Millennials reportedly have less confidence in the future than their parents, but research shows that Gen X and baby boomers also stood out for their lack of confidence in the government when they were in the same 18-29 age bracket according to Samantha Smith at the Pew Research Center. Based on results from a survey conducted last fall, only 37% of millennials said they had “quite a lot of confidence” in the future of the United States, compared to 45% of Gen Xers, 49% of Boomers and 56% of the Silent Generation.

When the same survey was done in 1994, just 30% of Gen X respondents, who were then the same age as today's millennials, said they had confidence in the future of the nation, 7% less for the age group than modern 18-34 year olds. In 1975, 49% of the year's 18-29 year old cohort (today's boomers) reported confidence in the future of the U.S., still the lowest of the groups compared to 62% of Silents and 67% of the Greatest Generation.

This finding highlights one of the challenges of generational analysis, namely determining when differences among age cohorts are attributable to life stage rather than to a unique characteristic of a generation. Notably, on a different measure of expectations for the nation – one that compares the past to the future – Millennials are more optimistic than are older generations. In 2014, 49% of Millennials said the country’s best years were “ahead of us,” while 45% said they were “behind us.” Among older generations, somewhat more said the United States’ best years were behind than ahead. That question had not been asked previously, so it is not possible to determine if these views have changed over time.

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