Insights, tools and research to advance journalism

Digital lives of Millennials

Born in 1980, this first generation of digital natives entered high school as the web became a public space. Half of this group, those age 26 and under, entered high school with social media, first MySpace and soon enough Facebook.

For most of this generation, in other words, the digital revolution does not represent disruption. It represents the norm and, to a significant degree, their generation’s opportunity.

Perhaps as a consequence, few Millennials are worried much about privacy, and particularly not about the data kept by government or corporations.

A large majority of these digital natives pay for some type of online subscription service, including a significant minority who pay for some type of news. Yet, in the qualitative discussions we had with them, many Millennials expressed a belief that they shouldn’t have to pay for news at all. As a key ingredient for democracy, some said, it should be free and accessible as a civic right.

A majority of Millennials feel connected most of the time, but not always enthusiastically

While they have the capacity to be online all the time, many Millennials are not.

All told, 51 percent say they are mostly or almost always online and connected. And in the qualitative interviews, we heard a good deal about the desire to control that connectivity.

A smaller but still significant number, 39 percent, say their lives are a mix of online and offline. Just 10 percent are almost always or always offline. Millennials in the qualitative interviews often acknowledged their high levels of connectivity but expressed concern and even some active efforts to scale back.

Brenna, age 25 from Chicago, noted that, “I think that it’s life-consuming, because when I travel abroad I like not having it. And I like turning off my data, leaving my phone, not even being on Twitter because it’s kind of refreshing not to have all of this information thrown at you.”

Answer Percent responding
Almost always online and connected 23%
Mostly online and connected 28%
A mix of both 39%
Mostly offline 8%
Almost always offline 2%


Many Millennials pay for subscriptions, but more often it is for entertainment than information and news

Contrary to the stereotype that digital natives believe everything on the web should be free, the great majority of this generation use subscription services of some kind. More often than not, they pay for these things themselves, but for some types of content, substantial portions also gain access through subscriptions paid for by others. Fewer, but still a sizable minority, have paid for news and information.

Overall, 93 percent of Millennials used some kind of subscription in the past year, and 87 percent personally paid for at least one service. And 40 percent paid for at least one news-specific service, app, or digital subscription themselves.

The most popular types of paid content accessed by Millennials are movies and television. Fifty-five percent say they personally have paid to download, rent, or stream movies or television shows on iTunes, Netflix, or other paid services in the past year. An additional 23 percent have these services paid for by others, one of the higher rates of using someone else’s subscription.

And 20 percent of Millennials say they do not watch movies or TV online using a subscription service.

Slightly behind movies and TV comes music, where 48 percent say they have paid to download or stream it on iTunes, Spotify, or other music platforms. Unlike with video, only 6 percent say someone else pays for them to access these services. And roughly 4 in 10 (39 percent) report not using any type of paid music downloading or streaming service in the past year.

Fewer than half (46 percent) have paid by any means for video games or video game apps.

Just 19 percent say they have paid in the last year for a subscription service for eBooks or audiobooks such as Kindle Unlimited or Audible, about the same number (18 percent) who say they paid for an e-learning service or online course.

Service Pay themselves Someone else pays
Digital movies/TV 55% 23%
Digital music 48% 6%
Video games/apps 46% 5%
Cable TV 41% 28%
Other apps 38% 5%
Print magazine 21% 9%
Subscription for ebooks 19% 3%
E-learning 18% 6%
Print newspaper 16% 13%
Digital news apps 14% 5%
Digital magazine 11% 5%
Digital newspaper 10% 6%
Email newsletter 9% 5%
Sample-box service 8% 2%


When it comes to paying for the news, 40 percent of Millennials report paying for at least one subscription themselves, including a digital news app (14 percent), a digital magazine (11 percent), a digital subscription to a newspaper (10 percent), or a paid email newsletter (9 percent). When subscriptions used but paid for by others are added, that number rises to 53 percent who have used some type of paid subscription for news in the last year.

Interestingly, this digital generation is more likely to have paid for non-digital versions of these products. For instance, 21 percent say they have paid in the last year for a subscription to a print magazine, and 16 percent for a print newspaper, rates that are higher than for digital versions of the same products.

