Consumer Insights: ‘Moments of Truth: The New Millennial Adulthood’

by Berj Kazanjian, MTV Research

With Millennials delaying marriage and child-rearing, traditional rites of passage into adulthood no longer apply to young people today. MTV’s “Moments of Truth: The New Millennial Adulthood” delves into the uniquely Millennial attitudes that shape the ways in which they are redefining adulthood.  In this study, MTV explores the three major life milestones that Millennials most align with being an adult, as well as how these new notions of adulthood impact consumerism for this group.

Key Findings

Millennials correlate adulthood with three main life milestones – in order of significance: getting their first job, graduating college, and moving out/financial independence.

Getting their first job is the event that most Millennials correlate with adulthood. They have an optimistic outlook on success and value having fun in their jobs more than their parents or past generations. However, the primary driver is money and being independent.

  • 2 out of 3 college graduates have a full-time job.
  • 89% of Millennial workers say they want their workplace to be fun and social.
  • 64% say being financially independent is the best part of a full-time job.
  • 60% say they are in a better financial situation than most friends.

Graduating college. As the second most meaningful milestone, Millennials say graduation is a rite of passage to adulthood. More Millennial graduates feel like adults than Millennials as a whole. However, after all the time and money spent, college only partially prepared them for what lies ahead.

  • Those with college degrees are 157% more likely than non-college grads to say that the best part of having a full-time job is pursuing their passion.
  • 55% say that college prepared them for the job they want or have and 42% say it prepared them for the real world.

Moving out and financial independence. The third most cited event that defines adulthood is moving out and being financially independent. Over half of parents of Millennials don’t believe there’s a set age or event for moving out so Millennials feel they can rely on their parents until they are ready. Once moved out, Millennials feel it is important to personalize their living space.

  • 42% of Millennials live on their own, most with a roommate.
  • 1 in 3 move out to gain independence from their family.
  • 87% say they want a living space that reflects their personal style.
  • 71% prefer DIY projects to customize their living space.

Millennial notions of adulthood, especially given the importance of financial independence and the accompanying spending power, are impacting Millennial behaviors and attitudes toward shopping.

They prefer “Brick and Mortar.” The majority of Millennials shop in-store versus online because of the social aspect and the experience of shopping. They are spending more time shopping in stores than older generations.

  • 65% of their shopping is done in stores.
  • 87% would like to see the products in action.
  • 2 in 3 Millennials believe going to the mall (without parents) was a rite of passage.

They feel empowered when spending “their own money.” Millennials feel a special sense of empowerment in having and spending their own money.

  • 86% say when they shop they use their own money and 43% say when they shop they feel financially empowered.

If they want something, they’ll find a way to buy it. Even when they do not have the money to purchase what they want, Millennials are willing to do whatever it takes to get it, whether it’s saving up, borrowing from their parents, working another job or eating cereal and ramen for the next week.

  • 91% agree that if they want something, they’ll find a way to pay for it.
  • 53% often purchase more than they intended when shopping.

Brands matter. Millennials grew up as the generation that always thought they were special, different and unique – and they want brands to recognize this. The brands that they feel most connected to are the ones that, like themselves, are innovative and active in social media. Millennials appreciate brands that are creative in both their design and marketing approach.

  • Over half agree that brands appeal to them by making their life easier and valuing what they value.
  • 69% say that as they’ve gotten older, they’re more willing to buy higher quality brands.
  • 65% pay attention to ads.
  • 81% recommend brands to people by word of mouth.


  • In-store, retailers should create an engaging atmosphere (i.e. offer free WiFi, make the online and mobile experience like a shopping companion).
  • Tap into the sense of financial empowerment Millennials derive from shopping. Find a way to highlight the fact that these are new consumers that now have money (i.e. student ID discounts).
  • Retailers could benefit from implementing loyalty programs and encouraging higher savings as more is spent.
  • Quality is key, but better when affordable and packaged as young, cool and current. Luxury brands can create limited editions for less.

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