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Bet for the Future

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A ‘Soviet person’ is becoming a phenomenon of the past. Social change is being driven by people who came of age in the 1990s and 2000s. The youngest adult generation is millennials. They form and speed up the trends, but are not in a hurry to ‘grow up’.

A new paper by HSE Professor Vadim Radaev is dedicated to the paradox of the young and the generation differences in contemporary Russia.

Epochs for People of the Same Age

The author suggests a new way to determine the borders between generations: first, not by the year of birth, but by the start of responsible lives, emerging adulthood (17-25 years of age, when people become independent and are most susceptible to social change); second, by key historical events and processes they have experienced together (such processes in the recent Russian history include WWII, the Khrushchev Thaw, the Era of Stagnation, Perestroika, liberal reforms, and stabilization). As a result, the scheme of Russian generations according to Vadim Radaev is as follows:

 Mobilization Generation

Years of birth: 1938 and earlier (before the Great Patriotic War). Emerging adulthood: 1941–1956 (the war and the post-war decade). This generation is also called the Silent Generation, but it is not quite applicable to the Russian experience, the researcher noted.

   Thaw Generation

Years of birth: 1939-1946 (war years). Emerging adulthood: 1956–1964 (Khrushchev Thaw).

  Stagnation Generation

Years of birth: 1947–1967 (post-war). Emerging adulthood: 1964–1984 (Brezhnevian Stagnation). Also known as Baby Boomers.

 Generation of Reforms

Years of birth: 1968–1981 (‘stagnating mature socialism’). Emerging adulthood: 1985–1999 (Gorbachev’s Perestroika and the following liberal reforms). Also known as Generation X.

 Millennials (Generation Y)

Years of birth: 1982–2000 (period of reforms). Emerging adulthood: 1999–2017 (relatively stable and safe beginning of the new millennium).

  Generation Z

Years of birth: since 2001. Emerging adulthood: from 2018 onwards.

Having classified these generations, the researcher investigated their differences in terms of lifestyles, religiousness, family planning, use of digital technology, and evaluation of their own well-being.

These parameters change over time, but in most cases, millennials are visibly and statistically significantly differ from the preceding reform generation (even when brought to one average age), not to mention the earlier generations, concluded Vadim Radaev as a result of his analysis of surveys among over 250,000 respondents (RLMS-HSE, 1994–2016)*.

Delayed Adulthood

Unlike their predecessors, the millennials aren’t in a hurry to ‘grow up’: they postpone marrying, having children, and entering the job market.

In 2016, with a median age of 27, only 54% classified themselves as married, and 41% have never been married. The previous (reform) generation was more active at the same age: 68% and 24% accordingly.

Over half (54%) of the millennials don’t have children. Among the reform generation at the same age, only 30.7% didn’t have children.

The employment indicators have an inverse correlation: there is less employment among millennials than among the reform generation, 64% vs. almost 73%. Millennials are less patient in their strive for higher salaries and career growth. In search of these, they often change jobs (over 21% in 2016). ‘In each of the previous generations, this share decreases stepwise by half’, the author wrote.

Towards a Healthy Nation

Millennials are more concerned about a healthy lifestyle than their predecessors. They are the ones who speed up positive lifestyle trends and make the most contribution to the growing popularity of sports, as well as the decrease in drinking and smoking.

‘As of today (2016), the share of alcohol consumers has been considerably higher in each subsequent generation, except for millennials. In this youngest generation, the share of drinkers turns out to be lower than in the two preceding generations’, the research concluded. They taste alcohol earlier, but drink less often and in smaller volumes. By the age of 18–20, the share of drinkers is about 50–52%, followed by a drop to 40%. The same indicator among the Generation of Reforms at the same average age is over 1.5 times higher (64%).

There are less smokers among millennials, while the intensity of smoking is the same. Representatives of the adjacent generations smoke the same at the same age. This is true for everyone except millennials. Here, the share of smokers drops almost 1.5 times as compared to the Generation of Reforms.

The increase in those regularly doing sports and exercise is increasing in a similar way. At 27 years of age, 43% of millennials exercise, while only 25% of the Generation of Reforms do it.

