Are millennials different?

The case to be made for the contrast in millennials' behavior vs. that of like-aged prior generational cohorts centers on two areas. One is that circumstances today are different. The other is that the tools--financial, technological, social--that today's young adults manage those circumstances are largely different.

So, we have a "then" 30-year-old, in 1975, and we have a "now" 30-year-old, some 40 years later.

Take a look at how the Census compares and contrasts the two vintages:

Source: U.S. Census Bureau, Current Population Survey, Annual Social and Economic Supplement, 1975 and 2015
Source: U.S. Census Bureau, Current Population Survey, Annual Social and Economic Supplement, 1975 and 2015

Nine of every ten 30-year-olds lived on his or her own in 1975, and today that number is just seven of ten. Almost nine out of ten were married; today that number is less than 60%.

So, yes, millennials are different in their behavior, in large part because behavior itself has changed as the resources, the tools, the adaptations to conditions and circumstances, and the ability to look at and decide on options have all changed. Society has taught millennials evaluative skills, given them algorithms, shown them the leverage that being a moving-target customer offers.

But are their values different? Do they believe in and prefer anything fundamentally different when it comes down to safety, trust, shelter, livability, etc.?

We can say with certainty, probably not. But we don't know for sure, yet. We may only know the answer to that in five years--as college debt loads begin to lighten and biological clocks kick into hormonal high-gear, triggering families.

Meanwhile, the 30-year-old now, is quite different from the 30-year-old then, based on circumstances, choices, what he or she has, what he or she doesn't have. It amounts to a different mentality when it comes to caring about something or not.

For 30-year-olds now, and for 30-year-olds then, however, owning a home is part painkiller and part vitamin. Perhaps, it's the balance that is different now, because "painkillers" are what seem to be the moonshot new products of the moment among 30-year-olds of 2016.