• March 2012

Why Millennials Want to Do Well by Doing Good

By Morley Winograd and Michael D. Hais
Authors, Millennial Momentum

Members of the Millennial Generation (born 1982-2003) differ sharply with older generations on what constitutes success in life. Consider the Life is good Playmakers, the nonprofit organization of the Life is good Company, where Steve Gross holds the title of Chief Playmaker.

“Play is serious business,” says Gross, a social worker who is on a mission is to help kids overcome life-threatening challenges. ““Millions of our nation’s youngest children have experienced profound trauma in its many forms, including domestic violence, abuse, neglect, natural disasters, and severe poverty.”

So last summer, Gross and his band of millennials jumped into their lime-green cars and traveled 1,200 miles in 30 days to spread the power of joy and optimism to thousands of children from Boston to New Orleans. Click here to read more.

The Playmakers are part of a GenY trend.

While all generations are about equally likely to name “being a good parent” and “having a successful marriage” as important markers of success, young people are much more likely also to mention doing work that benefits society and having a high-paying job as important life achievements.

True to their penchant for multitasking and their ability to reconcile conflicting viewpoints, many Millennials do not see any contradiction in seeking to achieve both goals simultaneously.

In fact, a recent survey by the Pew Research Center, showed that twice as many respondents under 35 years old (15%) named “being successful in a high-paying career or profession” one of the most important things in life, compared to only 7 percent among those 35 and older.

An even greater percentage of young people (22%) said “having a job/career that benefits society” was one of the most important things in life; by contrast, only 14 percent of older respondents mentioned that as one of their life’s goals. Furthermore, almost two-thirds of 18- to 34-year-olds were confident they would achieve their goals, with young African-Americans expressing the most optimism (70%).

These attitudes were most prominent among the very youngest adults. More than three-quarters (76%) of 18- to 24-year-olds said getting a high-paying career or profession was one of the most important things or a very important thing to accomplish, while only about half (51%) of 25- to 34-year-olds rated this measure of success so highly.

Having a job or career that benefits society was even more important to 18- to 24-year-olds (79%), a belief shared by a smaller, but still impressive, two-thirds of those 25-34.

The most recent Higher Education Research Institute’s annual survey of incoming college freshmen confirms that this attitude continues to permeate the Millennial Generation.

Almost 80 percent cited being financially well-off as an essential or very important objective in life. Seventy percent also named helping others who are in difficulty as a life goal. Raising a family, mentioned by 73 percent, was the only other objective to reach this level of importance.

Are you surprised?

Older generations, particularly Generation X (born 1965-1981), reading these results will immediately argue that Millennials are naive in thinking they can both serve society and score big in the personal income sweepstakes.

For those who view Millennials through the lens of their own generational filters, Millennial Generation attitudes toward success appear to be filled with impossible demands and unrealistic expectations.

But as brilliantly documented in James Marshall Reilly’s book, Shake the World: It’s Not About Finding a Job, It’s About Creating a Life, Millennials are busy changing how we think about earning a living in a way that makes attaining both goals simultaneously completely realistic.

Whether its Blake Mycoskie creating the company TOMS shoes, which gives a pair of shoes to needy children around the world for every pair his company sells, or Elizabeth McKee Gore, the executive director of Global Partnerships for the United Nations Foundation, who first rose to prominence when she started the Great American Bake Sale to fight world hunger—Millennials are beginning to transform the very nature of capitalism and what it means to live and work within that system.

Reilly predicts the generation will create an economic future “based on a goods-and-services substitution model in which traditional, everyday purchases yield philanthropic and humanitarian dividends.”

The Bottom Line

Whether the future plays out exactly the way Reilly (pictured right) envisions or not, it is clear that Millennials’ penchant for doing well by doing good will have a major impact on America’s economic structure.

At a time when Millennials cite the State Department more often than Disney as an “ideal employer,” and they name Teach for America as a more desired place to work than Electronic Arts, the need is clear for every company in America to respond to the desire of Millennials to contribute to society even as they earn a paycheck.

The growth of corporate social entrepreneurship and “philanthrocapitalism” will, in the years ahead, enable Millennials to have successful careers and, at the same time, make the world a better place.


About the Authors

Morley Winograd and Michael D. Hais are co-authors of Millennial Momentum: How a New Generation Is Remaking America, published by Rutgers University Press. It explores how the Millennial Generation will change the way America lives and learns, works and plays, votes and governs itself.

Their previous book, Millennial Makeover: MySpace, YouTube, & the Future of American Politics (Rutgers University Press, 2008), was named a New York Times favorite book. They are also fellows with NDN, a think tank in Washington, DC, and the New Policy Institute. For more information, visit www.mikeandmorley.com.


About Morley Winograd

Morley Winograd is a Senior Fellow at the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School’s Center on Communication Leadership and Policy.

He served as senior policy advisor to Vice President Al Gore and director of the National Partnership for Reinventing Government (NPR) from Dec. 1, 1997, until Jan. 20, 2001. Winograd also co-authored (with Dudley Buffa) “Taking Control: Politics in the Information Age” (Holt, 1996).

Currently, he is president and CEO of Morwin, Inc., a strategic planning consulting company for government and nonprofit organizations. Winograd earned a Bachelor of Business Administration and attended law school at the University of Michigan. He resides in Los Angeles.


About Michael D. Hais

Michael Hais served for a decade as vice president, Entertainment Research, and for more than 22 years overall at Frank N. Magid Associates, where he conducted audience research for hundreds of television stations, cable channels, and program producers in nearly all 50 states and more than a dozen foreign countries.

Prior to joining Magid in 1983, Hais was a political pollster for Democrats in Michigan and an assistant professor of Political Science at the University of Detroit. He received a BA from the University of Iowa, an MA from the University of Wisconsin at Madison, and a PhD from the University of Maryland, all in Political Science. He resides in Los Angeles and Puerto Vallarta, Mexico.

Click here to read their wide-ranging observations on generations and culture.

And click here to read futurist Chris Carbone’s review of Millennial Momentum.