Barna Takes: Using Research to Counter Millennial Stereotypes
There are plenty of conflicting stereotypes about Millennials: Are we the laziest generation or the hardest working? The most entitled or the most open-handed? The least religious or the most devout in new, misunderstood ways? The most connected or the least connected?
When we started The Connected Generation, we referred to it internally as “the global Millennials study.” It was presented to me as an opportunity to understand, test and, as needed, affirm or reject the messages we so often hear about the Millennial generation—my generation. This was one of my first projects since completing grad school and joining Barna Group, and I did not take this opportunity lightly. Working alongside our research partners at World Vision, under the guidance of David Kinnaman and with the greatest coworkers I could imagine, I was privileged to be the lead researcher and help create a first-of-its-kind study that would well represent this closely observed yet still misunderstood collection of young adults: The Connected Generation.
To be successful in this study, the first thing I had to do was push past preconceptions about the Millennial mindset and definition. As an Australian church leader reminded us during the early weeks of our work, the term “Millennial” has a lot of American connotations too often projected onto other nations. Similarly, given my background in sociology, I have always thought of my Millennial status as a bit of a dual personality. Which of my interests and qualities are innately mine, and which are products or projections of society? Is my daily, diagnosed battle with functional depression unique to me, or is it connected to the time and place in which I have been raised (or, perhaps, is it both)?
My job sometimes involves using data to separate stereotypes from truth, and being a Millennial sometimes feels like living in between the two. For me personally, it means fighting for what I love (OK, even if that includes vinyl records and avocado toast) just as much as it means rejecting the assumptions of laziness, self-righteousness and entitlement placed upon me by other generations. It means finding comfort in the fact that nearly a quarter of 18-to-35-year-olds around the world told us that they often feel “lonely and isolated from others,” reassuring me that I am not alone in my own struggles.
After 15,000+ online interviews across 25 countries in 9 languages, our team dug deeper into the truths about Millennials and their friends in the leading edge of Gen Z (specifically, adults ages 18 to 35). We produced a printed study of our key findings, debuted the research through a live webcast and crafted country reports that offer an opportunity for us to share a story of hope with church leaders around the world. It’s because of the latter that, in October of 2019—almost a year after the study’s conception—I presented findings from The Connected Generation to a group of just over 100 church leaders in Singapore. While the gathering in Singapore seemed small, it was incredibly symbolic and a reminder of the variety of experiences we had fought to capture through our research. I started my presentation by reminding attendees that while I may be the expert of this international study, they are the experts on faith leadership and young adults in their country. The church leaders attended not because someone from Barna Group traveled across the world to speak with them, but rather because someone had robust, representative data about young adults in their nation. No projections or stereotypes.
All of these experiences—conducting the research, being on the publication team, speaking on a panel for our Faith for the Future webcast, producing regional reports and traveling to Asia—have greatly impacted my view of Millennials. The Connected Generation has been an incredible opportunity to learn about not just the effects of global hyper-connectivity, but also the beautiful, diverse expressions of Christians around the world, within a single generation. Just as I charge this research to re-invent the generational narrative, I also have a healthier understanding of where I stand within it. Just as I reject some of the assumptions about my age group, I also now confidently embrace the story of a passionate, hopeful and resilient generation.