One risk of trying to analyze a generation is that it may be an arbitrary demarcation. When does a generation begin or end?
The research shows that across different cohorts within the Millennial generation there is a great deal of diversity in attitudes, experiences, and behaviors. These differences cut across age, gender, ethnicity, partisanship, income, education, and other socioeconomic variables.
These differences are potentially significant. As Millennials age and as demographics shift, these could reveal how news consumption, particularly online, will change in the future. We will touch on a few of them here, but plan to explore these variations more fully in future reports.
Even within the Millennial generation there are differences by age
The data suggest a sizable difference between Millennials over age 30 and those under age 25, even those out of college.
This is particularly true when it comes to social media. Younger Millennials are more connected to social media, use it more frequently, and use a greater variety of social networks.
It is also true of news. Younger Millennials use social media sites for news and information more frequently than older Millennials, and this holds true across a variety of social media platforms. For instance, those age 18 to 21 are more likely than those age 30 to 34 to say they get news or information at least once a day from Twitter (19 percent vs. 9 percent), Reddit (8 percent vs. 2 percent), Tumblr (10 percent vs. 3 percent), and Instagram (32 percent vs. 14 percent).
Motivations for using social media also vary somewhat by age. Among Facebook users, 52 percent of those age 22-24 years old look for interesting articles or links posted by their friends. That is 11 percentage points higher than the 41 percent of those age 30-34 years old. For these older Millennials, Facebook appears to be more about social interaction than about connecting with the world around them.
There are other differences by age that touch on web activity in general. Millennials over age 30, for instance, are far more likely to describe themselves as active seekers of news than people who mainly bump into it, compared to younger Millennials under age 25. For those age 30-34, by contrast, active seekering versus more passive is evenly split (49 percent active vs. 50 percent more passive). Among those under age 25, only a third describe themselves as active seekers, while two-thirds say the news finds them. How one finds news, the data suggest, may be partly a function of age and experience rather than whether one is a digital native. The evidence probably leans against the idea that these younger Millennials might move away from social media to get news as they age, however. This is the group that grew up with social media for all of their adult lives. Their use of it, if anything, has grown with time, and become more complex.
One area where age made little difference is in the motivations for getting news in general. Whether people are college age or in their 30s, their reasons for getting news were strikingly similar and balanced across the three main categories — civic, social, and practical.
Men and women have different online privacy concerns, use different social media sites, and follow different topics
In addition to age, there are gender differences in the online and social media behavior of Millennials. Many of these are related to online privacy, social media use, and the types of information and news followed online. Women and men have different privacy concerns about the web. Women, for instance, are significantly more likely than men to worry someone will use their location information to break into their home (47 percent vs. 29 percent), and to use their information to stalk or threaten them (38 percent vs. 24 percent).
Women are also more likely than men to worry that people they don’t know very well will learn too much about their personal lives (52 percent vs. 41 percent).
On the other hand, men are significantly more likely than women to worry that the government will collect information about them (42 percent vs. 27 percent).
There are also some gender differences in the use of social media for news. Men are more likely than women to say they use Reddit (10 percent vs. 5 percent) and YouTube (35 percent vs. 21) at least once a day. In contrast, women are more likely than men to report using Pinterest (16 percent vs. 5 percent) and Instagram (36 percent vs. 17 percent) for news at least once a day.
With Facebook, women are more likely than men to see what’s happening with friends (74 percent vs. 64 percent) and to tell people what is going on in their lives (48 percent vs. 29 percent).
Men and women have also adapted their social media use differently over time. Men are more likely than women to say they now connect with a broader range of people (26 percent vs. 19 percent), while women are more likely than men to say they now pay more attention to privacy (57 percent vs. 47 percent). Fully 44 percent of women say they are now more likely to remove information or photos that are embarrassing compared with 31 percent of men.
Women and men also follow different topics and search for different information online.
Women, for instance, are more likely than men to follow news about celebrities (47 percent vs. 23 percent), style and fashion (44 percent vs. 10 percent), and health and fitness (49 percent vs. 32 percent). More women than men follow how-to information (51 percent vs. 36 percent), and traffic and weather information (57 percent vs. 46 percent). Women are also more likely than men to follow news about health care (45 percent vs. 27 percent), schools and education (43 percent vs. 24 percent), and social issues (44 percent vs. 31 percent).
There are a few topics about which men are more interested. One of them is sports (58 percent of men say they regularly follow it vs. 39 percent of women), though that difference may be smaller than some might expect. But this is not the only subject where men expressed more interest. They also were more likely to say they regularly follow national politics (48 percent vs. 38 percent) and science (52 percent vs. 32 percent).
On many more elements of digital life, what is striking is how similar men and women are. There are few differences in what activities men and women do online, or how often.
Racial differences among Millennials in online activities and social media
The digital and social media behavior of Millennials also differs somewhat by ethnicity.
These differences, however, have little to do with device ownership. Across all ethnic groups, more than 90 percent of Millennials surveyed own a smartphone and roughly half own tablets.
The differences, instead, relate to behavior online. Millennial Hispanics, for instance, are less likely than others to engage in various online activities. Fewer report being online to keep up with friends (63 percent Hispanic vs. 71 percent all Millennials), keep up with news (53 percent vs. 64 percent), or pursue hobbies (50 percent vs. 65 percent). Hispanic Millennials are also less likely to play games online (37 percent vs. 45 percent), stream video (53 percent vs. 68 percent), and check weather or traffic (48 percent vs. 57 percent).
African American Millennials, by contrast, differ from Millennials overall on only one of these activity categories. They are less likely to be online to keep up with friends (59 percent vs. 71 percent).
There are differences in social media use, as well, correlated to race and ethnicity. Hispanics and African Americans, to begin with, are more likely to use certain social media sites than the population overall, and whites in particular. Hispanic and African American Millennials, for instance, are more likely to turn to YouTube for news every day (38 percent Hispanics and 33 percent for African American) than are white Millennials (20 percent). Hispanic and African American young adults also look to Instagram for news every day more so than white Millennials (45 percent of African Americans, 30 percent Hispanics, and 19 percent whites).