News publishers also may have some work to do in the digital space when it comes to subscriptions. In the qualitative interviews, we heard the notion that, because news is important for democracy, people feel they should not have to pay for it. It should be more of a civic right because it is a civic good.

“I don’t think you should pay for news,” said Eric, age 22 in Chicago. “That’s something everybody should be informed in. Like, you’re going to charge me for information that’s going on around the world?”

Or Sam, age 19 from San Francisco, who said in his interview, “I really wouldn’t pay for any type of news because as a citizen it’s my right to know the news.”

Just 8 percent pay for a personalized shopping service such as Birchbox or Goodebox, where products are selected based on your profile.

It’s just too easy to get things for free online.
— Adriana, age 23, San Francisco

When it comes to offline services other than print, 41 percent of Millennials still subscribe to cable TV, and 28 percent say they use cable TV paid by someone else. Twenty-seven percent say they do not access any pay cable television.

Most Millennials pay for all their digital subscription services themselves, though some have higher rates of someone else footing the bill than others. For example, just 1 in 10 who use a subscription for eBooks or audio books have someone else paying for that subscription, while more than 4 in 10 who use a print newspaper say they use someone else’s subscription.

Being a more active news seeker, meanwhile, is associated with more willingness to pay for some types of news. The 39 percent of Millennials who identified themselves as more likely to actively seek out news are roughly twice as likely as those who say they mostly bump into it to personally pay for digital news apps (21 percent vs. 10 percent) and print newspapers (21 percent vs. 11 percent).

Those who worry about privacy are mostly worried about identity theft

For all of their connectivity, however, Millennials are not particularly worried about privacy. Just 2 in 10 say they worry a good deal or all of the time about their information being available online. The most common response, at 46 percent, is worrying only a little. And 34 percent do not worry at all.

Date Column Name
Worry all/most of the time 20%
Worry a little 46%
Don't worry at all 34%


Of those who do worry, what concerns them? In general, it is not government spying, or even that big corporations will know too much about them.

The biggest concern, among those worried about privacy, is that someone will steal their identity or financial information (58 percent), which represents 38 percent when those who are not worried are included. That is followed by 46 percent who worry that people they don’t know very well will learn too much about their personal lives (or 30 percent when those not worried at all are included).

Even among the 66 percent who worry about privacy, less than half are concerned that big companies will know too much or sell their information (45 percent). That means that of all Millennials surveyed, only 30 percent are worried about corporations knowing too much about their lives.

Almost 4 in 10 who have privacy concerns worry about potential employers or schools forming an unfair impression of them based on their online footprint, though this rate was higher among those who do share personal information or content on Facebook or Twitter than among those who do not.

About 4 in 10 Millennials also express concern that someone will use information about their location to break into their home when they are not there (38 percent).

And only about a third of those with any privacy concerns at all are worried about the government collecting information about them (34 percent). When those who don’t worry about their privacy online are included, the number of adults under age 35 worried about government surveillance of their digital lives falls to 22 percent.

Lowest on the list, 31 percent of those with privacy concerns say they worry someone will use it to stalk or threaten them.

Concern Percent of Millennials
Steal my identity or financial information 58%
People will learn too much about my personal life 46%
Big companies selling my personal information 45%
Someone will use location information to break into my home 38%
Potential employers/schools form unfair impression of me 37%
Government will collect my information 34%
Someone will use information to stalk or threaten me 31%


Those who say they are worried either a good deal or all of the time are more likely to express concern about each of these potential invasions than are those who worry only a little, with one exception. Those worried only a little are about as likely as those who worried a lot that employers or schools will form an unfair impression of them.

The study also found evidence contradicting the idea that load times are a critical factor in influencing the behavior of this digital native generation. Only a minority of Millennials say they gave up on web content because it didn’t load fast enough. Just 9 percent say they do so frequently. Another 25 percent say it happens fairly often. The majority (65 percent) say it happens not that often or almost never.

Need to Know newsletter

The smart way to start your day

Each morning we scour the web for fresh useful insights in our Need to Know newsletter. Sign up below.

Featured topics

Go deeper on…

Dive deep on everything we produce about these key topics.

Strategy Studies

The best practices for innovation within news organizations

This Strategy Study presents examples and insights about journalism innovation, offering actionable advice and methods to move your journalism and business forward.