Love vs. Likes: The Evolution and Economics of Millennial Romance

Posted by: Olivia Ledbetter

A Rose Emoji for an Anniversary Isn’t the Millennial Ideal

Swipe left on the idea that apps such as Tinder, Bumble and Snapchat are the root of why relationships today are evolving more slowly and later in life (today’s median age of first marriage is later than it has been in modern history at 29 for men and 27 for women). While technology certainly influences relationships, it’s unlikely that the average age of marriage has shifted simply because people are too busy checking Bumble. Although Millennials are connected and meeting in new ways thanks to digital developments, not everything in this generation’s life is caused by technology. Rather, new expectations in modern romance are due to a much bigger issue: economics.

In contrast to the patterns of the past, when adults in all socioeconomic groups married at roughly the same rate, marriage today is more prevalent among those with higher incomes and more education. People are waiting to get married, not because they’re self-absorbed or uninterested, but due to the cultural expectation that people should have achieved a certain level of economic stability before entering into married life. Millennials had the misfortune of entering adult life during the Recession, which resulted in a notably higher level of financially-prompted overall stress than previous generations have reported. Regardless of how much money they have, they do not feel settled financially or psychologically. “Settling down” feels intimidating when they don’t yet feel settled as individuals.

From the outside, it’s easy to simplify the issue and assume that Millennials are just too distracted or busy to want marriage, but it actually remains a desired milestone for nearly 70 percent of Millennials. While they know that you can’t buy love, many do want to purchase higher priced items of their own, such as a home or a car, before they enter into a life of marital stability – and they desire some support along the way.

And for marketers trying to reach consumers in this stage of life, merely using digital touchpoints to “simplify” the path-to-purchase comes across as shallow to this cohort, especially without the right message. By being aware of different Millennial life stages and their accompanying responsibilities, brands can serve as trusted allies in Millennials’ journeys to feel competent and valuable. Marketers that focus on understanding this and truly listen to Millennials and their desire to be independent will see these consumers become more inclined to listen and be loyal to their brand.

Yet, often times, listening can be the most difficult part for brands. Although not strictly focused on supporting Millennial romance, Warby Parker provides a great example of a brand that didn’t just hear, but listened to, Millennial consumers’ concerns.

The predominantly online eyewear brand was created when the founders realized the expensive and intimidating nature of optical shops. Warby Parker has streamlined the glasses buying process with online quizzes that tell which frame shapes will fit the consumer’s face shape and style, affordable pricing and home deliveries for trying on frames. They listened when they heard that Millennials felt both overwhelmed purchasing eyewear and worried about missing styles that matched their identities, and their subsequent empathetic and approachable solution created a buzz-worthy brand now worth more than $1 billion.

The Millennial Values

All in all, while Millennials value newness and adventure, they still desire some form of traditional companionship and commitment. The fact that most Millennials still want to get married reveals a deep desire for one-on-one, “real life” relationships. The fact that they are waiting longer to enter into matrimony reveals a heavy pressure to be in a more stable position financially before officially entering into long-term commitments.

By understanding that Millennials want to settle down but won’t until they feel ready (or believe that they adequately can be classified as such socially), marketers can understand a greater mindset for connecting with this generation: serve them as empathetic and honest advisors. Although Millennials have money, the caution of recession-era thinking prevails. Many feel paralyzed by the amount of options and social expectations they have to take into consideration before going public with their long-term decisions. Giving them a sense of companionship and the tools they need to feel comfortable and appreciated is more important than merely appearing in the right digital spaces and pushing them along at a pace they aren’t comfortable with. By becoming a brand that speaks with instead of to Millennials as they reach new milestones, brands can demonstrate a level of respect that is likely to become mutual. That sounds like #RelationshipGoals.

About Olivia Ledbetter

As the 2017 Editorial Intern for Barkley, Olivia understands that great thinking needs a groundwork of solid strategy before it can become truly visionary. Her background in copywriting and creative writing has cultivated her belief...See Olivia's full bio.