9 minute read 2 Dec 2019
group of millennials walking along street

The Millennial Economy 2018


Cathy Koch

EY Global Tax Policy Network and Americas Tax Policy Leader

Leader in US and global tax policy with an informed perspective on public and private sectors and a deep knowledge of the US legislative environment.

9 minute read 2 Dec 2019

Millennials are changing with the world around them.

Our survey, The Millennial Economy 2018, captures the views of 1,200 Millennials on a variety of personal, local and national issues. Since our last survey, we found that Millennials have experienced significant changes over the past two years — they’re graduating from college, finding full-time jobs, buying houses and getting married.

These new findings show that while Millennials feel more stable economically, they aren’t convinced this stability will last. They have weathered three recessions in their lifetime, and few have confidence the economy will stay strong. Millennials are also facing record levels of student debt.

And while they are getting married, having kids and buying homes, they are doing so much less than past generations.

Millennials and America dreams

Millennials are moving out

In our 2016 survey, 30% of all Millennials still lived at home with their parents, while 40% of unmarried respondents lived at home.


In 2018 this number has dropped by nearly half; now, only 16% of Millennials surveyed report living at home with their parents, and only 24% of single respondents are still at home.

Millennials are tying the knot and starting families
  • 38% of respondents report being married in 2018, compared to only 27% in 2016.
  • 40% of Millennial women have children in 2018.¹
Despite these gains, Millennials still fall behind older generations
  • Approximately 45% of Gen Xers and Baby Boomers owned their homes when they were between the ages of 25 and 34.²
  • 53% of women from Generation X (those born between 1965 and 1980) had children when they were the same age as Millennials today.³

Why aren’t more Millennials starting businesses?

The hangover from the Great Recession continues to weigh on Millennials and they are always on the lookout for economic turmoil that could negatively affect them. Due to this uncertainty and financial insecurity, they are hesitant to start their own businesses.

The most common reason Millennials give for not starting their own business is not having the financial means to do so.

Which of the following is the biggest obstacle keeping you from starting your own business?

Millennials think that they are an entrepreneurial generation
  • 58% of Millennial respondents believe they are more entrepreneurial than previous generations.
  • Less than 4% of 30-year old Millennials reported self-employment in 2014 — compared to 5.4% and 6.7% of Gen Xers and Baby Boomers, respectively.⁴
  • 58% of Millennials in 2018 report considering starting their own business, down from 62% who were thinking about it in 2016.
Millennials are participating in the gig economy more than any other generation

Millennials participating in the gig economy


Compared to the 8% of Americans who reported earning money from an online job platform in 2015⁵

  • 75% of Millennials who participate in the gig economy as their primary source of income have considered starting their own business.

Millennials look for flexibility, stability in their careers

Contrary to the prevailing assumption that Millennials prefer start-up culture — and the ping pong tables, beer on tap and unlimited vacation days that come with it — they actually are drawn to corporations and more established companies, and are looking for things like flexibility, growth, and equal pay.

  • 49% of Millennials consider flexibility one of their top two career concerns.
  • 29% of Millennials consider pay equity their top career concern, while 47% rank it as one of their top two concerns.

Despite the common misconception that Millennials are unwilling to commit to one job, nearly 40% of Millennials believe that staying with one company is the best way to advance their careers.

Which one of the following would you say is the best way to advance your career?


Millennials are willing to do the hard work required to achieve their goals:

  • 86% believe working hard is extremely or very important for getting ahead in life.
  • 36% believe that being lucky is extremely or very important for getting ahead in life.

Share of Millennials who believe the following are extremely or very important to getting ahead in life

Millennials are still economically insecure

Millennials currently paying off, or planning to take on, student loan debt


On average, Americans have $30,000 of student loan debt.⁶

Half of respondents are currently paying off, or planning to take on, student loan debt, down slightly from 53% in 2016.

  • 47% of Millennials have no student loan debt.
  • 38% of Millennials are currently paying off debt, up from 32% in 2016.
  • 12% plan on taking on new student loan debt, a decline from 21% in 2016 as Millennials finish their education.

Student debt is pushing what many consider to be the American dream (owning a home and having a family) out of reach for many.

  • 80% of Millennials say that student debt has forced them to delay home ownership.⁷

Millennials are better able to cover their expenses than they were in 2016; however, many are still struggling to make ends meet.

  • 43% of Millennials in 2018 report making a little more, or a lot more, money than needed to cover their expenses, compared to 30% who said the same in 2016.
  • 36% of Millennials in 2018 say they are making just enough money to cover their expenses, compared to 35% saying so in 2016.

Thinking about your own personal financial situation, how would you describe the amount of money you are making compared to your level of expenses?


In a thriving economy, Millennials remain risk-averse

Ten years after the Great Recession, Millennials are back on their feet, but they’re worried that the rug will be ripped out from under them. Part of Millennials’ anxiety about the economy is driven by the current political climate.

