America’s young adults are dealing with a lackluster job market, political gridlock in Washington and uncertainty about their country’s role on the global stage. Despite these challenges, veteran pollster John Zogby argues that America’s “First Global” generation has an outward-looking perspective that may be its best asset in a rapidly changing world. This commentary first appeared in The Financialist (May 14).
What makes any generation fascinating is the way history intrudes during its formative years and shapes how its members relate to the world. The Greatest Generation was shaped by the sacrifices of World War II, developing a resolve that served it well after the war ended. Baby boomers reaped the benefits of the economic prosperity that followed the war, and as a result, displayed an unprecedented optimism about the future.
Millennials, the generation born between 1979 and 1994, have experienced both privileges and challenges while coming of age. Although coddled at home, they saw their country attacked on Sept. 11, and in 2008 they witnessed the near collapse of the global financial system.
If history were a reliable guide, millennials would have responded to these crises as earlier generations did, by turning inward and rallying around the flag. However, there are several factors that make this group different. Technology, from cell phones to the Internet, put them in touch with the rest of the world at a moment’s notice. Their networks include virtual acquaintances, and physical proximity is no longer the most important predictor of their relationships.
The result is a generation that feels a real connection to the rest of the world. Zogby polls consistently show that nearly one in three millennials (32 percent) prefer to be called “citizens of the planet Earth” – more than any other age cohort.
Their outward-looking perspective makes millennials America’s First Global generation. While the lingering effects of the Great Recession may have dampened their optimism, it has not affected their internationalism. First Globals are much less likely than all other age groups, for example, to argue that American culture is superior to other cultures.
Their tolerance stems from their diversity. Two in five First Globals are ethnic minorities, compared with just 27 percent of baby boomers and 20 percent of those born during the Great Depression and World War II. They are also the first generation to attend fully integrated schools, a trend that includes their university studies, with 15 percent of college students nationwide self-identified as ethnic minorities.
Acceptance is a hallmark of the generation. Their overwhelming support for marriage equality has helped push the subject into the political mainstream, and their experience with diversity means they will not need expensive sensitivity training seminars. They are the transition to the next America, and perhaps a transition to a new relationship between America and the rest of the world.
They certainly have global ambitions. An April 2013 poll showed 35 percent of First Globals were likely to “live and work in the capital of a foreign country.” In July 2012, 71 percent of First Globals told Zogby pollsters that it was very important or somewhat important “to have the opportunity to do something that changes the world.” They want to work for companies that share their values, so companies with global ambitions and well-defined values are magnets for First Globals.
I have high hopes for our First Global generation. In a transformative era, they are not bound by obsolete habits. They are ready to plunge in and make their world a better place, and they possess the skills to navigate the dynamic world of new technologies. But to live up to its potential, this generation needs to be understood, respected – and unleashed.
John Zogby is founder of the Zogby Poll and senior analyst at Zogby Analytics. He is co-author with Joan Snyder Kuhl of the forthcoming e-book, First Globals: Understanding, Managing, and Unleashing Our Millennial Generation (Spring 2013).