The Paradox of Generation Y

Millennials want to make more money than previous generations. But their way of getting there is a head-scratcher.

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By Scott Shane

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Members of Generation Y are less likely to be bothered by income inequality and more likely to want to get rich than their parents' were at the same age. But unlike young Baby Boomers, Millennials are less likely to plan a business career to achieve their goal.

Making money matters more to members of Generation Y than it did to Baby Boomers at the same stage of life. According to the "American Freshman," an annual report of the Cooperative Institutional Research Program (CIRP) at UCLA, which has been surveying entering college freshmen at U.S. universities for nearly half a century, the fraction of entering college students who believe that "being very well off financially" is an "essential" or "very important" objective increased from 58.2 percent in 1977 to 81.0 percent in 2012.

As making money has become a more central goal of those entering college, other objectives have become less important. Data reported by the "American Freshmen" reveals that the fraction of incoming college students who consider it "essential" or "very important" to develop a "meaningful philosophy of life" declined from 59.0 percent in 1977 to 45.6 percent in 2012.

Related: Are Millennials Really the Entrepreneurial Generation?

Attending college is more instrumental to Millennials than it was to Baby Boomers. Members of Generation Y are more likely than their parents' generation to report that they are going to college because it will help them to make money. In 1977, 62.1 percent of incoming students said that a "very important" reason they were going to college was "to be able to make more money." By 2012, that fraction had risen to 74.6 percent, the "American Freshmen" reports.

Generation Y is also more politically conservative. Data from the General Social Survey, a nationally representative sociological survey administered by the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago and conducted annually since 1972, shows that the fraction of people aged 18-30 who said they were liberal was higher in 1977 than in 2012.

While the Millennials are more interested in getting rich than Baby Boomers were at the same age, they have a different view about how to get there. Members of Generation Y are less likely to study business than were members of their parents' generation. The CIRP report reveals that the fraction of students intending to major in business in 2012 was only two-thirds of that planning to study the subject in 1977.

The Millennials also aren't intending to work in business to the extent their parents were. The CIRP study shows that the fraction of incoming college students planning careers as accountants, actuaries, business owners, executives, salespeople, or in other business jobs, was 13.8 percent in 2012, down from 20.7 percent in 1977.

Related: 5 'Bad' Millennial Traits That Are Actually Good for Entrepreneurs

Scott Shane

Professor at Case Western Reserve University

Scott Shane is the A. Malachi Mixon III professor of entrepreneurial studies at Case Western Reserve University. His books include Illusions of Entrepreneurship: The Costly Myths That Entrepreneurs, Investors, and Policy Makers Live by (Yale University Press, 2008) and Finding Fertile Ground: Identifying Extraordinary Opportunities for New Businesses (Pearson Prentice Hall, 2005).

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