In the recent referendum in the United Kingdom, older generations voted “Leave” whereas younger voters strongly favored remaining in the European Union. Baby boomers, it seems, are more nationalist and nostalgic for independence. Younger people consider themselves citizens of the global village. At least this is how we generally view millennials the world over: they are postmaterialist, favor collaboration over competition, and are democratic, cosmopolitan, and progressive.
For example, whereas Russian President Vladimir Putin and his ruling clique might still extol nineteenth-century values, young Russians (exemplified by the band Pussy Riot) hope for a different future. They went out in large numbers to protest Putin in 2012. They want democracy and are opposed to the conservative patriarchal policies of their government. Observers’ initial optimism about the Arab Spring also centered on young, tech-savvy Arabs who used social media to further their protest. And in Turkey, the young Gezi Park protesters acted as a counterforce to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s increasingly conservative and authoritarian politics. Young, tech-savvy Chinese middle classes also seem to aspire to a more open regime.
But the truth about the world’s younger generations is more complicated. As protest movements rocked the world in the last few years, it always seemed that democratic revolutions were around the corner. But they never happened. That was surprising only because we have a biased view of the world’s millennials. They are two billion strong, and the large majority live in developing economies. Their values are much more diverse than we think. We have analyzed survey data on millennials in several western European countries, the United States, China, Russia, and Turkey from the Glocalities survey that was held in 24 countries early this year. We found that in emerging markets, their dreams, ambitions, and outlook on life are different from those of their peers in the West.
There are a few values that millennials around the world do share. They like adventure, glamour, innovation, and ambition more than older generations, partly because