The long reign of the baby boomers is over. The millennial generation is now the United States’ largest living generation, according to figures from the U.S. Census Bureau.
There are now 75.4 million millennials—people born during the period from 1981 and 1997—who were between the ages of 18 and 34 in 2015. They edged past the country’s 74.9 million baby boomers, the generation born after World War II, who range in age from 51 to 69.
“Millennials are kind of their own culture,” said William Frey, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution author of Diversity Explosion. “They’re already being noticed because of their size and their unique attributes but, for the most part, they’re not yet in positions of power so that will occur in the next 10 or 15 years and when that happens, they’ll make a marked change.”
Millennials are the best-educated U.S. generation to date. They’re more likely to be politically independent, rather than Republican or Democrat, and they’re much more socially liberal, accepting things like gay marriage to a much greater degree than earlier generations.
The United States might have a history of isolationism but, with this new generation, that’s likely to be all in the past.
“Because they’re more racially diverse and many of their parents were born outside the United States, they are more familiar and more adept at interacting with people from other cultures and other backgrounds,” Frey said. “This much more diverse, kind-of international generation…is going to have a much more global reach. It’s going to make us better able and better equipped to persist and succeed in a global economy.”
Before the ascendance of the millennials, baby boomers, who were born between 1946 and 1964, ruled as the largest living U.S. generation and wielded a great deal of cultural, economic and political influence.
The baby boomers peaked at 78.8 million in 1999, as boomers born in other countries continued to swell their ranks. The millennials are expected to surpass that number in 2036 at 81.1 million.
But don’t expect the rabble-rousing generation that expanded racial diversity and advanced women’s rights to shuffle quietly into gray-haired obscurity. They might not be inclined to give up position, power and influence without a fight.
“They may tend to get a little bit ornery as they get older,” Frey said. “I think enough of them will revive some of their earlier ideas and rebelliousness as they get into old age, in good ways, and they may be able to partner with millennials to make that change come about. But it could be rough for a few years.”
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