Millennials: A New Generation of Family Values

Recently, I attended a wedding for the daughter of our friends. We knew the bride 10 years ago when she was graduating high school, but haven’t seen much of her in the mean time. So when the best man’s toast made it clear that he expected the couple to have a family, I was startled. That simply wouldn’t have happened 20 or 30 years ago. Yet, upon reflection, the presumption seemed completely logical. Millennials are in fact showing every sign of being one of the most family-oriented generations to date.

I first wrote on this topic last July when I speculated that babies were becoming cool (What the Cool Kids Want, A Baby). The post evoked this response:

“For first-wave Millennials like myself, we were coming of age just as all the characters on FRIENDS were starting to settle down and even have babies. I think girls my age thought “Why am I going to waste a decade trying to find myself, when in the end what I’m looking for is a family?”

There’s more than anecdotal evidence that a baby boomlet may be on the way. Birthrates per women reached the magical 2.1 population replacement rate in 2006 for the first time since 1971. More babies were born in 2007 than even during the height of the baby boom. Studies of values shows Millennials put having a family as a goal. According to longitudinal survey of high school students conducted by the College Board, 77% of students nationwide say “raising a family” is an “essential” or “very important” life objective. In 1977, by comparison, just 59 percent of students gave the same level of importance to raising a family.

What will Millennials be like as parents, and what does that mean for marketers? I have a few predictions:

Gen Y will be attentive parents, albeit for different reasons than the parental-attention-starved Gen X’ers who’s extreme parenting styles seem to be about making up for what they missed as kids. In contrast, Gen Y, enjoyed some of the most child-centric parenting ever known. There is every reason to think they will continue to dote on their own offspring, most likely with help from grandparents. Boomers are unlikely to back out of their kids lives now just as things get really fun. We may even see multiple generations under the same roof again, by choice and in some cases, by necessity.

Millennials will put their kids ahead of their careers.Young, well-educated young mothers and fathers, will find a way to balance their career expectations against their parental responsibilities. Millennials who have already shown willingness to decouple identity from work. (Think of the character Ryan in The Office relative to Michael for examples.). A young cousin of mine and her husband each have part time jobs in LA to ensure that someone is always home with their r 2-year old son. I would also expect young parents to leverage their expectation of job mobility to enjoy alternating periods of working and staying home, or working from home. The direct implication is that there will be more sharing of responsibilities, including shopping, cleaning and child care, putting men squarely in the target for many CPG products.

Millennials’ interest in healthful, locally produced and organic foods will accelerate. According to Mintel, interest in shopping at Farmers’ markets, in food co-ops and community gardens all jump with the presence of children. For example, 6% of households without children buy local goods at a farmer’s market and 3% at a food co-op. That jumps to 9% and 7% respectively with the presence of children.

Millennials will emphasize family experiences over material things. An emphasis on travel, learning and experiences is characteristic of their generation and a pattern they are likely to carry over into their parenting. Again, this may be a function of necessity as well as values. Whatever the reason, look for houses to be smaller and greener, toys to be fewer and family activities to be more common. When my mom was a kid, she and her family used to go to ‘family camp’, and I have recently heard several young couples say they have been doing similar things.

Millennials will evolve their use of social media to focus on their lives as parents.

The need for the support of friends and community, for documenting one’s life through pictures and video and for sharing milestones accelerates with parenthood. No doubt we will see many more applications and parent-specific social media sites spring up to fill the need. Already Promo magazine and Fast Company have noted that Millennials are more likely to turn online to make her life run efficiently. According to Promo Magazine, “Gen Y moms were also more interested than their older counterparts in tools that let them create and maintain their own content.” Here’s what Fast Company has to say:

Age 27 or younger, Millennial Mom is the newest mom on the block, and she’s the first generation to use technology to seamlessly blend work and life. Not long out of college or high school, she’s facing many firsts: marriage, babies, insurance, jobs, maybe even owning a house. Hyper-connected and beyond tech savvy, Millennial Mom’s world is both physical and virtual, bringing social connection and life-skills management as close as a computer or cell phone. She’s busted out of previous generations’ isolation challenges during those early, tethered-to-the-house years. You’ll find her plugged into or, sharing worries, excitement, and ideas with her online family. Products like MyThum mobile coupons and Infinity Broadcasting Visual Radio — delivered right to her cellphone — resonate with her values of connectivity and access, seamlessly going where she goes.