NEW YORK — Remember the 1960s? The future seemed boundless and young people in America and the Western world generally were filled with optimism.
Not anymore, according to the latest results of an annual study conducted by the business consulting firm Deloitte.
“Millennials” – those born after 1982 – are increasingly worried about their economic prospects, the study found. Just 36 percent expect to be better off than their parents – and only 31 percent expect to be happier.
The findings were published in the company’s sixth annual Millennial Survey.
Among the looming fears cited by Western millennials: global terrorism, persistent unemployment and a general breakdown in societal health and well-being.
Interestingly, not all millennials share this pessimism, however. According to the study, there are sharp attitudinal differences between millennials in the West and those in “emerging” markets such as India, Colombia, China, Peru, the Philippines, and Indonesia.
While Western millennials are distinctly pessimistic, their Asian and Latin American counterparts are not. And the trend is getting worse, with pessimism growing in the West and declining elsewhere, the study suggests.
Western and non-Western millennials also tend to emphasize different concerns.
For the former group, terrorism looms larger than ever (29 percent cited it as a chief concern compared 14 percent in 2014), while issues like climate change and resource scarcity have begun to fade (formerly at the very top, now at the very bottom).
For non-Westerners issues like crime/corruption (58 percent) and hunger/health care/inequality (50 percent) are most important.
However, on one key metric – “social progress” – millennials everywhere do seem to agree: The overall quality of life is declining across the globe.
Interestingly, the study did find one big exception to the Western trend: A majority of millennials in the United States do expect economic conditions to improve for them.
Why? It is not clear. However, a separate study conducted for USA TODAY/Rock the Vote in early 2016 also found rising optimism among American millennials, with two-thirds saying they expected to be better off than their parents.
In that survey, the economy and college debt and affordability were the main issues of millennial concern.
Other studies have also found rising optimism among millennials, and not just in the US. Youth are more optimistic than at any time in recent history, according to Deutsche Bank, which also surveyed millennials worldwide, And they are far more optimistic than the baby-boomer generation, according to a study conducted in early 2016.
What accounts for these differences? It could be timing. Unlike the recent Deloitte study, other surveys were conducted well before the Brexit earthquake in Europe. Enthusiasm among millennials there post-Brexit may have well have declined since then.
Another factor could be Donald Trump’s victory in the US presidential election. While enthusiasm for both candidates was relatively low, pre-election polls showed that millennials strongly favored Hillary Clinton and most expected her to win.
And it could just be that the views of young millennials especially are highly reactive — and sharply in flux.
Methodological differences in the surveys might also have affected their findings. For the Deloitte study, a total of 7,900 interviews with millennials were conducted in 29 countries – 4,000 in the West and 3,900 in emerging markets. The Worldwide Forum study involved a sample nearly three times that size.
In the Deutsche Bank study, precise details about the sampling design or interview mode were not provided.