Why it pays to understand Millennial parents

Nielsen research outlines what matters most and why for content producers and creators when it comes to catering to the newest generation of moms and dads.
February 8, 2017

By Kristen McLean, director of New Business Development at Nielsen Book, a part of Nielsen Entertainment 

Like everyone, I’m sure you have heard the clichés about Millennials—they are a shallow, self-obsessed, entitled, mostly unemployed generation, and way too hip for their own good. But in reality, Millennials are a much more interesting, diverse and pro-social group than they get credit for. And it turns out, their unique generational values have the potential to make them fantastic parents—willing to invest more mindfully, and more resourcefully, in their children than any generation before them.

Overcoming these stereotypes and understanding how Millennials approach parenting is Mission Critical for anyone who wants to develop successful content in today’s marketplace. Do you truly understand the Millennial mindset?

Who are Millennials?

There are roughly 77 million Millennials ages 18 to 36 in the US, comprising about 24% of the US population. On the whole, Millennials are much less likely to be married than previous generations—only 21% of them have tied the knot, compared with the 42% of Baby Boomers who were married by the same age. However, this reluctance to marry doesn’t carry over to having kids, as we’ll see below.

Perhaps the most important adjective to use for Millennials is diverse—economically, culturally, and in terms of what stage of growing up they are in. This is perhaps the most important key to understanding and creating successful content for Millennial families.

In order to understand Millennials as parents, you need to think about just how much can happen between the ages of 18 and 36. While nearly 98% of Millennial 18-year-olds are still dependent, their peers at 26 to 27 are split nearly evenly between being dependent and on their own. On the upper end, nearly 90% of 34-year-olds live in their own homes, and three out of five have children.

Kids are also important to Millennials. While just 21% of US Millennials are married by age 36, there is little evidence that they are putting off having children. According to recent Gallup report Millennials, Marriage and Family, roughly 56% have children, and that percentage rises to 83% by age 34, whether or not they are married.

The Millennial generation is not a monolith—think in a more nuanced way about who they really are. There is good evidence that they are a very positive and influential parental block—but they think differently about social norms, and have made different choices than previous generations. For content providers, the key question then becomes: How will we reflect these shifting family values in the content we create for Millennials and their kids?

Delivering diversity

“Multicultural” is no longer a special interest category. Today’s US Millennials are more ethnically and racially diverse than any previous generation—roughly 44% of them are non-white—including 19% Hispanic, 14% African American and 5% Asian populations.

And this growth in diversity is only accelerating as more and more of them start their own families. By 2050, Nielsen expects the Hispanic and Asian populations to grow by 167% and 142%, respectively. This means that Generation Next—the children of the Millennials—are already 50/50 white and non-white.

It’s not surprising, then, that the majority of Millennials (71%) say they appreciate the influence of other cultures on the American way of life, compared with 62% of Baby Boomers. Millennials and their children want to see relevant and organic depictions of their lives in the content and products they consume—which represents a big opportunity for content creators and providers to deliver.

Millennial parents will pay more when it counts

While Millennials have an expansive world-view, they have come of age in difficult financial times, and they are still in transition economically. This paycheck pressure, along with their access to technology, makes them price-conscious and savvy when it comes to shopping.

While Millennials may not be clipping coupons from the Sunday paper in the way that their parents do, they’re still focused on shopping deals. Deals account for 31% of their shopping dollars. Additionally, the top 20 apps used by Millennials are either retail- or discount-focused, with Amazon Mobile topping the charts.

That said, Millennials will spend money on what matters to them, especially when it comes to their children, taking a quality over quantity approach to their shopping decisions.

For instance, Millennials outspend Gen-X parents on child-friendly products like high-quality baby food and cereals, but under spend them on splurge categories like ice cream, and personal items such as vitamins.

And those household spending trends are driving significant growth: organic baby food spending is projected to hit US$783.9 million in 2017—up from US$613 million in 2013. We see similar growth in other high-quality, high-value family categories like board books, board games and classic toys.

Millennials are particularly responsive to messages that connect with their values. They are 14% more likely than Boomers to pay a premium for an innovative new product (48% vs. 34%) and 22% more willing than their older counterparts to pay extra for sustainable brands (73% vs. 51%). Additionally, Millennials are 39% more likely than Boomers to “check the packaging labels to ensure positive social/environmental impact” (51% vs. 12%).

More than any other generation before them, Millennials want to know how things are made, where they come from, and who made them. They are cost-conscious, savvy consumers. This is especially true when it comes to products for their children. They expect product information to be easy to find, and they will be very vocal when they feel brands aren’t being genuine or transparent. Connecting with Millennials is all about keeping it real and demonstrating that you understand what is important to them.

Technology and Millennial parents

Technology is part of the Millennial identity as a generation. They’re the first to come of age with cable TV, the internet and cell phones. While there is some truth to the idea that Millennials can’t be separated from their devices, the reality is much more nuanced. Millennials and their children use technology in the service of “making their lives better”—for smarter shopping, staying connected to friends and family, and exploring their interests. They want what they want, when they want it, delivered how they want it, depending on what makes sense in their lives.

Unsurprisingly, Millennials are particularly good at adopting new forms of traditional media. For instance, they are strong magazine readers—even stronger than Boomers. They’re more likely than their older counterparts to read women’s, music, technology and parenting magazines. They still strongly prefer print magazines, although they will consume digital magazine content when it is woven into their daily lives.

TV content follows a similar trend. Over 40% of US Millennials use a TV-connected device (other than a DVR) when they turn on the TV set. They are consuming traditional content, but in a way that they can customize. This is true of their kids, too. More than 43% of people ages two to 34 use a TV-connected device on any given day when they turn on the TV, and 12% to 14% solely use a TV-connected device on an average day.
The future of technology for Millennials and their kids is more connected, personalized and customizable—it’s about omnivorous patterns of consumption, with a mix of new and traditional forms of media, rather than technology for technology’s sake.


Forget the clichés. Millennials are an interesting, diverse and pro-social generation that has the potential to upend many of our traditional approaches to content, marketing and monetization. At the same time, traditional values are very important to them, with their children and family at the center.

By digging into what really matters to Millennial parents, it’s possible to develop a valuable long-term relationship with them and their children. The key is taking the time to really get to know them—and it looks like they will keep on surprising us for years to come.

McLean oversees the Children’s and Christian verticals at Nielsen, including consumer research, primary analysis, key client management and events. Find out more at

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