The Table Podcast

Understanding Millennials in a Shifting World

In this episode, Dr. Darrell Bock, Dr. Jay Sedwick and Matlock discuss millennials, focusing on the challenges and opportunities they face in a shifting culture.

Timecodes
00:14
What makes it exciting to be a millennial?
04:18
Evaluating new studies on millennials
05:46
Millennials and delayed marriage
14:20
Millennials and family size
18:16
Millennials and financial pressures
26:13
Millennials and higher education
Resources

After the Baby Boomers by Robert Wuthnow

Transcript
Darrell Bock
Welcome to The Table where we discuss issues of God and culture. I’m Darrell Bock, Executive Director at The Hendricks Center, and our topic this morning is Millennials. That’s the group that came after the Baby Boomers and the Gen-Xers and we’re actually going to discuss statistics that follow a little bit of the Gen-Xers and the Millennials as well. But our discussion point is to figure out kind of how this group fits into the dynamics of the church. Many people have said it’s a different generation from the generations that have preceded it, so we’re going to analyze that a little bit. We’re also thinking through a conference that’s upcoming for us called Prone to Wander in which Gabe Lyons is going to be the major guest speaker.

We’re glad you could join us this morning. I’m going to let our guests introduce themselves. Normally I introduce them, but I figured this is a fun group so I’m going to let them introduce themselves. Jay, I’ll let you begin.

Jay Sedwick
Alright. My name is Jay Sedwick and I’m Professor of Educational Ministries here at Dallas Theological Seminary, beginning my 18th year on faculty. And I’ve been working with your people or adolescents for 30 years.
Darrell Bock
Educational Ministries. Is that what we call the department now?
Jay Sedwick
That’s what we call it now. It’s called Educational Ministries and Leadership.
Darrell Bock
Okay. The trouble is when you’ve been here as long as I have, the department goes through a variety of names. So by the time I finally decide to retire and the Lord takes me, I’m sure it will be called something else.
Jay Sedwick
You weren’t on the memo.
Darrell Bock
That’s exactly right. Very good.
Mark Matlock
I’m Mark Matlock. I’m the Executive Director of Youth Specialties and we resource youth workers in the church. I’ve been working with teenagers and Millennials for 25 years next year. So 24 years.
Darrell Bock
Well, weren’t you a Millennial when you started working with Millennials?
Mark Matlock
No. I’m squarely in Gen-X. I’m an Xer. I’m angry about it.
Darrell Bock
Oh, really?
Mark Matlock
Yeah, I’m very frustrated.
Darrell Bock
You wish you’d been a Millennial or would you rather have been a Baby Boomer?
Mark Matlock
Let me tell you, I think I’m very jealous of the Millennials. I look at my kids and I’m like, ‘Oh man. I wish I had those opportunities when I was your age.’
Darrell Bock
Let’s start there. So what is it the Millennials got going for them that makes it exciting to be a Millennial?
Mark Matlock
Well, one thing is just the size of the generation. It’s a large generation. It’s pretty big. And that’s one of the things that Gen-Xers sometimes have a little bit of a problem with is we’re this small, tiny generation sandwiched between two really big generations.
Darrell Bock
Yeah. You’re the tomato in the sandwich.
Mark Matlock
Yeah. And the Boomers have held on to their seats of leadership a little too long, not making space for us.
Darrell Bock
Okay, I heard that.
Mark Matlock
And now by the time we’re coming into leadership, it’s almost already time to turn it over and pass the baton.
Darrell Bock
We’re just x-ing them right out of there.
Mark Matlock
Yeah. So we’re just an angry generation. Reality Bites is the movie that defines us.

But Millennials, literally they’re living in such a fascinating time on earth. Every time is a fascinating time on earth, but there are some really interesting thing taking place with technology and globalization that just make the world a very fun place to be right now and possibilities. I think about how God created us in the garden to fill the earth and to subdue it and to be co-creators with what He’s doing, and I think this generation has more tools to do that with than any generation before them.

