When writing about generations, journalists should heed the wisdom of Ecclesiastes 1:9.
While there are, occasionally, new things under the sun, Americans’ choices and behaviors don’t change much over the long term.
A few years ago, the mainstream media’s group-thinkers passively transmitted the message that Millennials — the cohort generally defined as those born in the 1980s and 1990s — wholly rejected the lifestyles of their forebears. Teens and 20-somethings didn’t want to drive cars. They preferred to settle down in high-density urban cores. Politically, they wouldn’t drift from left to right, as previous generations did. Swooning over President Barack Obama’s lofty calls to eliminate “income inequality” and combat “climate change,” they’d consistently cast ballots for liberal Democrats, for decades to come.
Clear-headed economic and demographic analysts never bought the Millennials-as-progressive-foot-soldiers narrative. Observers with a longer historical perspective understood that truly fundamental, and permanent, cultural changes are rare.
And now, data are starting to confirm our suspicion that Millennials aren’t so unique.
Automobiles are a good place to start. In an April story, Bloomberg reported that Millennials “accounted for 27 percent of new car sales in the U.S. last year, up from 18 percent in 2010. … They’ve zoomed past Gen X to become the second-largest group of new car buyers after their boomer parents. Millennials are starting to find jobs and relocating to the suburbs and smaller cities, where public transport is spotty.” Poring over the newest numbers, Mark P. Mills, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, found that a “Millennial car-buying boom has started. And their preferred car is not a Prius or Tesla, but station wagons and SUVs, and for the leading edge income-earners, luxury and sports cars.”
Polling contradicts the lazy meme that young adults are locked in to urban living. In January, the National Association of Home Builders released a survey of prospective homebuyers born after 1977. “Two-thirds … wanted to reside in a suburban neighborhood, compared to 10 percent wanting to own a home in a central city. Nearly a quarter of residents wanted to be outside large metropolitan areas entirely, preferring rural housing.”
“It’s easy to assume that Millennials love cities simply because so many of them live there,” wrote The Atlantic’s Joe Pinsker, “but it looks like a majority of them, after a stint in a city, still yearn for the same thing their parents pursued: a single-family home in a suburban neighborhood.”
Earlier this month, Forbes’s Daren Blomquist found that Millennials are “leading the way when it comes to reviving homeownership rates,” with the cohort accounting “for most of the surge in home sales that we saw in the second quarter of 2015.”
Again, it was to be expected. Scholar Joel Kotkin’s rule that “people with children tend to avoid urban cores, even in the most gentrified environments in cities,” has been in effect for decades. In 1986, Newsweek lamented that Boomers “are leaving the cities for the same reasons their parents did: a better life for their children or, in some cases, for their dogs. They are discovering how little appeal such urban amenities as art galleries and Ethiopian restaurants hold for three-year-olds of either species; and, equally important, how parenthood shrinks one’s tolerance for urban annoyances such as used hypodermic needles on the sidewalks.”
Finally, evidence is accumulating that Millennials embraced Obama due to disdain for George W. Bush’s disastrous presidency, not a steadfast dedication to moonbattery. Young voters did not vote in big numbers in 2010 and 2014, when the president’s party desperately needed help. Assessing an August poll by Quinnipiac University, neocon pundit Michael Barone noted that of the none of the 2016 Democratic presidential candidates, “not even the universally known Hillary Clinton, come close to matching Obama’s percentage of the Millennial vote, while the Republicans, all lesser known at this point, are within the margin of error of John McCain’s percentage in 2008 and come fairly close to Mitt Romney’s somewhat higher Millennial percentage in 2012.” Reviewing a Harvard Institute of Politics poll, TownHall.com’s Matt Vespa blogged that younger Millennials “aren’t as liberal. In fact, there’s less than a 10-point gap between those who identify as a Democrat or Republicans in the 18-20-year-old bracket.”
It’s unlikely that Millennials will ever be thoroughly committed to liberty-oriented public policy. Americans of all generations have grown accustomed to Big Government, and barring an economic/fiscal collapse, look for Washington’s tax-and-spend machine to remain on autopilot. But the claim that Millennials are destined for liberal living and liberal voting is unquestionably cracking.
Former Nevadan D. Dowd Muska (www.dowdmuska.com) writes about government, economics and technology. He lives in Corrales, N.M. Follow him on Twitter@DowdMuska.