• Stephan Chase

The Millennial Generation may be smaller than you think it is

Millennials are now the largest generation in the workforce scream the headlines. It's true, but be careful of the implications you draw from that.

Oddly enough, Millennials now constitute a smaller proportion of the workforce than young people did sixteen years ago (when Gen X was the same age as Millennials are now). To understand the generational dynamics at play, read on!

The chart below shows the total US working population (ages 19 - 64) from 2000 through 2016. The population is split into two groups by age. The first group in blue is composed of those between the ages of 19 and 35. This reflects the ages Millennials spanned in 2016.

Compare the number of Millennials in 2016 with their similarly-aged counterparts in 2000. As you would expect, there's been a steady rise in the number of young people over that time. Specifically, there were 65 million 19-35 year-olds in 2000 and 73 million in 2016; an increase of ~8 million or 12.3%.

But that's not the full story. Over the same time period, the older workforce (36 - 64 year-olds) increased by 17 million (from 102 million to 119) or 16.7%.

This is represented by the orange bars in the same chart. If you look at the yearly progression, you'll see most of the growth occurred between the years 2000 and 2010. These were the years when the tail end of the Silent Generation was aging out of the workforce. Gen X may be a small generation, but relative to the Silents, it is enormous. You can see this in the chart below, which displays the working-age US population in the year 2000 by age, color-coded by generation.

The orange bars on the left represent Gen X. On the opposite side of the chart, the yellow bars represent the Silent Generation. In 2001, the year following the data in the chart, over 4 million Xers (those turning 36) entered the older portion of the workforce. That same year about 2 million members of the Silent Generation (those 64 in 2000) departed from it. So, in one year alone, the elder working age population increased by ~2 million.

This continued for another ten years. Doing the math, Millennials comprised 38% of the working age population in 2016. In 2000, that age group accounted for 39%.

This is not a special case. The finding holds when you include retirees in the calculations or when you compare Millennials with the population as a whole.

Millennials have numbers, and it's important to focus on consumers who will eventually form the mainstay of the US economy, but you'll benefit from keeping their size relative to the rest of the population in perspective.

Chase Intel helps its clients create insights to drive customer engagement and profits. These insights are often founded on a fresh look at our clients’ objectives and the data, analysis, and actions required to achieve them.