Characteristics, Media Consumption, & Strategies for Advertisers

Widespread internet access during their formative years has given millennials unique experiences and perspective compared with other generations. Although they can be seen as digitally native, most millennials can still remember their reliance on traditional media and analog devices. 

In this guide, we explore the millennial demographic, their defining characteristics and behaviors, and how they connect best with marketing and advertising.  

Born between 1981 and 1996, millennials (now ages 28 to 43) form the largest demographic group in the US, making up an estimated 22% of the total population in 2024, according to the US Census Bureau. This cohort, also known as Gen Y, has evolved around the rapid transformation of technology, communication, and consumer habits; and in navigating explosive digital adoption, has grown to be distinctly adaptable. 

Characteristics of millennials, and how millennials compare with Gen Z 

Millennials are digital natives, but their tech savviness is also bolstered by their education. As the largest generation, they are the most educated, with 39% of US millennials holding a bachelor’s degree or higher, compared with 29% of Gen Xers, 25% of late boomers, and 24% of early boomers, according to 2018 data from the Pew Research Center.

Since graduating post-secondary school, millennials have faced challenges in the labor market. Upon entering the workforce, millennials have dealt with slower economic growth than any other generation in US history, as reported by The Washington Post. 

It has set millennials back financially, and has impacted their buying power, too. In 2021, the median income for younger millennials (ages 25 to 34) was $74,862 and $90,312 for older millennials (ages 35 to 44), according to US Census Bureau data. That doesn’t leave much room for spending as millennials are estimated to be the second-highest spenders by generation, with an average annual expenditure of $69,061, according to 2021 data from the World Economic Forum.

What do millennials care about?

Millennials may be more financially stable than their younger counterparts that are still in school or just starting work, but they also tend to have more personal responsibilities that come with major life stages, such as home-buying, considering parenthood, or building their career.

  • Big expenses: 42% of millennials consider cost of living to be a top concern in 2023, compared with 36% in 2022, per Deloitte’s 2023 Gen Z and Millennial Survey.
  • Family-first: More millennials say raising a family is important in 2023, rising 13% since 2020, per GWI. 
  • Job-hoppers: Millennials are the most likely to switch jobs of any other generation, with 6 in 10 saying they are open to a different opportunity—15% higher than non-millennials who say the same, per Gallup.

How to reach and engage Gen Y

Reaching millennials means aligning with their preferences and values. Whether through experiential initiatives or digital content, the key is to be authentic. Marketers should not solely focus on selling products, and instead try building meaningful relationships with their millennial audience through: 

  • Marketing campaigns: Craft campaigns around what millennials care about, incorporating compelling stories, focusing on experiences, and leaning in on nostalgia. 
  • Influencer marketing: Collaborate with digital creators who resonate with millennials, including ones who are authentic and relatable. 
  • Social media marketing: Create and curate social media content that fosters community.
  • User-generated content: Tap into the real-life experiences of other members within the community, whether through reviews, hashtag contests, or experiences that fuel online conversation.
  • Video content: Invest in short-form, shareable videos that are true to your brand identity, and offer value through entertainment, information, or both.  

Where do millennials spend their time in 2024? 

Meeting millennials where they are is becoming more challenging as their media and device usage is fragmented. Most simultaneous internet and TV users are millennials, who make up 30.4% of all media multitaskers, per a February 2024 EMARKETER forecast. If millennials are part of your target audience, it’s imperative to stay on top of their usage on devices, social platforms, and entertainment platforms. 

On devices 

  • Millennials claim the largest share of smartphone users in the US, totaling 71.3 million in 2024, according to a March 2023 EMARKETER forecast. 
  • Smartphone usage is nearly fully saturated among millennials, accounting for 96.4% of the demographic population and 97.8% of mobile phone users
  • In 2024, 40.9 million US millennials will be tablet users, making up more than half (55.3%) of the demographic population. 

