Younger Millennials' Views Overtake Baby Boomers American Values

Move over, baby boomers: Millennials now outnumber you as America's largest living generation.

And their very different views of themselves and their place in the world will likely reshape U.S. foreign policy for decades to come.

Baby boomers, born between 1946 and 1965, came of age during a period of unprecedented American prosperity - and peril: The omnipresent nuclear threat created in boomers a sense of unease and uncertainty that made the world seem a very threatening place, experts say.

Millennials, roughly defined as those born between the early 1980s and early 2000s, came of age after the Cold War and, therefore, see the world as less menacing despite 9/11 and the rise of global terrorism.

Sense of danger

"It's not to say that they don't appreciate danger," said Trevor Thrall, an associate professor at George Mason University and co-author of a recent CATO Institute white paper on Millennials and foreign policy. "It's just that compared to the danger that older people feel, it's just markedly less."

Thrall said he wasn't surprised to learn that Millennials were not more affected by 9/11 than they appear to have been. Most were too young to understand events at the time, and their understanding of the attacks is based on how the discussion on terror has evolved since that time.

​​"Older people think, 'We're a great people, we got attacked by these crazy people, and now we are dealing with it and we have to be careful,' " Thrall said. "Millennials are the only generation the majority of which think the U.S. must have done something to provoke 9/11."

His finding is based in part on a 2011 Pew Research poll that found 52 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds in the U.S. believed U.S. actions might have motivated the 9/11 attacks.

Changing world view

Indeed, millennials take a dim view of American exceptionalism.

A Pew poll in 2011 found that only a 32 percent of them perceive the United States as superior to other countries, as compared to 64 percent of boomers.

The study also found that although most millennials say they are patriotic, they express that patriotism far less fervently than older Americans.

Millennials also showed that being patriotic does not mean they are uncomfortable criticizing government policies nor do they believe in an aggressive foreign policy.

"But they are very strong on human rights, and although they are more resistant to using military force around the world to solve problems, one way in which they are the most likely to be moved by arguments to use force is humanitarian intervention," Thrall said.

"They are actually a little bit more supportive in most polls of humanitarian military intervention than older folks," he added.

His study also shows that millennials view Asia, not Europe, as the most important region of the world, and China will figure strongly in U.S. foreign policy and perhaps push it in a less adversarial direction.

This, he said, could work out well, if the Chinese are similarly inclined.

It could fail, however, if millennials are misreading Beijing's intentions.

In general, Thrall predicts millennials will steer the U.S toward a more restrained "grand strategy" that relies less on unilateral force than on cooperative ventures.

The 'Thumb Tribe'

Back in 2002, a researcher at Britain's Warwick University noted that youngsters' thumbs had evolved to become more dexterous than their other fingers due to their constant use of hand-held electronics.

Today, technology may be the single greatest factor shaping the "thumbers' " - now millennials' - world view.

They are less likely to read newspapers because they find all the information they want online - even if they aren't consciously looking for it.

"Even if they are playing online, the amount of information that they are consuming and are exposed to, it's probably difficult for them to have a large online presence and not be exposed to some perspective on key foreign policy issues," said Jarrel "J.P." Price, president of Young Professionals in Foreign Policy, a nonpartisan group looking to groom the next generation of foreign-policy leaders and promote international relationships.

"Technology also makes it easier for a millennial sitting at home in the United States to reach out and build a personal relationship with someone overseas," Price said.

"And to the extent that is used well by our generation, then I think the global partnerships that we could see could be transformative," he said.

Move over, baby boomers: Millennials now outnumber you as America's largest living generation.

And their very different views of themselves and their place in the world will likely reshape U.S.


foreign policy for decades to come.

Baby boomers, born between 1946 and 1965, came of age during a period of unprecedented American prosperity - and peril: The omnipresent nuclear threat created in boomers a sense of unease and uncertainty that made the world seem a very threatening place, experts say.

Millennials, roughly defined as those born between the early 1980s and early 2000s, came of age after the Cold War and, therefore, see the world as less menacing despite 9/11 and the rise of global terrorism.

Sense of danger

"It's not to say that they don't appreciate danger," said Trevor Thrall, an associate professor at George Mason University and co-author of a recent CATO Institute white paper on Millennials and foreign policy. "It's just that compared to the danger that older people feel, it's just markedly less."

Thrall said he wasn't surprised to learn that Millennials were not more affected by 9/11 than they appear to have been. Most were too young to understand events at the time, and their understanding of the attacks is based on how the discussion on terror has evolved since that time.

​​"Older people think, 'We're a great people, we got attacked by these crazy people, and now we are dealing with it and we have to be careful,' " Thrall said. "Millennials are the only generation the majority of which think the U.S. must have done something to provoke 9/11."

His finding is based in part on a 2011 Pew Research poll that found 52 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds in the U.S. believed U.S. actions might have motivated the 9/11 attacks.

Changing world view

Indeed, millennials take a dim view of American exceptionalism.

A Pew poll in 2011 found that only a 32 percent of them perceive the United States as superior to other countries, as compared to 64 percent of boomers.

The study also found that although most millennials say they are patriotic, they express that patriotism far less fervently than older Americans.

Millennials also showed that being patriotic does not mean they are uncomfortable criticizing government policies nor do they believe in an aggressive foreign policy.

"But they are very strong on human rights, and although they are more resistant to using military force around the world to solve problems, one way in which they are the most likely to be moved by arguments to use force is humanitarian intervention," Thrall said.

"They are actually a little bit more supportive in most polls of humanitarian military intervention than older folks," he added.

His study also shows that millennials view Asia, not Europe, as the most important region of the world, and China will figure strongly in U.S. foreign policy and perhaps push it in a less adversarial direction.

This, he said, could work out well, if the Chinese are similarly inclined.

It could fail, however, if millennials are misreading Beijing's intentions.

In general, Thrall predicts millennials will steer the U.S toward a more restrained "grand strategy" that relies less on unilateral force than on cooperative ventures.

The 'Thumb Tribe'

Back in 2002, a researcher at Britain's Warwick University noted that youngsters' thumbs had evolved to become more dexterous than their other fingers due to their constant use of hand-held electronics.

Today, technology may be the single greatest factor shaping the "thumbers' " - now millennials' - world view.

They are less likely to read newspapers because they find all the information they want online - even if they aren't consciously looking for it.

"Even if they are playing online, the amount of information that they are consuming and are exposed to, it's probably difficult for them to have a large online presence and not be exposed to some perspective on key foreign policy issues," said Jarrel "J.P." Price, president of Young Professionals in Foreign Policy, a nonpartisan group looking to groom the next generation of foreign-policy leaders and promote international relationships.

"Technology also makes it easier for a millennial sitting at home in the United States to reach out and build a personal relationship with someone overseas," Price said.

"And to the extent that is used well by our generation, then I think the global partnerships that we could see could be transformative," he said.