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Breaking Down the Millennial Generation: A typology of young news consumers

This research was conducted by the Media Insight Project — an initiative of the American Press Institute and the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research

The four types of Millennials identified in Media Insight Project data, from clockwise starting in the top left: The Unattached, the Explorers, the Distracted, the Activists.

The four types of Millennials identified in Media Insight Project data, from clockwise starting in the top left: The Unattached, the Explorers, the Distracted, the Activists.

There are some clear differences from previous generations in how Millennials—the first group of Americans to grow up with digital technology—consume news and information.

The term Millennials, however, which covers a loose generational category of those born between 1980 and 1998, is in some ways too broad. The word—the implication of a monolithic group that doesn’t change with age and different circumstances—masks some important differences inside this generation in the ways they encounter the world and follow news about it.

A new in-depth analysis by the Media Insight Project, a collaboration between The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research and the American Press Institute, suggests that Millennials’ news and internet habits fall into four distinct types.

This report, which is based on a deeper analysis of our nationwide survey of adults age 18-34 conducted in early 2015, presents a new typology of Millennials as it relates to their information use and the way they consume information about different topics, and it has important implications for publishers who want to reach them.1

The four groups are:

  • The Unattached: These are younger Millennials, age 18-24, who get their news and information mostly by just bumping into it. They tend to have not yet started families or established careers. Their online lives are spent largely keeping up with their social circles, schooling, or first-time job hunts. Less than 1 in 3 personally pay for a digital or print news subscription, and the more conventional news subjects like community or world news are not a central interest to their daily lives. Few of them follow current events or news-you-can-use. Most go online primarily for entertainment activities such as playing games or streaming music and movies. Still, news is not completely irrelevant to this group. Half of this group still keeps up generally with what is going on in the world, and many investigate opinions contrary to their own on social media.
  • The Explorers: These are younger Millennials, also age 18-24, who actively seek out news and information. These Millennials are relatively similar demographically to the Unattached (i.e., they have not yet developed families or careers), but this group consists of slightly more men than women. They are highly connected (97 percent have smartphones), and they are interested in news and are more active in pursuing it online. These Millennials follow a variety of current events and news-you-can-use topics. They are motivated by their belief in the social and civic benefits of following news, and they use the internet and social media to both gather information and connect with others.
  • The Distracted: These are older Millennials, age 25-34, who have begun to have families and are part of the middle class. They tend not to use news or information for civic or social purposes. They mostly bump into news and information rather than actively seek it out, and a majority do not personally pay for a news subscription. They also tend to get less news and information online and from social media in general than other Millennials; though still, nearly half of these Millennials get most of their news and information online, and many follow a variety of lifestyle and news-you-can use topics that show direct relevance to their jobs, their families, or solving problems in their personal lives.
  • The Activists: This is another group of mostly older Millennials, age 25-34, but Activists, unlike the Distracted, are more likely to actively seek out news and information. These Millennials tend to have already established families, careers, and a connection to their community. They are racially and ethnically diverse—the only group that is a majority non-white. They have acquired enough experience in the world to care about certain issues, and enough stability in life to spend energy on those issues. A majority of these Millennials personally pay for a digital or print news subscription, and they are likely to follow current events and report using the news for civic reasons. They get news online but are less likely than other Millennials to frequently use the internet for social or entertainment purposes.

How 4 identified groups of Millennials differ

Unattached Explorers Distracted Activists
Regularly go online to keep up with what’s going on in the world 53% 85% 53% 80%
Pay for news subscription 31% 44% 40% 51%
Use news to talk with others about what’s going on 49% 74% 44% 55%
Say news helps them stay informed to be a better citizen 56% 64% 47% 67%
Regularly follow music, TV, and movies 73% 67% 63% 59%
Regularly follow national politics or government 34% 57% 33% 60%

Media Insight Project

Understanding these distinct segments within the Millennial generation offers some clarity for publishers seeking to reach Millennials. The data show that a single content or publishing strategy for all Millennials may be misguided and that there are different opportunities to reach and engage each of these four distinct types of Millennials.

About the study

The typologies are based on the results of a survey conducted by the Media Insight Project, an initiative of the American Press Institute and The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research. The nationally representative survey of 1,045 adults between the ages of 18 and 34 was conducted between January 5 and February 2, 2015. The final response rate was 14 percent, and the overall margin of error was +/- 3.8 percentage points. Using multivariate regression analysis, two factors were found to be highly predictive of many news attitudes and behaviors: age, and the tendency to either actively seek out news or more often bump into it in the course of other activities. Millennials were sorted into the four categories based on these factors.

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