Commentary

How Young Leaders Will Transform The World

All across America, millennials are facing off against baby boomers in a political tug-of-war. In the Democratic primary, the first millennial presidential candidate, Pete Buttigieg, is competing against four main candidates in their 70s. In the House of Representatives, a youthful freshman class in their 30s is shaking up an institution run by those in their late 70s.

And politicians and voters everywhere are trying to balance the priorities of boomers (tax cuts, lower spending, protecting Social Security and Medicare) with those of millennials and Gen Z (fighting climate change, eradicating student debt and promoting social justice).

Time correspondent Charlotte Alter investigates this phenomenon in her new book, "The Ones We’ve Been Waiting For," set for release Feb. 18. Time carried an excerpt from the book in a January cover story, and its headlines are startling.

Alter is predicting “a progressive youthquake” as millennials and Gen Z start to vote in greater numbers. Experts say that voters’ experiences in young adulthood make the greatest impact on their lifelong political leanings, a sobering thought for a generation shaped by the Great Recession, endless wars, a student loan crisis, income inequality and climate change.

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According to Pew Research, 57% of millennials claim to hold liberal views, while just 12% say they have conservative values. Disapproval of President Trump tops 70% among those under 30. Millennial-led households have 34% less wealth than older generations did at their age, due to the student loan crisis and the lingering aftereffects of The Great Recession. According to Gallup, young people’s approval of capitalism dropped 15 points from 2010 to 2019. And according to Harvard’s Institute of Politics, in 2018, fewer than half of adults 18-29 supported capitalism, while 39% supported democratic socialism.

If a boomer is elected (or re-elected) as president in November, it will almost certainly be for the last time. Experts point to the phenomenon of the presidency skipping generations, such as when it passed directly from The Greatest Generation to boomers in 1992, skipping The Silent Generation. Even if “Mayor Pete” doesn’t win this year, there’s a good chance our president in 2024 or 2028 will be a millennial, completing the generational shift in power. Already the leaders of Austria, Finland, Ukraine, El Salvador, New Zealand and Ireland are 33, 34, 35, 38, 39 and 41, respectively.

What are the implications for marketers as teens and millennials find their political voice?

*Forget Gen X. As millennials dominate the workforce and voter rolls, look for power and influence to shift directly to them from boomers. Much like The Silent Generation, Gen X will never get its moment in the sun as a consumer and voting force.

*Promote capitalism or see it erode. Young people have little to no trust in the financial, pharmaceutical, insurance and oil industries, as well as several other pillars of the private economy. These industries and many others need to work hard—and fast—to get out their message, or else they face heightened government intervention. And all companies need to do a better job of practicing and promoting fair capitalism that respects and benefits all stakeholders.

*Be part of the solution. Even in industries with bad reputations, forward-thinking brands like Acorn, Marcus, Lemonade, Microsoft, Shell Oil and JetBlue are directly addressing younger consumers’ concerns about financial empowerment and climate change, and providing them with solutions.

Find ways to achieve and promote carbon neutrality; gender and racial parity in the C-suite and the boardroom; and “equal pay for equal work.” And include youthful and diverse perspectives in corporate decision-making.

As millennials and Gen Z rise to power, the most future-thinking brands can rise with them.
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