American Millennials

June 23, 2010 by  
Filed under Money, Money and Morality, Money Vault

Director of Media Relations for The Knights of Columbus, Andrew Walther, speaks with The Marist Poll’s John Sparks about the survey, American Millennials: Generations Apart.  The survey, undertaken by The Knights of Columbus in partnership with The Marist College Institute for Public Opinion, was released in January and aimed at identifying the views of America’s youth in the wake of the nation’s economic crisis and at uncovering the priorities of these young adults.

knights-of-columbus-logo-200In their discussion, Sparks and Walther touch upon business ethics in the workplace, the similarities and differences between the Greatest Generation and Millennials on the economy and their expectations on the recovery.

Listen to the interview or read the transcript below.

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John Sparks
Andrew, we’re talking about the survey the Knights of Columbus commissioned on American Millennials: Generations Apart. I’m curious, what did the Knights hope to learn from this survey?

Andrew Walther
Well, the Knights hoped to learn what the moral attitudes of Millennials were, both on an individual basis as a group, but also in terms of the comparison to the other generations of Americans to sort of figure out where the up and coming generation, if you will, how they stack up to Americans historically from the Greatest Generation to Baby Boomers to Gen X-ers.

John Sparks
Let’s talk about how you would define Millennials for the purpose of the survey?

Andrew Walther
Sure. For the purpose of the survey, we define Millennials as those between the ages of 18 and 29 years old, and that’s a pretty standard characterization for that generation.

John Sparks
Sure. Now I’m just curious, what did you find distinguishes the so-called greatest generation from their grandchildren?

Andrew Walther
Well, you know, there were some areas of similarity and some areas of difference really. In some ways, the greatest generation was more what we would call I think generally conservative. But at the same time, there were areas of significant overlap with Millennials. Marriage was very important to both groups. Marriage and family were rated very highly by both. The attitudes of Millennials on certain social issues, including abortion and euthanasia were quite traditional. And so I think that Millennials are, really I think in looking at the survey, you can see that they follow the tradition of the American ethic, if you will.

John Sparks
You asked everyone, if they were more inclined to approve of President Obama’s job performance and especially in handling the economy. I believe that it indicated that the Millennials were more inclined to approve of the President’s performance. I’m just curious why you thought they answered that way.

Andrew Walther
Well, the Millennials were in a way the most optimistic to some degree. I mean they were a little more likely to approve of the performance specifically. But when it came to issues of the government’s ability to handle the economic crisis, they were just marginally more positive. 59% of Americans were not confident that the government could handle the crisis, and 55% of Millennials felt the same way, so very, very close. In terms of the country heading in the wrong direction, it was 67% of Americans, 60% of Millennials. And in terms of increased regulation, Millennials were very much in line with the rest of the American population. 55% of Americans and 53% of Millennials wanted a more free market, less government regulation approach to business. So I think, while maybe a little bit more cautiously optimistic, they were definitely in line with the rest of the American population and their outlook. And in terms of believing that their personal career would be negatively impacted long-term by the economic situation, the numbers for Millennials were exactly the same as for the rest of Americans, 55% and 55%.

John Sparks
Now I’m both intrigued and concerned about the finding that both groups had lost confidence in the government’s ability to handle the economic crisis. What do you think it’ll take to restore people’s confidence? Can it be restored?

Andrew Walther
Well it’s interesting to see from the numbers what people are liking or disliking, but I think you have a twofold problem that’s brought to light by the survey. On the one hand, Millennials and Americans in general are concerned that the government may not have a good handle on this. On the other hand, they’re equally or more concerned, frankly, that business is getting this wrong as well. So you have 75% of Americans and two-thirds of Millennials wanting the same set of moral standards in business and personal life, 74% of Americans and 77% of Millennials, an even greater number, seeing decisions and business based on greed as morally wrong. So you have a situation where on the one hand, they don’t have a lot of confidence in the government to fix this problem. But on the other hand, they’re really looking at the problems in the business community in terms of ethical behavior and saying that they want solutions to that.

John Sparks
I would like to ask you about the finding that the Millennials were optimistic that they would be financially better off than their parents.

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Andrew Walther
Sure.

John Sparks
I know that the Generation X and the Baby Boomers did not quite share that optimism. Are the Millennials just living in a dream world? After all, we are in pretty tough economic times.

Andrew Walther
Well I think that could be part of it. I mean as things are bad now and for their parents especially, I think that they see long-term prospects as being a little better. Interestingly, the Greatest Generation also thought they would be better off than their parents, and they were the generation that grew up during or shortly after the Depression. So I think in a way you have people whose parents have had careers and tough economic times seeing the future as a little brighter, and I think that’s consistent with the Greatest Generation and the Millennials.

John Sparks
Most Americans, I think it’s safe to say, want to have it all. They want to have a career. They want to have family. You asked a question of the folks that you surveyed whether they believe that their career success would or would not come at the expense of their families, and I believe three-quarters of them believe that career success would not interfere with the families.

Andrew Walther
And, that goes very much in line with the heavy emphasis on marriage and family that we found among the Millennials generally and Americans in particular. I think that people are looking to have a good and healthy balance between their work life and their family life; and I think that there’s certainly a lot of optimism among Millennials, but also among the other groups that such a balance can be achieved.

