Often lazily generalised as tech-obsessed, bacchanalian and narcissistic, today’s youth actually reject the vices of previous generations and value playfulness, proof and progressive politics as much as convenience and quality in their shopping habits. Mintel’s new Millennials report uncovers the truth behind the clichés. In a three part series, Mintel’s Senior Trends Consultant Richard Cope explores this key demographic and how brands can capitalise.

Part One: Who are Millennials?

Today’s youth no longer buy in to the vices of old. Smoking, drinking and taking drugs have become X-rated activities, thanks in part to state legislation on alcohol and tobacco making it more expensive – and unappealing – to rebel (in the traditional sense) than ever before. When gazing on at the downfall of those elders that took a reckless approach to alcohol, drugs and money, who’d want to repeat their rebellions?

Mintel’s data reveals having good health is the life priority for 55% that for today’s 16-34s

Instead, Mintel’s data reveals having good health is the life priority for 55% that for today’s 16-34s – the highest of all responses. This outlook is embodied in the fact that across England and Wales between 1998 and 2012, the proportion of 11-15s who have taken drugs has fallen from 29% to 17% and the proportions that have drunk alcohol in the past week have halved to 13%. In the same period we’ve also seen the proportion of English and Welsh 16- to 19-year-olds who have never smoked rise from 66% to 75%.

Quite simply, today’s youth are less interested in buying into – and spending their money on – life’s vices and there are numerous reasons for this, beyond the previously mentioned state clampdowns and unappealing advert of the fate of 50-somethings. One theory is that more attentive parenting (the time working mothers spent with their children trebled, and the time unemployed mothers spent doubled between 1974 and 2000) has raised a less angst-ridden brood and one that associates drunkenness in particular with an unacceptable and unfashionable level of boorish machismo.

It’s certain that digital alternatives to old-fashioned socialising and entertainment have diminished time down the pub, but another big factor is that a tough economy and uber competitive academic and employment marketplace makes “getting wasted” just that – a waste of time and money. When Mintel spoke to 16-18 year olds for 2012’s Lifestyles of Young Adults report they felt they’d got it tough, with 51% opining that “young people today are under more pressure compared with the previous generation”. Looking at the UK’s unemployment figures in 2014, it’s easy to sympathise with that view, as the national level of 6.6% jumps to 17.8% amongst 16-24s.

It’s this environment that’s shaping what young consumers buy and where they live. In respect to the latter, it’s a case of ‘home is where the hearth is’, with ONS figures showing a massive 38% growth in the number of 20-34s living with their parents in past decade to reach 3.35 million. This spells bad news for grocers and household cleaning companies, as they are faced with the prospect of being deprived of a next generation of shoppers starting home and buying in to life’s essentials. Instead Millennials are staying in the parental nest, in a bid to achieve a degree of financial security (their second most popular life priority at 49%). Mintel’s research shows that staying at home is also a consumer strategy to maintain spending levels on life’s pleasures, such as going out, entertainment, fashion and cosmetics.

Another major positive around Millennials remaining with their parents is their role as in-house ‘tech guys’, raising parental confidence in everything from device and software usage to online retail. Mintel’s research for Teens and Tweens Technology Usage May 2013 revealed that 23% of parents said their child helped them to learn to use devices. And online technology is something that undoubtedly defines this generation. On one level it stimulates creativity and individuality (a study of US teachers by Pew found that 78% agreed that social media encouraged personal expression); on another an impatient desire for results – fast. In the era of ever-shortening tweets and the 10-second Snapchat video interview pitch, it’s hardly surprising that University College London studies have defined today’s youth as more impulsive and consultative, and better at multi-tasking than previous generations.

These factors are creating a generation of consumers that self-consciously crave customisation and convenience, but they also care, with economic expediency having played a role here too. Research from Mintel’s British Lifestyles 2014 report shows that Millennials display much stronger intentions to give to charity or volunteer (possibly through a necessity to gain valuable experience), but they also show a much stronger sentiment towards progressive practices like going out of their way to buy from companies/brands that support LGBT issues.

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