Probing the Minds of 18-29-Year-Olds

Coming of age in the Digital Age, today’s 18-29-year-olds can seem to their elders like a different species. And in the way young adults use technology, there’s something to that. But a more complete picture emerges from a new Pew Research Center report that examined this age group’s ambitions and anxieties as well as its media habits. Looking at the report’s survey data, we find that this cohort isn’t as untraditional as appearances (tattoos included) might suggest.

In some respects, 18-29s live up (or down) to the stereotypes their elders have about them. For instance, 38 percent have a tattoo (vs. 23 percent of adults in general) and 23 percent have a piercing in a place other than an earlobe (vs. 8 percent). Twenty percent (vs. 7 percent of all respondents) have posted a video of themselves online. And 64 percent have sent or received a text message while driving (vs. 34 percent).

Those last figures are symptomatic of 18-29s’ deep involvement with technology. But this immersion has left many of them with doubts about its benefits. Asked whether they think new technology principally “makes people closer to their friends and family” or “makes people more isolated,” 35 percent chose the latter view, vs. 54 percent picking the former. (The rest volunteered some other answer or declined to respond.) While 56 percent agreed that new technology “allows people to use their time more efficiently,” 33 percent instead said it “makes people waste too much time.”

Anyhow, use of technology is not (despite what some techno-enthusiasts seem to believe) the whole of life. Another part of the poll finds the 18-29s animated by some very traditional goals in life and differing little from older cohorts in their attachment to these ambitions. For example, 52 percent included “being a good parent” among their most important goals in life, as did 50 percent of the survey’s 30-and-older respondents. Thirty percent of 18-29s (and 35 percent of 30-plusers) included “having a successful marriage, while 20 percent of 18-29s (and 21 percent of 30-plusers) cited “owning a home.”

The polling (fielded in January) also finds them sharing the financial angst to which adults in general are accustomed. Just 22 percent of the 18-29s (vs. 26 percent of all respondents) feel they’re “saving and investing as much money as you should.” But it’s not that they’re carefree spenders: 55 percent (vs. 57 percent) said they’re watching the amount of money they spend “very closely.”

When the 18-29s do spend, they’re more apt than older people to give their socio-political views a role in the purchase decision. Thirty-four percent of 18-29s (vs. 28 percent of all respondents) said they’ve “bought a certain product or service because you like the social or political values of the company that provides it.”

Still, this doesn’t mean they always practice what they preach. Though regarded as more environmentally conscious than other adults, the 18-29s were a percentage point less likely than respondents in general (53 percent vs. 54 percent) to say they buy green products even if the price is higher.