We all know the millennial generation and why we're so intent on reaching them -- the biggest generation since the boomers in the U.S., annual purchasing power estimated at $170 billion, the most multicultural generation ever, the first generation that can claim to be true digital natives.
And, of course, we know the other side as well: lousy job prospects (though perhaps some recent glimmers); massive debt burdens from their university days; born into an age of political divisiveness, scandal, and economic crisis. We also know that those lucky millennials who have actually been able to land jobs are turning the workplace on its head by refusing to follow patterns set by generations past. They want more feedback, more flexibility, more freedom, more entrepreneurial incentives, more life-work balance, more purpose -- and less of most of the things their supervisors deem essential.
But what about the really important stuff about millennials? Like what time of day they most enjoy sex? Or how many of them have cheated on a partner via mobile phone? Those were the sorts of questions we decided to explore last week as part of Euro RSCG's annual Valentine's Day study. We surveyed 1,000 U.S. adults (355 of whom were between ages 18 and 34), and we came up with some interesting and fresh insights. I'll share 10 with you today:
1. Millennials are more apt than older generations to value good looks over sexual prowess.
We asked respondents which they would prefer: an unattractive partner who's great in bed or an attractive partner who's lousy in bed and would never improve. While around three-quarters of the two older age cohorts (ages 35-54 and 55-65) choose great-in-bed over fair-of-face, the millennials were significantly more split: 56 percent chose great in bed, while 44 percent opted for a lousy lover who would make excellent eye candy.
Now, granted, millennials are in their prime childbearing years, and so their response to this question may be influenced by their desire for classically beautiful children. Nevertheless, we can't help but wonder how much today's Photoshopped celebrity culture is skewing young people's measures of potential mates.
2. They're hungry for romance.
We asked people currently in a relationship which they would most want to add to it: more sex, more romance, or more affection? Would you believe a third of millennials (more than either of the other age groups) opted for more romance, while just under a quarter wanted more sex? (Which is not to suggest millennials aren't looking for more action: 43 percent don't have sex as often as they'd like.) What's particularly interesting -- and worrying, I think -- is that almost as many millennials chose "more affection" (21 percent) as chose "more sex" (24 percent). Not a great indicator for longevity.
3. They're more romantic than sexy.
This may be a generation weaned on Paris Hilton and the vapid stars of YouTube and reality TV (Hello, Chris Crocker! Hiya, Snooki!), but let's not forget the sultry influence of Twilight's Edward and Jacob. Millennials were more apt than the older groups to describe themselves as "romantic" (57 percent), "sexy" (36 percent), or "sexually adventurous" (34 percent). Perhaps the most surprising finding here is that they were only two points more likely than those aged 35-54 to claim the "sexually adventurous" tag. Perhaps too much time in front of video and computer screens and not enough spent developing their imaginations.
4. They consider power a bigger turn-on than wealth.
We asked which is the bigger turn-on: intelligence, physical strength, power, or money? Each age group overwhelmingly chose "intelligence" (59 percent of millennials vs. 65 percent of the middle group and 70 percent of the oldest), with physical strength coming in at number two (skewed by female respondents, needless to say). Where the big difference lies is in the area of power vs. money. Whereas one in 10 people in the oldest cohort consider money the biggest turn-on of all, only one in 20 millennials say the same. In contrast, 14 percent of millennials chose "power" as the greatest turn-on, compared with just 6 percent of the middle age group and 7 percent of the oldest. We know from our earlier research that the millennials are a generation intent on creating meaningful change. The desire for a powerful partner may be a reaction to frustration over their current limitations.
5. They see naked people (on their phones).
OK, not a big shock this one. But it's good to have to some numbers attached: Three in 10 millennials has received via mobile phone a nude photo of a person they know; one in four have sexted a nude photo of themselves via phone; and one in 5 have posed for nude photos or taken nude photos of their partner. A century or so from now, Ancestry.com's going to get pretty interesting...
6. They're using social networks as a hunting ground.
Compared with the oldest age cohort, the millennials are far more likely to be using social networks as a place to pursue sex and/or romance. However, they're only slightly more likely to be doing so than the middle age group, whom I will call Gen Xers for the purposes of this post, although they do include some younger baby boomers. Nearly half of millennials (48 percent) and four in 10 Gen Xers have flirted with someone online; 30 percent of millennials and 27 percent of Xers have experienced strong feelings of attraction for someone online; and 22 percent of millennials and 20 percent of Xers have actually had a romantic, sexual, or erotic relationship online.
7. They're creating new rules of digital engagement.
Remember when it was "boy meets girl?" Now it's more like "boy investigates girl, uses smartphone to cheat on girl, gets dumped by girl via SMS, and then gets stalked by girl." (Substitute genders to your liking.) Around one in four millennials has used Facebook to "investigate" a romantic interest, and nearly one in five admits to having "stalked" an ex on social networks. It gets worse: 18 percent have dumped their significant other via text message, and just more than one in 10 have used their mobile phone to cheat on their partner. Ah, romance in the digital age!
8. They know online flirtations come at a price.
What happens in Vegas may stay in Vegas, but the same doesn't hold true for the Web. More so than the other generations, millennials are seeing the negative impact of online behaviors on offline relationships. Just more than four in 10 believe online relationships can prove too much of a distraction from face-to-face relationships ("In a minute, honey..."), and 39 percent actually know of someone whose offline relationship ended because of things they've done online. In 2012, virtually nobody (7 percent of our overall sample and 6 percent of millennials) believes that having a strongly sexual relationship online doesn't count as cheating. It's time to retire that excuse.
9. Their views of sex are influenced by what they see online.
Around a third (32 percent) of millennials acknowledge that things they've seen on the Internet have influenced how they think about sex. For decades, social scientists have talked about the link between pornography in film and magazines and people's overestimation of the sexual activities engaged in by others. One result is that people who view porn tend to be more dissatisfied with their own sex lives. Just imagine how that tendency is magnified by the quantity and breadth of sexual content available on the Web. No wonder more than one in five millennials (23 percent) worry they're not very good in bed.
10. Their social revolution is gay rights.
What once was taboo for earlier generations -- even punishable by imprisonment or death -- is now mainstream. Only around a quarter of U.S. millennials surveyed (27 percent) believe homosexuality is "wrong," while half (48 percent) disagree and 25 percent aren't sure one way or another. This is almost the reverse of attitudes among those aged 55-65 -- 42 percent of whom say homosexuality is wrong -- suggesting that the shelf life of homophobia is nearing its end.
And to answer my earlier question: Millennials aren't morning people -- 72 percent prefer to have sex in the evening or late at night.
Naomi Troni is the Global Chief Marketing Officer at Euro RSCG Worldwide. Find out more about Euro RSCG Worldwide's Valentine's Day Study by clicking here.
Follow Naomi Troni on Twitter: www.twitter.com/@naomi_troni