John Sparks
Now, let’s talk about this topic of morals and ethics in the workplace. I recall about a year ago, the Knights did a survey about morals and ethics in the workplace, and I believe this latest survey, the Millennial survey, that I think about two-thirds or more believe that our moral values are headed down the wrong path. Am I correct?

Andrew Walther
Yes, that’s correct, and that number’s been pretty high over the past year whenever we’ve done surveys like this. I think people are a little concerned that the country, well more than a little concerned, that the country is headed in the wrong direction morally, and I think some of this is certainly the big scandals that we saw in Wall Street in the financial community over the last couple of years with the economic crisis and the causes of that being quite clearly attributable at least to some degree to, if not unethical, certainly less than ethical business practices. And I think people see that as a real problem, but also see that business in their opinion can be both ethical and successful. If you look at the numbers on that, I mean very, very high numbers. I think more than three-quarters of Americans believe that you can have an ethical and successful business and you see that many of the businesses that have continued to do well in this economy are exactly that, the businesses that are run with a higher standard in mind.

John Sparks
I thought that it was interesting that there seemed to be an indication that ethical standards are different in business than in people’s personal lives.

Andrew Walther
Yeah, I think that Millennials in the country in general see that a lot of people might treat their family and loved ones one way and treat their customers and consumers and stockholders a different way, and I think that there’s a growing dissatisfaction with that dichotomy. I think people want consistency. People want there to be morality and ethics, not morality and ethics here and morality and — not home ethics and business ethics. I think they just want ethics.

John Sparks
You mentioned greed a minute ago, and I gather that most everyone senses that greed is at the root of our economic dilemma, but do people just accept that as a way or is there — are there any inspiration or motivation to do something about it, to change that?

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Andrew Walther
Well, I think there is a bit of motivation. I mean, I think the fact that you see these high numbers of people believing that you can be simultaneously ethical and successful says a lot for the fact that people believe that they you can in fact have both, and I think that that’s a good step in the right direction because if you can’t have both ethics and success, then there’s frankly little reason not to do it. And, with the economic crisis on everybody’s mind, we’ve seen where the other path leads.

John Sparks
It seems that many Americans think that their religious beliefs and values if they’re a business executive certainly influence their business decisions, but the survey also with this separation seemed to indicate that Americans leave their morals and ethics outside the door on the hanger when they come to work. Why the separation?

Andrew Walther
Well, I think the people view business as different from their home life, and I think that, unfortunately, in various ways a culture has taken hold in, not everywhere but in enough places that it’s a problem, that says profits first and profit is the only thing that matters when you start down that road. When you start looking in I think the survey we did last year, last February, there was a series of questions about what people thought business decisions were motivated by. They thought they were motivated by personal career advancement. They through they were motivated by greed, but they didn’t think they were motivated by the common good. And I think when you completely exclude the common good from the calculation, and you’re looking to get as much as you personally can right now at the cost of everybody else, you end up with situations like we have now — it’s simply not sustainable. And, so I think it’s very easy for anyone probably to be dazzled by the promise of instantaneous riches and a quick buck. But at the same time, we’ve seen that that may work for one person today, but it hurts a lot of people tomorrow.

John Sparks
Sure. You know, Andrew, the results are all very interesting, but other than raising an awareness, I’m just curious what the Knights of Columbus might do with the information to effect a positive change in our country and the in the workplace.

Andrew Walther
Well, we’ve certainly done a fair amount of writing in various places, in our own magazine, and also our CEO Carl Anderson has done a fair number of columns in the media on the importance of ethics in the workplace and of having an ethical standard that really is taken from home to the workplace and not left at the nightstand, if you will. And, I think both in terms of our 1.8 million members and in terms of the public at large, we’ve been always very outspoken in terms of taking care of your neighbor, and this is something that we continue to do with these numbers, with these — with the release of these numbers and our various conversations with the media and various outlets and the writing and so on that’s been done by the Knights of Columbus in a variety of outlets. The message is pretty clear. An ethical approach to business is really the way forward and really the way to make sure that we don’t fix this crisis and end up with another one based on the same problem.

John Sparks
Certainly. I found the survey most interesting. Any other thoughts that you’d like to share about the survey?

Andrew Walther
Well I think it’s — I think it is a very good place for people to look to see that Americans are looking for a more effective response from the business community and also a less heavy-handed approach from the government. They don’t want to sleight of hand from the Wall Street community. They don’t want a heavy hand from the government, as Carl Anderson’s pointed out on several occasions. They’re looking for common sense solutions, and that begins with taking the ethics that this country shares and that makes our country the great place that it is and our families, the places that they are, and bringing these into the workplace, treating our neighbors in a way that really takes into account the common good and not looking to get an extra dollar today at the expense of everybody tomorrow.

Comments

2 Responses to “American Millennials”

  1. Dominick Griffin on August 21st, 2010 8:54 pm

    Thanks for posting! I really enjoyed the report. I’ve already bookmarked this article.

  2. Dexter Morgan on September 20th, 2010 9:54 pm

    I agree that common sense solutions and strong business ethics is what is going to turn this economy around. Strong government control will lead to further corruption.

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