Perhaps most striking, only about one-third of Americans ages 18 to 29 say starting their own businesses is "one of the most important" or "very important" in their work life. Far more, 53 percent, say simply having a stable job is a very important goal, even if it is less exciting. And still more say achieving success in a high-paying career is important or having a job that benefits society is important to them. Having enough time to spend with family and friends tops the list of qualities with 85 percent saying it is very important.
Younger Americans also prefer a more traditional work arrangement. Half of say they'd rather to work for a business, compared with 22 percent seeking non-profit work and 17 percent eyeing government employment. And among those aiming for company work, over half say they prefer joining an established company (54 percent) over a younger company (16 percent) or starting their own business (29 percent).
Millennials' desire for more stable jobs aligns with significant challenges they've faced early in their careers. The unemployment rate among 18 to 34 year-olds grew to over 12 percent in 2010, leading many to delay living independently or get married. While they are the best educated generation, many are yoked to significant college debt perhaps deterring future financial risks.
“As much as the older Millennials came of age in the aftermath of 9/11, Hurricane Katrina, and the global war on terror, the younger Millennials —those represented in this survey — came of age in a time of deep economic unrest" according to John Della Volpe, director of the Harvard IOP polling project. "The early part of their adult lives were forged by the Great Recession and therefore when it comes to work, values such as stability, opportunity to make an impact and the ability to remain connected to friends and family are critically important."
The relatively low ambitions to start a new business follow a significant drop in entrepreneurial activity among younger Americans since 2011, according to an analysis of federal data by the non-partisan Kauffman Foundation earlier this year. Economic hardships are the biggest likely culprit, overriding other factors such as higher education which give Millennials advantages in starting businesses. .
The Harvard poll finds wide demographic differences in hopes to start a business. Fully half of African Americans and 43 percent of Hispanics say starting their own business is important to them, compared with 24 percent of whites. Historical data show Hispanics are have been more apt to start new businesses each month followed by whites and African Americans.
Uninspired by emerging technologies, tech CEOs
Millennials don't appear to be gaining much inspiration from futuristic technologies or high-profile entrepreneurs of the past decade.
The survey asked young Americans whether they are excited about four emerging technologies - driver-less cars, virtual reality, personal space travel and delivery of products by drones. But a 35 percent plurality said "none of these" excites them. Driver-less cars narrowly edges others with 23 percent being most excited, while virtual reality and personal space travel fall behind and 10 percent are excited by delivery of products by drones.
When asked which entrepreneur they admire most - SpaceX founder Elon Musk, Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg, the late Apple co-founder Steve Jobs or real-estate magnate and presidential candidate Donald Trump, a 41 percent plurality choose "none of these." Jobs tops the rest with 27 percent admiring him most, while just over 1 in 10 select Musk and Zuckerberg and 7 percent choose Trump.
Young Americans also report a similar level of concern about tech companies monitoring their computers as the federal government. The poll found 65 percent saying they are "very" or "somewhat" concerned about technology companies collecting digital information from their computers or phones, similar to 63 percent who expressed concern about government monitoring. Fewer than 3 in 10, however, say they are "very concerned" about each.
Whatever those concerns, millennials also are of two minds on the value of government regulations. Asked to pick between two alternatives, 49 percent said strong government regulations are needed on things like food and medicine to keep the public safe, while 47 percent said such rules do more harm than good by slowing technological development and medical advances.
Just like their elders, partisan divisions abound on government regulation - over 6 in 10 Democrats say strong government regulations are needed, while over 6 in 10 Republicans say they do more harm than good.
The Washington Post and 1776 collaborated with the Harvard University Institute of Politics on a number of questions asked of 18-29 year-old Americans, members of the “Millennial Generation,” with results featured in the Washington Post-1776 Millennial entrepreneurship event. A much larger update to Harvard's biannual study of the political views of younger Americans will be publicly released on December 10, 2015.
The survey was conducted Oct. 30-Nov. 9, 2015 among a national sample of 2,011 adults ages 18-29 conducted online using the probability-based GfK online panel. The margin of sampling error for overall results is plus or minus 2.6 percentage points. Additional details about methodology of GfK's Knowledge Panel is available here.