On social media platforms

Millennials make up a sizable chunk of users on social media, including: 

  • 32.6% of Facebook users (or 58.0 million people), per a May 2023 EMARKETER forecast  
  • 36.5% of Instagram users (or 51.2 million people)
  • 33.0% of TikTok users (or 35.6 million people) 
  • 33.6% of Snapchat users (or 31.5 million people)

With TV 

Although millennials will account for 18.9% of all TV viewers in 2024, according to a February 2024 EMARKETER forecast, their share is slowly decreasing, and will continue to fall next year by 2.2%. Like other generations, they are spending more time on connected TV (CTV) and less on linear TV

  • In 2024, US millennials will spend 1 hour and 36 minutes with TV, per a February 2024 EMARKETER forecast. 
  • They are spending less time with linear TV, declining 3.8% YoY in 2024 and 1.4% in 2025.
  • Millennials make up the largest cohort of CTV users, with 62.7 million viewers claiming a share of 26.8% in 2024, per a September 2023 EMARKETER forecast.
A chart showing the share of total US users on select digital platforms, 2023.

How do millennials manage their money?

Although millennials likely began their financial journeys in a physical branch, with the help of human advisors, they’ve since embraced the convenience of digital banking and payments. In 2024, millennials will make up the biggest share of mobile phone banking users, reaching 63.9 million in the US, according to an April 2023 EMARKETER forecast. That’s 86.5% of all millennials in the country. Millennials also make up more than half of all digital-only banking users, per EMARKETER US Digital Habits by Generation report. 

Financial savvy  

Millennials are eager to learn more about managing their finances; however, they don’t always turn to the right source. Despite most millennials (59%) reporting that they’ve sought guidance from financial professionals, according to a November 2023 BOK Financial survey conducted by OnePoll, another 36% have based investment decisions on misleading or factually incorrect influencer advice, per an August 2023 survey by The Harris Poll on behalf of Nationwide. They are likely to receive this advice on YouTube and Facebook, which play an equal role in providing millennials with banking information, according to an October 2023 EMARKETER survey. 

A chart showing top social media platforms US millennial and Gen Z banking consumers have used to find banking information, October 2023.

Discovering products and services 

Compared with older generations, millennials are less reliant on physical bank branches and more on their bank’s digital platforms. Nearly 80% of US Gen Zers and millennials become aware of a bank’s products and services on its mobile app, compared with only 53.5% of Gen Xers and baby boomers, per an October 2023 EMARKETER survey. In addition, 37.4% of Gen Zers and millennials discover bank products and services on social media, versus 16.5% of Gen Xers and baby boomers. 

Reputation is important among millennials, with the majority (38.0%) going straight to a trusted brand for new financial products and services, compared with 26.3% who prefer to shop around. Use of modern tech tools may also be a draw, with 37% of millennial investors saying they would trust their financial professional more if they leveraged AI to inform the counsel they provided, per The Harris Poll’s August 2023 survey conducted on behalf of Nationwide.

A chart showing the channels through which US banking consumers become aware of a bank’s products and services, October 2023.

Financial outlook 

Despite setbacks as a result of the Great Recession of 2008, millennials are not only optimistic about their financial futures and confident in their financial literacy, but they also still have a strong desire to save and meet goals. In fact, many believe they know more about managing finances than their parents, per a November 2023 BOK Financial survey conducted by OnePoll. The same survey also found that 26% of non-home-owning millennials have money set aside to buy a home and 62% of them are waiting for this economic cycle to pass before buying.

Defining the generations: What are the other age cohorts? 

  • Gen Alpha: Born between the early 2010s and 2024. The second generation of digital natives, Gen Alphas have never been without smartphones or social media. They are drawn to authenticity, interactivity, and gamification. 
  • Zalpha: Someone born on the cusp of Gen Alpha and Gen Z that shares traits of both generations. 
  • Gen Z: Born between 1997 and 2012. A socially conscious generation that prioritizes mental health, sustainability, and racial equity, while shaping consumer habits with a tech-savvy approach. 
  • Zillennial: Someone born on the cusp of Gen Z and millennials that shares traits of both generations.
  • Millennial (Gen Y): Born between 1981 and 1996. Millennials grew up during the dawn of the internet and have quickly embraced technologies like social media and smartphones. Millennial consumers are drawn to ease and convenience. 
  • Gen X: Born between 1965 and 1980. They are characterized by their independence, skepticism toward authority, affinity for technology, and preference for authenticity in brands and marketing messages.
  • Baby boomer: Born between 1946 and 1964. They have a strong work ethic, traditional values, brand loyalty, and significant influence on consumer trends and societal norms.

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