Perspectives on the state of the economy
  • 42% of Millennials describe the state of the nation’s economy as excellent or good.
    • 9% describe it as excellent (up from 4% in 2016).
    • 32% describe it as good (up from 24% in 2016).
  • 54% of Millennials describe the state of the nation’s economy as only fair or poor.
    • 18% describe it as poor (down from 26% in 2016).
    • 36% describe it as only fair (down from 44% in 2016).

Millennials who identify as Republicans have a much more positive outlook on the economy than they reported in 2016, while positive feelings among Millennials who identify as Democrats have remained relatively consistent. While only 31% of Republicans believed the economy was doing well in 2016, that share has shot up to 75% in 2018.

Millennials who would describe the state of the nation’s economy these days as excellent or good.


Partisan perceptions extend to predictions about the economy a year from now as well.

Millennials' expectations of the national economy a year from now

Stress levels are down from 2016, but still run high
  • 58% of respondents report worrying about various issues presented in our survey, down from 68% in 2016.

How much do each of the following worry you personally? Do they worry you a lot, some, not very much, or not at all?

Worry chart
  • 75% of Millennials are worried about a lack of Social Security at retirement — a worry that has remained high among Millennials over the past two years.
  • A lower percentage, 70%, worry about not having enough money to live on when they retire.
    • 80% of Millennials identifying as Democrats worry about this issue compared to only 62% of those identifying as Republicans.
    • 79% of Millennials in 2016 were worried about funding their retirement.

Millennials are wary of American institutions

Since 2016, respondents’ trust in higher education, corporate America, Silicon Valley, the military and the criminal justice system has decreased. However, trust in media, organized religion, and local government — mayors and governors — has increased.

Confidence in American institutions is falling among Millennials

Millennials reporting high levels of confidence in American institutions* in both 2016 and 2018


Share of Millennials with a great deal, or quite a lot, of confidence in all polled institutions

*The American institutions considered: the military, colleges and universities, professional sports, organized labor, banks and financial institutions, organized religion, mayors, news media, Silicon Valley, the criminal justice system, governors, the federal government and corporate America.

  • Trust in institutions is lowest among white women (27%) and highest among black men (36%).
  • The military remains one of the most trusted institutions, with 51% of Millennials reporting a great deal or quite a lot of confidence in the military in 2018, down from 55% in 2016.

Please tell me how much confidence you have in the following institutions

Millennials are concerned about the direction the country is heading

Overall, Millennials still believe the country is on the wrong track, but the 2018 survey reflects a significant disparity between those who identify as Democrats and Republicans.

  • 61% of Millennials believe the country is headed down the wrong track, compared to 63% who said the same in 2016.

Millennials think the US tax system is imbalanced, even after the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act

Millennials’ thoughts about the US tax system

Democrat or Republican, Millennials across the board feel that high-net-worth individuals and large corporations should carry more of the tax burden, and this sentiment has remained relatively consistent since 2016.

Most Millennials think they’re paying the right amount of taxes, continuing the trend from 2016

Half of Millennials believe they pay about the right amount of federal income taxes.

Millennials' feelings about the federal income tax they have to pay

Millennials are unsure of how the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) with impact them

74% of Millennials believe they know at least a little about the TCJA, but are unsure how they will be affected by it.

How much would you say you know about the TCJA, the new tax law passed in December 2017?


Of Millennials who knew at least a little about how TCJA would impact them:

  • 27% expect their federal tax burden to increase.
  • 39% expect their federal tax burden will stay the same.
  • 26% expect their federal tax burden to decrease.

Millennials have more certainty about the impact of the TCJA on high-net-worth individuals and large corporations.

  • 60% of Millennials think that the TCJA will decrease the taxes paid by large corporations.
  • 57% of Millennials think that high-net-worth individuals will pay less under the TCJA.

Millennials in 2016: View the results of the 2016 EY US and Economic Innovation Group national survey of Millennials.


On behalf of Ernst & Young LLP, Research Now conducted a survey of 1,202 20- to 36-year-old US citizens nationwide. Of those respondents, 842 were contacted online, and 360 were contacted via cellphone. Survey participants were contacted between June 27 and July 13, 2018.

  • Show article references

    1. Share of Millennials with children under the age of 18 currently living at home.
    2. Urban Institute. Millennial Homeownership: Why Is It So Low, and How Can We Increase It? July 2018.
    3. http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2018/05/04/more-than-a-million-millennials-are-becoming-moms-each-year/
    4. US Small Business Administration. “The Missing Millennial Entrepreneurs.” February 2016.
    5. Aaron Smith. Gig Work, Online Selling and Home Sharing. Pew Research Center. November 2016.
    6. Federal Reserve.“Report on the Economic Well-Being of U.S. Households in 2015.” May 2016.
    7. https://www.nytimes.com/2018/05/25/business/how-student-debt-can-ruin-home-buying-dreams.html


These new findings show that while millennials feel more stable economically, they aren’t convinced this stability will last. They have weathered three recessions in their lifetime, and few have confidence the economy will stay strong.

About this article


Cathy Koch

EY Global Tax Policy Network and Americas Tax Policy Leader

Leader in US and global tax policy with an informed perspective on public and private sectors and a deep knowledge of the US legislative environment.