Click here to view a PDF of Meet the Millennials

–In order to address any group, especially to sell or market to it, you have to understand it. Figuring out how its members think, behave and react is integral to engaging with it and motivating it to act or buy.

But what do you do when the group you would like to understand and want to appeal to is ginormous in size, has a highly diverse ethnic makeup, spans several life stages, depends on technology like air and almost universally prides itself on its individuality?

Meet the Millennials; the generation that defies description…

Millennials have a slew of alternative monikers, among them; Generation Y, Digital Natives, Echo Boomers, Generation Next; and the sheer amount of data available on them is staggering.

Unfortunately, that data is often highly varied and sometimes even contradictory. Not surprising when you consider that Millennials themselves are full of contradictions. Vision Monday has culled through much of the information available and in the next several pages, and throughout 2015 with our ongoing Millennial Project, we will share the best, most pertinent information to help optical retailers and ECPs better understand the largest and most influential consumer group ever.

In addition to sharing pertinent demographic and psychographic facts and figures on Millennials, we are also sharing the thoughts of a few retailers in the industry who are successfully walking the walk and talking the talk with this nascent group of customers.

Because what is important to keep in mind is that they aren’t just a large group of “young consumers,” they are unlike any other “young consumer” before them. They aren’t just different from older generations. They are different from older generations back when those generations were the age of Millennials today. It is that difference that is setting up an entirely new consumer model going forward.

“Since this age group is very social and active, their size might be smaller than its actual influence. The styles that they wear get copied more than other groups. They are also impossible to ignore because as they age, and become 40 or 50, they become the future. By embracing their wishes, wants and desires now, it positions us well going forward.”
-David H. Hettler, OD, May & Hettler, Alexandria, Va.
Size and Break Down

The first hurdle in quantifying this generation is that there is no “official” agreed upon age range for them. The youngest Millennials are widely considered to still be in their teens with no definitive chronological end date yet to be set. Generally, those born from the early 1980s (some argue the late 1970s) to the early 2000s fall into this cohort. For the purposes of Vision Monday’s Millennial Project we will be referring to those currently between the ages of 18 and 34 years old, unless otherwise noted.

According to the Census Bureau’s Resident Population Estimates as of July 1, 2013, there are 74.3 million 18 to 34 year olds in the U.S., 23.5 percent of our current population, and because of the fluid age range of the group, some marketers put their numbers as high as 80 million. That means the number of Millennials roughly exceeds the number of Baby Boomers, the last significant consumer group to drive the economy forward, by about 3 million and by 2020, they will account for fully one-third of the adult population.

They are also the country’s most racially diverse generation. According to Pew Research Center, this is a trend driven by the large wave of Hispanic and Asian immigrants who have been coming to the U.S. for the past half century, and whose U.S.-born children are now aging into adulthood.

Some 43 percent of Millennial adults are non-white, the highest share of any generation. That falls in line with U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation figures that cite 60 percent of 18 to 29 year olds and 70 percent of those 30 and older classified as non-Hispanic white from 2009-2012. The foundation’s figures reflect a record low number of white Americans, with 19 percent identifying as Hispanic, 14 percent as black, 4 percent as Asian and 3 percent mixed race or other.

Marry these figures with those from The Vision Council’s VisionWatch as of September 2014, which state that 60.1 percent of all 18 to 34 year olds use some form of vision correction and these population and race figures not only have huge implications on the size and power of this consumer generation for the optical industry, but on the increasing importance of things like alternative fits and marketing that reflect this diversity.

Education and Employment

Though ethnically diverse, Millennials also happen to collectively be the most highly educated generation of any before them, and educational attainment is highly correlated with economic success, even more so for this generation than previous ones.

The U.S. Census reports that 22.3 percent of 18 to 34 year olds had a bachelor’s degree or higher between 2009 and 2013. Compare that with only 19.5 percent in 2000, 17 percent in 1990 and 15.7 percent in the same age group in 1980.

Pew dug even deeper to determine that fully a third (34 percent) of older Millennials today, those aged 26 to 33, have a four-year college degree or more and college-educated Millennials are more likely to be employed full time than their less-educated counterparts (89 percent versus 82 percent) and significantly less likely to be unemployed (3.8 percent versus 12.2 percent).

“The language is relevancy. These are not people who come in blind. They come in knowing something and having an expectation of an ‘experience.’ We always ask – ‘How did you hear about us?’ – to find how we are relevant to them and customize each experience. If you start talking to a demographic like they’re a ‘demographic’ they are going to tune you out.”
-Julia Gogosha, Gogosha Optique, Los Angeles, Calif.
Thanks to the effect of two economic recessions, today’s young, college-educated workers are having more difficulty landing work compared to earlier generations of young adults. They are more likely to be unemployed, and it takes them longer, on average, to find a job. The good news is that once they are employed, their earnings are higher than those received by the young, college-educated adults of earlier groups.