Digital Migrants

As might be expected, millennials use internet and gadgets more actively than the others. But it has been established that the decisive quantitative loop in the use of new technology (using computers and internet) was provided not by them, but by their immediate predecessors, who grew up during Perestroika and the 1990s’ reforms. Today, they are from 37 to 50, and their difference from the adjacent older generation is bigger: the share of users grew by one third, while millennials added only 11-12%. A similar situation can be seen in the dynamics of those going online from mobile devices (cell phones and smartphones): +28% in the reform generation and +20% in millennials.

‘People of the Generation of Reforms started using gadgets when they were adults already, but they were young and active enough to ‘migrate’ to the digital space massively and master many practices that are hard for older generations to learn, but are strengthened by millennials’, Vadim   Radaev explained.

Social Media Unite

People who were born from 1982 to 2000, aged 18 to 36 today, are more active on social media. In 2016, 86% of millennials were present there. For comparison, this indicator was 69% for the reform generation, and 19% for the oldest one (Mobilization Generation).

Use of Social Networks by Generations
(over the last 12 months, 2016, 15 years and older, % of the internet users)

 Mobilization Generation — 18,9% 
 Thaw Generation — 35,2%
 Stagnation Generation — 55,4%
 Generation of Reforms — 69,3%
 Millennials — 86,1%

Source: author’s calculations based on RLMS-HSE data

‘Interestingly enough, this is mostly not about Facebook (property of Meta, which has been recognised as an extremist organisation in Russia), the role of which among the other social networks has often been exaggerated’, the author noted. In 2016, Facebook (property of Meta, which has been recognised as an extremist organisation in Russia) was visited by only 13% of millennials and 7% of all people over 14.

Most millennials (68%) use VK. Odnoklassniki is in second position (49%) and is almost as popular among the older Generation of Reforms. They are followed by Twitter (5.5%) and LiveJournal (1.3%).

Ignoring the Church

The comparison of the level of religiousness led to some unexpected results. Despite the popular opinion of Russian’s growing interest in religion and the growing influence of the church, the number of people who are religious and attend worships regularly is decreasing from generation to generation.

The share of religious people between 2011 and 2016 decreased from 56% among the mobilization generation to 32% in the millennials. The share of those who worship at least once a month decreased from the thaw generation (15%) to millennials (6%).

Religiousness by Generations
(the share of believers, average in 2011–2016; the share of those who attend church services at least once a month, 2016, 15 years and older, %)

 Mobilization Generation — 55,7% и 8% 
 Thaw Generation — 46,9% и 15,2%
 Stagnation Generation — 36,7% и 11,7%
 Generation of Reforms — 34,8% и 7,5%
 Millennials — 31,6% и 5,8%

Source: author’s calculations based on RLMS-HSE data

Happy Youth

The younger the generation, the happier its representatives feel. And the Russian millennials are not an exception. 60% of them feel happy, with this share being halved among the older generations.

The level of general satisfaction with life also varies, and it’s the highest among millennials. In 2016, 59% of them were satisfied with their lives. Among the reform generation (in 2002, when they were the same age) this indicator was 36%.

Younger people are also more optimistic about the economy. Even during the economic meltdown (after 2013) the share of those who believed that in 12 months the life would be better failed to fall below 50%. It decreased over the four crisis years, but stayed high, at 41%. The gap with the reform generation is almost 1.6 times, and 3-4 times with older generations.

Millennials look happier. But we shouldn’t see this high level of subjective well-being as a characteristic feature of this generation, the researcher warns. This is rather a feature of age, which will most probably fade as this generation gets older.

*The study ‘Millenials compared to previous generations: an empirical analysis’ was based on data from the Russia Longitudinal Monitoring Survey - Higher School of Economics (RLMS-HSE)’. The cross-section analysis of the current generational differences used the data of its 25th wave (2016; 14,943 respondents). The analysis of the dynamics of generational differences used the united array of all available waves (1994–2016; 258,366 respondents). Representatives of the youngest generation, Generation Z, who turned 15 in 2016, were excluded from the analysis, since their coming-of-age period was only just starting.


Author of the study:
Vadim Radaev, Doctor of Sciences in Economic Theory, Professor, Head of theLaboratory for Studies in Economic sociology, First Vice Rector of HSE
Author: Svetlana Saltanova, May 21, 2018