Millennials Strike Again: This Time We Are Killing Cash And 'Merry Christmas'

Dec 21, 2018
Originally published on December 24, 2018 4:41 pm

The Grinch might as well get in line behind millennials.

Clearly, my generation just can't help itself with killing things like starter homes and canned tuna. (Or is it can openers?) So in the spirit of attributing transformative cultural shifts to whippersnapper whims, we regret to inform you that millennials might be claiming two new victims: cash and the "merry Christmas" greeting.

A new NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist Poll found that adults under 30 — so, mostly millennials — are the only age group among holiday shoppers with a clear preference for paying with plastic rather than cash. They're also the only group to strongly prefer the non-Christmas-specific greeting "happy holidays."

But hey, we really like Christmas trees! (Wait, do we call them holiday trees now?) Younger Americans are the most likely to say they plan to put up a Christmas tree at home, the poll found. They are also most likely to say it will be an artificial — not real — one.

"Credit, 100 percent"

We millennials are a huge cohort, somehow uniting almost everyone born in the 1980s and 1990s. Despite the endless headlines treating our habits like historic aberrations, our generation holds much of the purchasing power in the U.S. as we are about to outnumber baby boomers as the largest living generation of adults.

The new NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist Poll did not show statistics for the entire millennial cohort, but it did break out the 18-to-29 age group. And this holiday shopping season, 63 percent of these millennials under 30 said they planned to use "mostly credit cards" when buying holiday gifts. It was the opposite for all older shoppers, who planned to shop with "mostly cash."

Don't see the graphic above? Click here

"Credit, 100 percent," said Parth Shah, a 24-year-old management consultant from New York City, when I asked him how he pays. "I have a really good credit card that gives me a lot of points, so I try to take advantage of that as much as I can."

Now, if you Google enough headlines about millennials killing things, you might encounter some seemingly contradictory stories, such as: "Debt-Conscious Millennials Are a Threat to Credit Cards."

Let's do a quick flashback: Our generation came of age during the Great Recession, when people took on far more debt than they could afford. Add another trillion-ish dollars of student loan debt, and it's easy to see why borrowing more from the banks isn't our favorite pastime. In fact, the Fed recently found that millennials have "significantly less" credit card debt than Gen X and baby boomers.

But holiday shopping is a time for special, maybe personalized — and often online — purchases. And — surprise! — adults under 30 are the most likely age group to say they plan to buy all or most of their holiday gifts online. And the Internet (trust me on this) is not the place to send anyone cash.

"Cash is not a medium for the digital marketplace — you can't shop that way online," said Barbara Carvalho, director of The Marist Poll at the Marist Institute for Public Opinion, which conducted the new survey.

Only a quarter of shoppers under 30 said they wouldn't buy any of their holiday gifts online. Compare that with exactly half of shoppers over 60, who say they wouldn't shop for gifts on the Internet.

Don't see the graphic above? Click here

Also, for all the tech progressiveness attributed to millennials, the poll found that it was 30- to 44-year-olds who were slightly more likely to use Apple Pay or PayPal to buy holiday gifts. Though remember, the oldest millennials are in their late 30s, so maybe our generation is behind this trend, too. (Perhaps someone should write a story about that!)

Happy all-inclusive holidays

Another question where millennials stood out was the — ah, yes — annual wintertime debate: In December, should you wish people merry Christmas or happy holidays?

A majority of adults under 30, or 53 percent, voted for "happy holidays," according to the poll. In fact, millennials — who happen to be the most diverse generation of adults in the country's history — are the only age group to prefer this greeting.

Don't see the graphic above? Click here

"I usually say 'happy holidays,'" said Juliet McFadden, 23, who works as an office manager in Boston. "I think it's just easier to be more inclusive. Especially when I'm talking to someone who I'm only quickly interacting with in the city like a cabdriver or someone in the grocery store."

Only 38 percent of people younger than 30 preferred "merry Christmas," the poll found. The number jumped to almost 60 percent for people between 30 and 60, and reached 68 percent for Americans older than 60.

"I like to use 'happy holidays' but I don't mind being told 'merry Christmas,' " said 24-year-old Matt Puchalski, an engineer from Pittsburgh. "I like to make everyone feel included!"