Darrell Bock
And they can thank the Baby Boomers and the Gen-Xers for that, can’t they?
Mark Matlock
Yeah, okay. Alright. So yeah, maybe so. But yeah, I think about that. And not just the ability to create it but to share it. So there’s a lot of neat things that they have access to. Unfortunately, the institution of the Church, if we look at it as an institution as opposed to some of the communities that it really should reflect, I don’t think that it’s kept pace with where the Millennials and their opportunities are. I think they’re kind of bored with the Church.
Darrell Bock
Okay. Well, we’ll come back to that. That’s a suggestive teaser.
Mark Matlock
I built that into my intro, something to say.
Darrell Bock
Alright, Jay. So what’s your take on all this as you listen?
Jay Sedwick
What concerns me is the fact that there’s a lot of study going on on Millennials and I’m a little skeptical of the studies. My background in research tells me that there are a lot of hypotheses out there and there are a lot of things that are being looked at. Yet, you have to look at who’s studying it and why they’re studying it and what they’re trying to come up with, what they’re trying to push in many ways. You’ve heard the old adage, ‘There are lies, there are damn lies and there are statistics.’
Darrell Bock
Mm hmm. And the statistics are at the bottom of that list.
Jay Sedwick
Exactly. Exactly. Because you can make a lot of things sound like you want to sound. And there are a lot of things that are being said about Millennials that I want to step back and say where did the study come from? What are they saying about it? Why are they funding this study? What are they trying to push? What books are they trying to sell? What conferences are they trying to populate with people? All those kinds of things that say is what they’re saying really accurate.

A lot of times those headlines are what they’re really driving. They want to get a headline; they want to get attention. They want to stir people up; they want to get people excited. And then if you really dig in and look at things, you say, ‘You know what, there’s really not a whole lot there, but they’re still making a big deal out of it.’

Darrell Bock
Interesting. Well, where I want to begin, since you discussed the issue of opportunities, is kind of to discuss where we are sociologically with this age group and the group that is just above it in terms of age. The book that I’m going to draw on here is a book by Robert Wuthnow who is a sociologist at Princeton. He wrote a book called, After the Baby Boomers; Looking at This Generation. Now this book is just short of ten years old, but it’s interesting in the factors that he says that have shaped the Millennials. He goes through seven of these. Now some of these we’ve discussed before in our earlier podcast, but I think it’s an interesting list and I think it raises interesting questions. Mark, when you say the church hasn’t kept up with this generation, part of what they’re not keeping up with are these demographical features that have formed and shaped people that then the church has to cope with.

Here we go. The first one is called delayed marriage. Now he put that phrase together and you go what in the world is a delayed marriage. But the point is, I think, that generally speaking this generation is getting married later. From the time someone leaves home from high school to go to college or whatever it is they’re going to do to the time where they become married and establish a family has stretched out over the last generation significantly. Somewhere, interestingly enough, between seven to ten years I think is where this is falling depending on which part of the group you’re looking at.

Just to be autobiographical for a moment, my son, who is 31, is very much a reflection of this. I look back at my life. When I started dating and thinking about having a family, etc., I was married at 22. He’s 31. He is just beginning his first significant relationship at 31. As a dad, I was going what in the world is going on here. So you’ve got that kind of delay.

Mark Matlock
That’s very common. And it’s a huge shift.
Darrell Bock
Very common. And we’re going to see there are other factors playing into why this is happening, like the way the economics of being a young person and going to college and what that means for students and that kind of thing. So there are a lot of factors that are in play here.

But the fact is, that’s happening and that’s creating a gap for the Church that we have talked about before which is it used to be the pattern was, one of the other statistics that’s in here is a couple is more likely to go to church than single people, generally speaking. And it’s two to one, female to male as well. What that means is it used to be you might drop out from being involved in the church but you get married relatively young, you have your kids and go, ‘How are we going to raise our kids?’ And you go back to the church to have the church help. But now the adult pattern has become so established that when they get married and have their kids they’re not asking that question quite so much anymore so they’re not coming back in the numbers that they were. So that’s one of the factors. So obviously delayed marriage is an important part of this picture.

Mark Matlock
Yes. It’s significant in a lot of ways because what it really does, it allows an individual to accept different scripts that go outside of the norms of society. Even with sexuality. Bob Priest, missiologist and anthropologist, he was talking about the fact that in the United States, because we have such a long time from puberty to marriage, especially now with it getting longer, we have more opportunities to explore different sexual scripts rather than the ones that are proposed by society. Which is why when you go and look at the sexual expression of other cultures you’ll see not as much variation as you do in the United States because of these different factors. Anthropologists are studying sexuality in really interesting ways right now. It’s kind of fascinating with what they’re learning about how that is expressed in different cultures, how much is genetic, whatever.

But that distance away from home is effecting church attendance. It’s allowing for a different set of values and mindsets to emerge.

