Much has been made recently about the Millennial generation – those born between 1981 and 1996 – apparently bucking the long-established political trend in the United States of becoming more conservative with age. But while most analyses explaining this phenomenon focus on factors like leftward trends in education or pop culture, a better explanation may instead be the fewer responsibilities young people take on today.
A report from the Financial Times in January found that Millennials, now reaching 35, the age where previous generations began to lean more conservative, are “by far the least conservative 35-year-olds in recorded history.” Democrat data firm Catalist has also found that Democrats have maintained their vote share among Millennials over the past decade, something which did not occur with prior generations of voters.
Many observers are quick to point out societal changes to explain why this is happening.
One such shift is that more Americans are graduating from a university system increasingly staffed by hardcore left-wing academics. From the late 1960s to the late 1990s, the percentage of college faculty identifying as “liberal” hovered around 44 percent. But starting around the turn of the century, the percentage of college faculty identifying as liberal began rising dramatically, such that their ranks have reached a supermajority on many American campuses.
Today, 50 percent of professors call themselves liberal, compared to just 26 percent who say they are conservative. At elite schools like Harvard, the percentage of liberal professors is even higher, crossing 80 percent.
These professors, empowered by activist-minded administrators, have made it their mission to create a generation of loyal Democrat Party voters.
Other explanations for Millennials’ liberal bent include a decline in religiosity in the United States. The number of Americans who do not identify with any religion is now nearly 30 percent.
Millennials have also been bombarded with liberal messaging from Hollywood and the mainstream media their entire lives. Pop culture became militantly progressive just as these young adults were coming of age.
Each of these explanations for Millennials continuing to cling to liberal ideology as they age are valid, but they nonetheless fall short of the whole picture.
After all, while liberal indoctrination via the education system may have become more aggressive in recent years, it is hardly a new phenomenon. Political movements in the 1960s similarly attempted to co-opt the minds of young Americans through propagating socialist ideology in the classroom.
Those attempts succeeded for a time, but as young Americans graduated from college and started families, they followed the pattern of seeking out a fiscally responsible political party to keep taxes and the cost of living low. Previous generations always became more conservative as they reached life milestones that required them to think more of supporting others and less of themselves.
These milestones can be summed up as the four “M’s” of responsibility: marriage, munchkins, mortgage, and mutual funds. Life experience, it seems, became a more powerful influence that liberal educators in shaping young people’s political beliefs.
But today, fewer and fewer Millennials are getting married, having children, buying homes, or are saving for retirement.
Never before has America seen so many forgo the life milestones that bring rich meaning and purpose to one’s life and to our communities. This year the number of 40-year-olds who have never been married reached an all time high. The decline of marriage over the last 50 years is well documented, but it is time to sound the alarm on how it will permanently change America if the downward trends are not reversed.
The most significant consequence is population collapse. U.S. birth rates from 1980 to 2007 were relatively stable, but since then they have plunged by 20 percent. Researchers thought the Great Recession caused couples to put their plans for a family on hold temporarily, but instead Millennials never had those children.
Relatedly, the stock market collapse and housing crunch in 2008 made the first wave of Millennials into permanent renters with little retirement or savings opportunities. Now the last wave of the Millennial generation is experiencing similar pressures as housing prices continue to soar.
Market catastrophes have bookended Millennials’ adult forming ages. Only within the last year did a majority of Millennials finally become homeowners, making it the slowest generation to reach that threshold. These forces are shaping a whole generation’s outlook on what to prioritize, and homeownership is not high on the list.
Instead, Millennials continue to live the adolescent life of “now” because many of them have chosen a life rid of responsibility. This complex dynamic is equal parts cultural malaise and neglect by the government to address these issues.
Regardless of political party, Americans on the left and the right have a vested interest in ensuring Millennials reach important life milestones. Millennials are poised to change both parties with their historically unique demands devoid of duty to country or responsibility to the future. If responsibility is lacking in their own lives, they won’t be interested in tackling the nation’s much larger problems. Without a drastic shift in Millennial ideology, the United States may be at a historical tipping point.
The much-needed American revival must start by addressing these four “M’s” of responsibility and opportunity for everyone.
Nothing demonstrates more faith in our country or in the future than starting a family, bringing children into the world, and investing in one’s community. If we want Millennials to have more buy-in, then we need to help them reach these life milestones. Policies like former President Donald Trump’s expansion of the child tax credit and more generous maternity and paternity leave are a good place to start.
Americans often quote President Ronald Regan in saying that “freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction.” Of course, teaching our youth about the miracle of our constitutional republic and how it safeguards our freedom is important, but it will all be for nothing if our children do not know how to exercise responsibility in their own lives.
The four “M’s” of responsibility are tutors to young people before they become the leaders, professors, and business owners of this country. If they can’t get their own house in order, what hope do they have to run the nation?
How will Millennials dutifully sacrifice to maintain our freedom if they don’t know from experience in their own lives what it means to put the needs of others first?
The stake of America’s future is at a crossroads. Millennials should be becoming more conservative in political ideology at this point in their lives. Their reluctance is not an aversion to the principles of conservatism, but an unwillingness to accept the responsibility to take care of others – something which is caused by factors both in their control and outside their control.
Elected officials nationally and locally should focus their efforts on incentivizing America’s younger generations to get married, stay married, have children, own a home, and to save for the future. Reaching these life milestones will have a more significant influence on how Millennials view the world than any of the woke politics they learned in college or are being bombarded with by corporate newsrooms or on social media.
The only way to significantly course correct Millennials as a whole is to set them on a path that encourages personal responsibility.
W.J. Lee has served in the White House, NASA, on multiple political campaigns, and in nearly all levels of government. In his free time, he enjoys the “three R’s” – reading, writing, and running.
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