This story also would not be complete without a mention of one of the most well-known facts about millennials: We've all basically given up homebuying dreams because of our lifetime commitment to avocado toast.

But even if most of us can't afford homes, millennials are still the most likely generation to say they planned to put up a Christmas tree — even if it's a fake one. The new poll found more than two-thirds of Americans under 30 say they plan to put up an artificial tree. An additional 17 percent said they planned to buy a real one.

And here — plot twist! — millennials reported the same tastes as all people, because fake trees seem to be winning over everyone. All generations told the survey they planned to deck the halls with some artificial cheer — I mean, trees.

Don't see the graphic above? Click here

Younger people were also the most likely to view the Christmas tree as a cultural symbol, rather than a religious one. A full 96 percent of people under 30 shared that view. And more than 70 percent of all age groups agreed that the Christmas tree is no longer about religion. But do we know which generation killed that?

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Let's take a moment now to consider the generation of Americans that's the punchline of all your favorite avocado toast jokes. I am talking of course millennials, the generation blamed for the demise of everything from starter homes and napkins to canned tuna.


JIMMY KIMMEL: Canned tuna consumption is down more than 40 percent over the past three decades, and the tuna companies believe the reason is because millennials don't want to go to the trouble of opening a can.


KELLY: Jimmy Kimmel kicking off a segment where millennials tried and failed to open a can of tuna. But is it really true that millennials are the death of all these things, or is something else at play? Well, NPR's Alina Selyukh, herself a millennial, has been actually digging through heaps of data. There are heaps of data on all this, Alina?



SELYUKH: Believe it or not.

KELLY: All right, so we're having this conversation on Christmas Eve.


KELLY: And I gather among the heaps of data you have been digging through that that includes a poll, an NPR-"PBS NewsHour"-Marist poll. And you found some interesting holiday data. What'd you find?

SELYUKH: Holiday edition of your favorite millennials-are-killing-things trope. The new data found some generational differences in how we shop and celebrate. Specifically, adults under 30 - mostly millennials - are the only age group among all holiday shoppers with a clear preference for paying with plastic (laughter).

KELLY: Really, millennials are the only ones who like credit cards?

SELYUKH: No, they're not the...

KELLY: As a proud Gen Xer, I'm going to raise my eyebrows at that one. But go on.

SELYUKH: They're not the only ones who are preferring plastic over cash. They're the ones who prefer it more than all the other age groups. Millennials are also the only age group to strongly prefer the greeting happy holidays to Merry Christmas.

KELLY: As you were researching this, you went back and tried to find the roots of this whole millennials are killing fill in the blank. And you found it has roots in the Great Recession.

SELYUKH: It started with the Great Recession when millennials came of age to a market where people had a hard time finding jobs. Throw in trillion-ish dollars of student loan debt. That really changes how you think about your finances. I spoke to a number of millennials, and one of them was Parth Shah, who is 24 and lives in New York City.

PARTH SHAH: It's just not realistic anymore to expect homeownership if you basically have somewhat of a mortgage just in terms of student loans. You're already starting in the hole.

SELYUKH: More importantly, millennials are a huge group. We're talking pretty much everyone born in the '80s and most of the people born in the '90s. This is a group that is about to outnumber baby boomers as the largest living generation of adults, taking huge chunk of purchasing power in the U.S.

KELLY: And you've got some numbers from the Fed, actually, from a Fed study that backs up this theory.

SELYUKH: Exactly. The Federal Reserve studied all the age groups and their financial preferences. And what they found is that millennials actually have the same tastes as all our generations. They're just poorer. Millennials have, quote, "lower earnings, fewer assets and less wealth" than previous generations at their age.

KELLY: In the spirit of Christmas, Alina, and as we all seek peace on earth, is there anything you found that millennials and older generations do agree on?

SELYUKH: Right. In the NPR, "PBS NewsHour" and Marist poll, there were a number of items where all age groups agreed. And one of them was millennials are not alone in their penchant for fake trees. Millennials were the ones who said they were most likely to put up a Christmas tree, but all generations told the survey that they planned to deck the halls with artificial cheer/trees (laughter).

KELLY: NPR reporter and resident millennial Alina Selyukh - thanks, Alina.

SELYUKH: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.