Darrell Bock
Yeah. And you put that alongside what actually comes out of the 60s and the sexual revolution, the arrival of the Pill, the choices that people have, so you’re getting more partners. You’re getting more people living together; living together without being married is not nearly as unusual as it used to be. I don’t know what the exact numbers are.
Mark Matlock
It’s pretty staggering, the amount of co-habitation that’s happening.
Darrell Bock
So this is a very, very common thing that’s going on.
Mark Matlock
And the research is showing that co-habitation doesn’t actually help marriages. That marriages where there is co-habitation before typically don’t work out. Now that could change over time as new frames emerge.
Darrell Bock
That’s interesting. Actually, I was in Canada a couple of weeks ago and we were looking at a variety of things dealing with the same-sex decision. In the midst of it I happened to call up an article from the New York Times that wasn’t about same-sex but it was about co-habitation, written by a counselor. And basically it was a counselor – and this was a secular counselor – saying this is what I tell couples who live together who think that because they live together they’re better prepared for marriage. Basically she said the statistics are that’s not the result. And so particularly to female counselees that she had, she’s saying, don’t fall into that trap basically is what she’s saying.

And it was an interesting article because this is the New York Times. This is not the Southern Baptist Press that we’re talking about. Just fascinating. In fact, it was so fascinating I took my iPad, handed it over to my wife and said, ‘Hey, take a look at this. This is an interesting article.’

What do you notice about delayed marriage?

Jay Sedwick
Well, we haven’t put a number on it yet. But studies, and here I am going to quote statistics after what I opened with –
Darrell Bock
Good for you. You are educated.
Jay Sedwick
But if you average out the numbers, the studies are saying the average age for first marriage is around 27 years old. That is a lot later than it used to be, and you’ve already identified a lot of the factors.

I think one of the biggest factors we’ve kind of talked a little bit about is economics. It is such a consumer-oriented country in the Western world and we are trying very much to get ahead, to get a little bit more, to be stable. People make decisions based on, ‘I’m not going to get married because I don’t have enough money to make this work. How are we going to support one another? How are we going to live?’

Darrell Bock
Very much where my son is. Yeah.
Mark Matlock
They’re graduating with lots of college debt. More people going to college, more Millennials are going to college than ever, but they’re not being able to pay for it. I mean, couples that I’m doing marriage counseling with right now before they get married, a lot of them are starting off $100,000 to $200,000 in debt as a couple with their –
Jay Sedwick
Which is staggering, and that weight around their neck. What kind of profession are you going to go into other than medical doctor or maybe an attorney or something like that, that can really make a significant income to pay off some of that debt? They’re going to be saddled with that for a very, very long time.

And then one of the main reasons for being married in the past has been to start a family and to have children and we’ve delayed that process and one of the problems –

Darrell Bock
That’s where we’re coming to next.
Jay Sedwick
Yeah, one of the problems that we talked about in the past is the fact that children are no longer viewed as an asset. Children are viewed as a liability. Where in the past it was how many children can you have, the more you have, the more productive and the more favorable your family would be in the culture and the society and in terms of your livelihood. But today, there’s negotiations going on. How many children are we going to have? How many can we afford? Diapers are expensive. And that’s a reality that we face –
Mark Mattock
In my pre-marital counselors, a lot of couples I talk to about family, they’re saying we don’t want to have any kids. They’ve agreed on that.
Darrell Bock
This is the second factor that’s on the list so we might as well go there. It says fewer and later children, on average six years later to have the first child versus 1959, a birth rate that’s half of what it was in 1910. Only half of men in their 30s live in a home with a child of their own. Those are amazing statistics. So fewer children, later children.

And here’s another thing. How we live our lives does impact what we do. Years ago, you basically had family businesses in most cases or something like that. The father would pass on the business to the son, or the skill to the son etc., so the more children you had, you were actually contributing to the human resources part of your operation, if I can say it that way.

Well, with all the choices – you said possibilities – with all the choices that we have, children don’t necessarily decide to do what their parents do. In fact, that’s probably more unusual now. And because of all the choices you don’t have that factor in play. Plus another factor that we’re going to get to is you’ve got both parents working in part because the debt issue that creates that need, plus the freedom to be able to do it.

Jay Sedwick
And the desire to have more.
Darrell Bock
And the desire to have more. All those things are playing in there. So that strains the ability to raise a child for a lot of people in their thinking. They think they lose their freedom when they get their children, which who can argue with that. There’s a certain truth to that. So there are all these factors in play.

So Millennials are really dealing with a whole other way of living, if I can say it that way, than generally has happened before. And we’re still going through the adjustment periods on some of that. Is that what you’re finding?

Mark Matlock
I think so. Think about everything that’s been disrupted. The financial industry, the ability to even launch a business. It’s like mom and dad are becoming the venture capitalists. We have things like Kickstarter. I was talking to a guy who works with a lot of young, start-up type of groups, he’s a bit of a venture capitalist, and he said all these Millennials have this positive energy about what they want to do, and they believe they can do just about anything. But they’re scared out of their minds because they don’t really know how they’re going to make it happen. There’s the reality that maybe nobody really likes or responds to what you do.

