarters (77%) still live with parents or relatives, and more than half (57%) receive money from their families every month. Perhaps that is why many of the respondents said that the stability of a position drives the reason for the work they do. That doesn’t mean they don’t want to strike out on their own. The majority (77%) dream of working for themselves or starting their own business.

As the survey’s authors noted, aspiring to the freedom brought by self-employment while still living with or being supported by family is an age-old contradiction. They found that in Asia or Latin America, these align with cultural norms, but the spread to North American cities where this historically hasn’t been the case are a strong indicator for municipal leaders to find ways to support this growing segment of their constituents. “Young people may respond positively to policies or programs that foster a mind-set of measured risk for personal or global growth, while laying the groundwork for long-term stability,” the authors found.

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The Top Cities For Millennials

The researchers went on to rank the 35 cities based on their policies and environments for young people. They scored them based on 31 indicators that contribute to young people’s economic prospects–from the city’s GDP growth and local government policy to levels of youth engagement, education, employment, and health.

The study’s authors noted that no city is perfect, and the Index shows areas where they can improve. For example, Toronto’s unemployment rate is 18%. While the Index reveals that a city’s economic standing weighs most heavily for the rankings that determine whether or not it creates a vibrant environment for young people, the survey’s authors also note that better policies and programs can improve the outlook for millennials regardless of the city’s economy.

That’s why London may have ranked No. 8 overall, but tops the list for government support and institutional framework for youth. Likewise, Hong Kong was No. 5 overall, but ranked No. 1 for its education and training.

The data also reveals that there are strong regional and cultural influences. In Latin American cities where personal safety ranks lowest, youth optimism rules, taking five of the top 15 spots. Seven of the eight cities with the lowest adolescent fertility rates are in East Asia.

Gender Inequality Persists

The number of teen girls having children can adversely affect a city’s economy. Overall, women have caught up with men in education, health care, and other areas over the last 20 years. But the survey indicates that the gaps in economic opportunity remain “distressingly large.”

Three indicators specific to women in the workforce were measured by the Index: the level of gender equality in pay and workforce participation; the adolescent fertility rate; and the affordability, availability, and quality of childcare.

Although they related to women, these issues affect young people of both genders who are starting families of their own.

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The survey revealed that while all cities in North America, China, and Bangkok scored well, none reached a perfect grade of 100 points. The highest score hovered at around 80 points. Across all 35 cities, men earn at least 20% more than women in the 18-25 age group. “The Index confirms what most other studies have found: Much more needs to be done to level the playing field for women in terms of pay and access to the labor force,” the researchers wrote.

Another factor that determines whether women will have economic opportunities is whether or not they have good options for childcare. The study authors note that the indicator on affordability, availability, and quality of childcare shows both an overall support to women as they study or work, but it also shows how important the quality of early childhood development is to the country.

Early learning programs have a huge impact on children’s brain development and therefore impact the future workforce. The index shows that cities with high GDP per capita such as Hong Kong and Singapore have the best childcare opportunities. Casablanca comes in last.

Upward Mobility

The optimism felt in this group of young people across the globe makes them more likely to move to a different urban center in order to make connections with mentors, jobs, and new opportunities–all of which are integral to boost their economic standing. Nearly half (47%) of those polled say they migrated to their current city of residence to have a better life (taking a new job or going to school) in the last five years. Computer and technology skills are cited as the most desired by 62% of employed youth surveyed.

Although 90% of these young people moved within their own countries, some cities saw their ranks swell with both foreign and domestic migrants. Sao Paolo in Brazil, for example, experienced a surge in young people, as did Bangkok.

“In some regions, higher levels of tolerance appear to be a lure,” the survey authors wrote. “In Asia-Pacific, Latin America, and the African and Middle Eastern regions, more respondents than elsewhere cite gender, race, or ethnicity issues as a key driver for their move to their current city, with respondents who had moved to Lagos most often (26%) making this claim.”

While optimism was highest among cities with the lowest income per capita, those who moved to different cities to better their prospects think their future is even brighter. Even so, 75% of those who moved say they will move again–most often, again, within the country.

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About the author

Lydia Dishman is a business journalist writing about the intersection of tech, leadership, commerce, and innovation. She is a regular contributor to Fast Company and has written for CBS Moneywatch, Fortune, The Guardian, Popular Science, and the New York Times, among others.

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