According to the U.S. Census, the median earnings for all 18 to 34 who worked full time, year-round and regardless of education level (in 2013 inflation-adjusted dollars) was $33,883 a year. While Pew’s analysis found those Millennials who were college graduates, working full time, earn more annually—about $17,500 more—than employed young adults with only a high school diploma.

Perhaps a necessity when you consider increased levels of educational attainment means Millennials are entering adulthood with record levels of student debt. Two-thirds of recent bachelor’s degree recipients have outstanding student loans, with an average debt of about $27,000. Two decades ago, only half of recent graduates had college debt, and the average was $15,000.

The great recession of 2007 hit young workers hard, leaving roughly 5 million still unemployed five years later, according to Young Invincibles, a national organization working to engage young adults on issues, such as higher education, health care and jobs. However, they report that nearly 50 million Millennials are currently working across the nation, comprising a third of the work force today. Eventually, the organization said, that will grow to half of the work force by 2020.

Recognizing that where young people work and how their earnings have fared since the economic downturn has enormous implications for the economy’s future, Young Invincibles analyzed what industries Millennials were employed in and which sectors were the most popular. They found that younger Millennials (18 to 24 year-olds) predominantly work in service industries: leisure and hospitality or retail and wholesale.

Most significant for the optical industry, the organization found that health care is already the most popular sector for older Millennials (25 to 35 year-olds) in which to be employed. A trend that is expected to continue growing as it is the only sector out of the top five most popular sectors to pay Millennials a higher median wage than 10 years ago. Manufacturing was also determined to be a surprisingly popular sector for Millennial workers with the median wage in this market having nearly recovered to pre-recession levels.

“Millennials have a world of information at their fingertips due to smart devices and social media. They quickly and easily compare costs and even research the companies they buy products from. Because of this, Millennials often seek quality at a great price and align themselves with companies that showcase similar values as their own.”
-Cindy Keil Olson, Eye Care Associates, a MyEyeDr. company, Raleigh-Durham, N.C.
Spending Power and Values

In addition to their size, diversity and education levels, Millennials are different from older generations thanks to their spending habits and values.

In 2012, Ad Age reported that Millennials will spend more than $10 trillion in their lifetimes; but a January 2014 report released by The Boston Consulting Group’s (BCG) Center for Consumer and Customer Insight found that U.S. Millennials already account for an estimated $1.3 trillion in direct annual spending, of which at least $430 billion is estimated to be discretionary, nonessential spending. Their estimates do not include substantial Millennial-influenced spending from parents or grandparents. And this sum is only expected to grow dramatically as more Millennials reach adulthood and therefore hit peak earning and buying power.

By all accounts, Millennials aren’t spending all that money in the same ways older generations have spent. Generally attributed to their increased levels of school debt, trouble finding employment and formative experience of witnessing multiple economic downturns, Millennials are more financially leery and aren’t making (and have little interest in making) large purchases, like buying homes or cars.

What they are spending money on? According to Forbes, apparel, food and technology. Forbes sited a MasterCard survey that found 53 percent of Millennials ranked technology as their top passion with computer and electronic stores ranked among their top five spending categories.

Not surprising, since perhaps the Millennials most singularly uniform characteristic is that they are the most technically savvy, connected generation ever. “Digital Natives,” they are the only generation for which the internet, mobile technology and social media were not something they had to adapt to, but was inherent to their development. A digital world is all Millennials have ever known and navigating new media is a sixth sense for them.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation found that it was Millennials’ relationship with technology that has completely changed their relationships with just about everything. “With brands and services, what used to be a one-way conversation is now a multifaceted, 24-hour-a-day, seven-day-a-week dialogue between brands and their customers and among their customers,” they reported.

It is this intrinsic technological connectivity that has had the largest impact on their consumer behaviors and it’s those behaviors that are creating an entirely new consumer model going forward.

Meet the Millennials: they are many, they are educated and they are the future of your business.

Vision Monday’s Millennial Project is a year-long, integrated, multimedia initiative led by senior editor, Deirdre Carroll, that will explore the characteristics of today’s Millennials. Its purpose is to help optical retailers and ECPs better understand the influence of this game-changing customer segment, the influence that they’re having on the business and how essential it is to find relevance with these emerging eyewear and eyecare customers. Over the course of 2015, this cover story will be followed by six targeted Front Lines features focused on topics like Millennial men and women; mobile, e-commerce and digital usage; Millennials’ vision and Rx needs, their spending habits and how to market to them, as well as Millennial ECPs and how they shape their practices. The online component,, launching soon, will feature a special landing page and be a resource center for articles, images and tips. Vision Monday’s Millennial Project will culminate in two VM Live events in 2015, one in late spring, the other in the fall, that will further explore this significant market segment in an interactive manner with expert speakers from both inside and outside the optical industry. For more information on VM’s Millennial Project contact Deirdre Carroll at

Click here to see a list of More on Millennials...

Click here to download a PDF of the Millennial Make Up poster.