So it is interesting. You have disruptions in publishing, in music, in government. Literally every aspect of life has been disrupted, a lot of it by technology. And so we are kind of trying to feel our way out with this generation.

A lot of Millennials, in fact Barna Research did a little series on frame books and one of them was on twenty-somethings, and 82% of them wanted to be married. But before they got married they wanted to do these things. Seventy percent wanted to be fully developed as a person. Sixty-nine percent wanted to be financially established. Sixty percent thought that they should live together with somebody. But three out of every ten Millennials said that they weren’t convinced that conventional marriage was the way to go. And that’s their reflection, I believe, on looking at their parents and grandparents and going, did this work, did this play itself out. They’re wanting a better life.

Darrell Bock
Yeah, that fully developing thing is really interesting. As if you can enter marriage as a perfect person married to a perfect person.
Mark Matlock
Which you’re never completely, fully developed regardless. It’s all a growth process.
Darrell Bock
Exactly right. Let’s bring in a couple of other factors because we’re raised them and really we’ve got to talk about all these together. What Wuthnow has listed as uncertainties of work and money: dual work families, more financial pressure, consumption debt, work with stress is up because of these demands, fluidity on the job for the youngest high. In other words they’re working, but they’re moving from place to place. There’s not stability in those jobs. They’re constantly searching and moving.

Here’s an interesting set of statistics. There’s more parental support for a longer term. And in the group that is between 18 and 34, remember this is awhile back but I think this is interesting, the average was $38,000 of support from parents for that age group. That’s a significant chunk of change. And it shows you the pressure that this group is independent but in some senses they’re not independent. They’re still quite dependent at the same time.

Mark Matlock
Now we have to ask ourselves is that a bad thing. In America we have this narrative of independence –
Jay Sedwick
Individuality.
Mark Matlock
And individuality. We tell people to pursue your dream and fulfill your passion. But if you look at cultures that are interdependent where they don’t take a job based on whether they’re passionate about it, they take it based on whether it’s good for the community for them to do it. Which is why I think we see a lot of non-white and immigrant people in the United States pursuing these technology jobs and things, they’re taking positions that nobody else is necessarily working hard for. It’s kind of an interesting thing because they’re not things that they’re passionate about but they’re things that they’re willing to work for because there’s an opportunity there.

I’m looking at career counseling today with teenagers and nobody is asking them what are the careers that you can make a living in. What they’re being told is, ‘What does your heart tell you you want to do?’ And that’s just a different way of thinking.

I know with my children, who are definitely in the Millennial category, I have a completely different relationship with them than I did with my parents, which is still a very close relationship. But there is definitely much more inter-dependence. And even as a parent, I act differently as a parent with them than my dad and mom acted with me. I think a lot of it has to do with this idea that we’re a little bit different family unit. There’s a little different community going on there. And I probably will be more supportive of them in helping them launch their economic – we’re already talking about those things, entrepreneurially what are the things that they’re going to be involved in.

Jay Sedwick
There’s a conflict that I see, though, in terms of the industry. At the risk of sounding a little bit conspiratorial, we have the larger corporations in our country and in our world that really do pull an awful lot of strings, and they are pushing, pushing, pushing STEM. You’ve got to get science, technology, engineering and math. You’ve got to go do STEM degrees. Even in Washington they’re bemoaning the fact that we’re not turning out enough people in those fields and these high tech jobs are going unfulfilled or unfilled. And yet on the other side we’re asking students, ‘What do you want to be? What does your heart tell you?’ But the marketplace is saying, ‘I don’t care what your heart tells you. We need you to be an engineer.’
Darrell Bock
You need skills.
Jay Sedwick
Yeah. We need these particular skills. And it’s driven so much by the economy. It’s driven by the economies and the things that these larger corporations and the pursuit of the future and innovation and those kinds of things. And we’ve got to have people in those positions. So there’s a little bit of a tension and a conflict there between what does my heart tell me. But yet if I want a job and if I’m going to survive, I’ve got to go do this.
Darrell Bock
We mentioned earlier the fluidity of where people move as they move through jobs, particularly when they’re young. You don’t have the situation that again you used to have before where someone would go to college, find a job and they might be with a company for ten, 15, 20 years.
Jay Sedwick
Right, which is rare these days.
Darrell Bock
Right, that’s rare. You’re moving around and that kind of thing. But I also think some of that is someone starts off and they want to work in their passion and they start off working in their passion and they realize, ‘I can’t earn a living doing this. I’m going to have to think about something else.’ And maybe they go back to school and adjust their qualifications, that kind of thing. And boom, they’re in the cycle. And then you also get the reverse. The person starts off in the job that people told him. They end up being very unsatisfied with where they are and so they say, ‘I’m scrapping this and I’m going to do something I really want to do,’ with all the loss that that choice makes for them for them financially. But they’ve still got all these other realities around them that they’re having to cope with.

