Is a rebrand in your future? Don’t do anything without this list of five must-ask questions.   GET THE LIST

It’s Time To Stop Treating Millennials as a Single Segment

A Snarketing post by Ron Shevlin

A Snarketing post by Ron Shevlin, Director of Research at Cornerstone Advisors

A day doesn’t pass that I don’t come across a study lecturing me about how Millennials are different from other consumers. “Millennials are thrifty,” “Millennials crave convenience,” “Millennials want financial providers that are authentic,” blah blah blah.

The purpose of segmenting consumers is to identify traits–behavioral, attitudinal, and demographic–that tend to identify and distinguish one segment over another. If I have to tell you that all members of a segment aren’t homogeneous, or that members of other segments will share some traits with members of other segments, then you shouldn’t be reading the Snarketing column.

From a marketing perspective, if a segment you’ve defined has too many overlapping traits with other segments, then you probably haven’t defined a segment that will help you differentiate your marketing efforts. This is why you can’t “market to women.”

Conversely, if there are too many differentiating traits within a single segment, you probably haven’t adequately defined that segment. Which is exactly why it’s high time to stop treating Millennials as a single consumer segment.

Financial Goals of Millennials

The Shullman Research Center recently surveyed consumers about their financial goals, and found interesting differences between sub-segments of Millennials regarding:

  • Meeting daily living expenses. Six of 10 Millennials between 18 and 24 say having enough money for daily living expenses is a financial goal. That percentage drops to roughly four in 10 25-29 year-olds, and back up to half of Millennials between the ages of 30 and 34. This pattern is repeated for goals like “improving standing of living,” and “becoming financially independent.”
  • Dealing with emergencies. Nearly 60% of 18-24 year-olds are concerned with having enough money for unexpected emergencies. Among 30-34 year-olds, that percentage drops to 34%.
  • Having fun. Well, there you have it, folks! The data that proves that life sucks the fun out of you at 30 years old. Forty percent of 18-24 year-olds have a financial goal to have fun. By 30 years old, the percentage drops to 22%.
  • Becoming rich. Damn! If it wasn’t bad enough life sucks the fun out of you by 30, apparently any hope of becoming rich fades by 30, as well.
To have enough money for daily living expenses 61% 39% 51%
To improve your standard of living 61% 45% 40%
To become financially independent 59% 29% 34%
To have enough money for unexpected emergencies 58% 49% 34%
To have fun 40% 34% 22%
To become rich 27% 23% 13%
To provide for children’s college expenses 19% 28% 35%
To keep up with inflation 16% 30% 13%

These trends make sense: no job and/or not much money in your early 20s, living large as a single person in your late 20s, and dealing with the realities of real life (i.e., family) in your early 30s.

D+H | Free White Paper Download

Millennials’ Financial Health

Research conducted by the Center for Financial Services Innovation (CFSI) emphasizes the differences between the sub-segments. Looking at Millennials across three sub-segments — 18 to 20 year-olds, 21 to 27 year-olds, and 28 to 36 year-olds — CFSI found differences regarding:

  • Shopping for financial products. Among the youngest group, 50% turned to friends and family for advice when shopping for financial products. That percentage drops to 35% among the middle group, and again down to 31% among the oldest sub-segment.
  • Risk tolerance. When asked how willing they are to take financial risk when saving or making investments, 57% of the youngest sub-segment said they’re “not willing to take any risks.” Forty-five percent of 21 to 27 year-olds gave that answer, and 34% of the 28 to 36 year-olds responded likewise. Conversely, just 10% of the youngest group said they were willing to take above average to substantial risk, in contrast to 25% of the oldest group.
  • Overall financial health. CFSI defined seven levels of financial health, corresponding to three categories: Healthy, Coping, and Vulnerable. Surprisingly (to me, at least), a larger percentage of 18 to 20 years olds in the US are financially healthy than 21 to 27 year-olds are. Not surprisingly, a larger percentage of the youngest group are in the Vulnerable category. But this is due to the fact that, at that age, many consumers are just not very engaged in the management of their financial lives.
Financial Health
18 to 20
years old
21 to 27
years old
28 to 36
years old
Healthy Thriving 3% 4% 5%
Focused 14% 8% 19%
Stable 16% 12% 12%
Coping Striving 14% 22% 21%
Tenuous 6% 16% 15%
Vulnerable Unengaged 40% 21% 14%
At Risk 6% 17% 13%

It’s the last point that’s key. It’s really about engagement with financial lives, financial management, and financial providers that distinguishes the sub-segments of the Millennial generation.

