Goldman Sachs recently published a “data story” on the social and commercial behaviors of the millennial generation Y (those born between 1980 – 2000). Millennials make up the biggest generation in United States history, and have grown up in a time of rapid economic, technological, and environmental change, which presents them with challenges very different from those of previous generations. As young people are moving into their prime spending years it is important to understand where their priorities lie, and what that means for the future of sustainability.

Those aged 18-31 today are less employed, make less money, and are in much more debt than previous generations, and as a result are behaving differently. Young people are putting marriage off for longer than past generations (56% married and living in their own home in 1968 vs. only 23% in 2012), and are putting parenthood off longer as well (13% of women had children by the age of 25 in the 1970s vs. 8% in 2010s). An unstable economy and less reliable employment call for different priorities.

For example: young people are reluctant to buy cars & houses, and prefer to rent rather than own (60% of 25-30 year olds rent now vs. 52% in 2005). 30% of millennials surveyed did not consider owning a car to be important or a priority (only 15% considered owning a car to be extremely important).

Although millennials are reluctant to buy there still exists a demand for transportation and housing, which has resulted in the exponential growth of the shared economy; a sharing of access to goods and services. Some great examples of shared economy markets that have blown up in the past couple years, to meet the needs of generation Y especially, are Airbnb and Uber. With this kind of access fewer resources are used, which allows for a more sustainable way of life.

Another interesting finding from this data story is that millenials are turning to brands that can offer maximum convenience at the lowest cost. A majority of those surveyed tended to disagree with this statement: ‘when I shop, I always try to buy branded products,’ and agreed that quality matters less while (reasonable) price matters more. What if a company is dedicated to responsible practices? These findings imply that young people compromise sustainability for a good deal when it comes to material goods.

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