The opportunities and choices are multiple, but then the moves can sometimes put you in awkward positions in terms of where you are in life.

Jay Sedwick
There’s also I think an odd – and Mark, you’ve probably seen this, too – there’s an odd perspective that young people have of the get-rich-quick kind of thing. That I’m going to be an NFL player. I’m going to be in the NBA. Or I’m going to be Mark Zuckerberg. There are a few that pull that off.
Darrell Bock
Or the American Idol.
Jay Sedwick
Yeah, exactly. Exactly. So there is this pursuit of this get-rich-quick, there’s something out there that I can do if I just find that one thing, I’m set. Instead of let’s just dig in and do the work.
Darrell Bock
We’re going to have to slog through life.
Jay Sedwick
Exactly. But we watch on TV and we see these people who have made it, and I want that. I want to be that. And it’s just not realistic.
Mark Matlock
Or maybe it is.
Jay Sedwick
For a few. For a very few. But that’s the problem.
Mark Matlock
But that’s the problem. There are the Zuckerbergs and those people that hit it huge. But you don’t always have to hit it that big, right? Man, I would take a tenth.
Jay Sedwick
That’s true. That’s true.
Mark Matlock
So I mean to hit in on a smaller level. And I think that’s what’s interesting is we have – and this is why we go back to the envy of the Millennium generation – they are a generation of entrepreneurs. They’re looking for opportunities. But they have more simple ideas of life. And it will be interesting to see what happens over the long term because you know Boomers started out as flower children and peace, love and all –
Darrell Bock
And tie-dyed shirts.
Mark Matlock
Yes, and then all of a sudden they got super corporate, and let’s take charge and let’s do this. And it will be interesting to see if this generation doesn’t maybe live more into the fulfilled vision of their Baby Boomer grandparents where they say, you know what, living more simply and not having to live with as much material wealth is actually a better way to go. I don’t need that much. It will be interesting to see if they do that. Community is more important. Experience is more important. I want to have a place to go.

The other trend we’re seeing in the urban context is what they call the ghettoification of the suburbs where wealth is moving into the cities and pushing poverty out.

Jay Sedwick
Look at Dallas. It’s amazing what’s happening in Dallas.
Mark Matlock
Yeah. And Dallas is just one of a kajillion cities where that’s happening. And so what that does, it creates new ways of people interacting and connecting with one another, and a new way of living and saying it’s important for me to rub shoulders against people that I don’t know because things happen. Synapses happen between people and opportunities are created. So this is a very interesting time.
Darrell Bock
Well, let me get through the rest of the list and we’ll put them all on the table because I think what we’re seeing is this is all interacting. Higher education – this is stated this way – higher education for some. College education with graduation, especially for women, is up significantly. But still only 25% of the population as a whole graduates. So that’s an interesting combination of things.
Mark Matlock
And those who don’t are Steve Jobs, Bill Gates –
Darrell Bock
Don’t even go there. Don’t even go there. You keep dealing with the exceptions that are the rule for the exceptions.
Mark Matlock
Conan O’Brien in his graduation speech, I can’t remember where it was, MIT maybe. Basically he said, ‘Congratulations for accomplishing what 90% of your generation has accomplished. You’re not a drop out like –‘ It was very funny, but it was very poignant in terms of capturing the spirit of the times.
Darrell Bock
Which reminds me of an introduction from Lou Holtz that he gave this year at a school, I think it was in West Virginia. It goes something like, ‘Hi, I’m Lou Holtz. I’m 79 years old. I’ve been 21 before and you’ve never been 79.’
Mark Matlock
I like that. That’s very good.
Darrell Bock
Anyway, only Lou Holtz can do something like that.
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Darrell L. Bock
Dr. Bock is senior research professor of New Testament and executive director for cultural engagement at Dallas Theological Seminary. He has authored or edited more than 40 books, including Jesus according to Scripture: Restoring the Portrait from the Gospels, Jesus in Context: Background Readings for Gospel Study, Studying the Historical Jesus: A Guide to Sources and Methods, Jesus the Messiah: Tracing the Promises, Expectations, and Coming of Israel’s King, Who Is Jesus?: Linking the Historical Jesus with the Christ of Faith, and Key Events in the Life of the Historical Jesus: A Collaborative Exploration of Context and Coherence.
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