Can We Stop Treating Millennials as a Single Segment?

Let’s face it: There are two reasons why consumer researchers treat Millennials as a single segment: 1) They don’t ask for age at a granular enough level in their surveys to create the sub-segments, and 2) They’re too damn lazy to do the analysis to create the sub-segments. (And I’m not saying that I haven’t been guilty of these reasons myself in the past).

From a financial services perspective, the differences between the sub-segments of Millennials are too big to ignore. Let’s stop treating Millennials as a single segment.

Ron ShevlinRon Shevlin is Director of Research at Cornerstone Advisors. Get a copy of his best-selling book, Smarter Bank: Why Money Management is More Important Than Money Movement. And don't forget to follow him on Twitter at @rshevlin.

All content © 2017 by The Financial Brand and may not be reproduced by any means without permission.

Digital Banking Report | 2017 Marketing Trends


  1. Excellent article as always. I wish you had also tackled (snarketed at) the many conflicting studies that say Millennials are the laziest/most entrepreneurial, most negative/most positive, etc., that are out there.

  2. Alex,

    I can’t say I’ve seen any studies accusing Millennials of being lazy. That attribute was most commonly ascribed to Gen X (i.e., “Slackers”). I also haven’t seen studies suggesting Millennials were negative/pessimistic. On the contrary, I’ve seen studies that (1) suggest they are optimistic, positive and idealistic, as younger generations usually are, and (2) reflect the harsh realities Millennials have faced (e.g., the Great Recession and mountains of student debt).

    Jeffry Pilcher
    The Financial Brand

  3. Wait, I thought Boomers were the laziest. Or maybe that’s just me projecting my traits onto the rest of the generation.

    I’m w/ JP on this one, AJ. I didn’t cite the statistic here in this post, but in the CFSI study, the youngest Millenials are the most positive about the future, more so than the middle and older sub-segments.

  4. This type of generational marketing is so 1990s. How about It’s Time To Stop Treating Millennials, Gen-Xrs, and Boomers different and try marketing beyond these generalized segments. I know Boomers who act and purchase like Millennials and Millenials who are hard working, positive, and entrepreneurial. There are ‘lazy’ and ‘hard working’ people in every generation! Successful marketers go beyond generational stereotypes to reach individual attitudes and personality types. A good marketing campaign does not ask someone’s age, it reaches a wide audience by targeting attitudes, preferences, and other non generational markers.

  5. Even the supposed financial goals of Millennials proves your point, Ron. They are goals that transcend generations. Different generations will have different end goals such as comfortable retirement, owning a home, or leaving behind a legacy to your family. But “meeting day to day living expenses”? That’s not a “Millennial” goal, or really a true financial end goal. It’s something that ALL generations want. ALL people. I’ve never heard anyone go “Nah, I don’t care about meeting day to day living expenses. Starvation and homelessness are fine with me. I’m good.”

    Those are natural financial states of being that everyone strives for at the minimum level, not financial end goals that might reflect a changing American culture by generation or a natural shift in attitude that comes with age. Millennials may not care about buying homes because of current housing prices, or young people might not care about retirement because it’s so far away. No one simply doesn’t care about not being able to afford food.

    It’s like asking someone their major life goals and getting back “Not dying”. Hmm, you don’t say.

    ARB–Angry Retail Banker

  6. ARB: Thanks.

    Related to your comment: At the end of 2015, my wife asked me “What’s your New Year’s resolution for 2016?”

    My answer: “To be around to have you ask me that question for 2017 at the end of 2016.”

  7. Well, there went my argument then.

  8. Alec Hughes says:

    While a strong promoter of sub-segmentation models, particularly when you are dealing with a generation of 75MM+ individuals, age-based segmentation is far too simplistic of a solution. While a 19 year-old millennial most likely has different behavioral traits than those of a 32-year old Millennial – not all 32-year old Millennials are alike either. I would challenge marketers to look deeper at more emotional, attitudinal attributes that drive financial decisions. Age-based models simply aren’t actionable or relevant.

  9. Always thrilled when I get to read a Snarketing post by Ron Shevlin, thanks for the great article.

    Question: Is the fact that the “older” millennials behavior is different from their younger compadres due to them having more direct influence from boomers? Or does time (and related experience) bring along some wisdom? Or something else?

    David Peterson

Speak Your Mind


Show Comments