Millennials (Generation Y) are officially taking over. The New York Times reports: “This year, 75.3 million millennials, born 1981 to 1997, will inch out boomers as the largest generation, according to Pew Research Center calculations. In five years, they’ll be nearly half the work force.”

It was only a matter of time before Millennials began to surpass Boomers, but now that reality is beginning to take hold. Much ink has been spilled on the differences between the post-war Boomers and the “selfie” Millennials. Suffice to say, there are tremendous differences in their respective attitudes towards education, marriage, work, faith, and cultural issues like gay marriage and marijuana legalization.

For the sake of this post, I want to hone in on two: education and work.

Jean M. Twenge, professor of psychology at San Diego State University, has a fantastic chart in her newly updated 2006 book, “Generation Me,” highlighting the differences between the two generations regarding education and work.


As you can see, compared to Boomers, Millennials are less willing to work hard and don’t expect work to be as much of a central part of their lives. Yet, at the same time, they believe they are above average academically and expect to be well off financially. This bravado would be understandable if it was backed up by facts, particularly when it comes to educational performance. However, it’s clearly not.

In February, the Educational Testing Service conducted one of the most important educational studies on Millennials to date. Titled “America’s Skill Challenge: Millennials and the Future,” the report measured the performance of Millennials from the U.S. and 21 other countries in literacy, numeracy, and problem solving in a technology-rich environment. The findings were astounding:

“Of the 22 countries participating, U.S. millennials had lower literacy scores than 15 and ranked last in numeracy and problem solving skills, the report stated. The study included countries such as England, Canada, Japan and Korea.

Madeline Goodman, another ETS researcher and another author of the study, said the United States has a low standing even when comparing some of its best students.

“We took a cut at our 90 percentile, meaning our best performers overall regardless of their education level, and at that level, about three-quarters of the participating countries outperformed our best millennials,” Goodman said.

Top-performing American millennials scored lower than top millennials in 15 of the 22 countries, the report stated.”

The great irony here is that American Millennials may be the most “educated” generation ever (in terms of degrees and formal education), yet they are falling far behind their peers in other countries. And even more troubling, the authors of the report found that “these findings represent a decrease in literacy and numeracy skills when compared to results from previous years of U.S. adult surveys.” So not only are Millennials falling behind compared to their contemporaries in other nations, but they’re also falling behind compared to previous American generations!

To make matters worse, this study was based on literacy, numeracy, and problem solving in technology-rich environments. In other words, the study assessed Millennials in their comfort zone and they still came up far short.

This is significant because, for the past decade or so, the conventional wisdom in many education circles was that early and frequent exposure to technology would transform and improve education. That is why many classrooms across America have spent a tremendous amount of money to put computers, iPads, etc… in the hands of each student. No generation in history is more comfortable with technology than Millennials. Yet, as this ETS study clearly demonstrates, technological affluence does not lead to technological proficiency in actual skills like literacy and numeracy. Time in front of a screen is not sufficient. Old fashioned skills education and training with technology are still in order, especially if this generation of Millennials hopes to compete in a global economy.


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