Toward discovering a national identity for millennials: Examining their personal value orientations for regional, institutional, and demographic similarities or variations

AuthorJessica McManus Warnell,Vanessa Hill,Jeffrey Loewenstein,James Weber,Dawn R. Elm,Patsy Lewellyn
Date01 September 2019
Published date01 September 2019
Bus Soc Rev. 2019;124:301–323.
Defined as individuals born between 1980 and 2000, the millennial generation is the largest in U.S.
history, surpassing the population of the baby boomers (born between 1946 and 1964) by four mil-
lion and accounting for more than 83 million workers according to 2015 U.S. Census data. In 2016,
DOI: 10.1111/basr.12177
Toward discovering a national identity for
millennials: Examining their personal value
orientations for regional, institutional, and
demographic similarities or variations
Dawn R.Elm4
Jessica McManusWarnell6
© 2019 W. Michael Hoffman Center for Business Ethics at Bentley University. Published by Wiley Periodicals, Inc., 350 Main Street, Malden,
MA 02148, USA, and 9600 Garsington Road, Oxford OX4 2DQ, UK.
1Department of Management,Duquesne
University, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
2Department of Business
Administration,University of Illinois,
Champaign, Illinois
3Department of Accounting,University
of South Carolina Aiken, Aiken, South
4Department of Ethics and Business
Law,University of St. Thomas,
Minneapolis, Minnesota
5Department of Management,University of
Louisiana – Lafayette, Lafayette, Louisiana
6Department of Management and
Organizations,University of Notre Dame,
South Bend, Indiana
James Weber, Duquesne University,
Rockwell Hall, 600 Forbes Avenue,
Pittsburgh, PA 15282.
Millennials are a powerful workforce group and are quickly
becoming established business leaders, consumers, and in-
vestors. Yet, millennials are often described as a uniformly
homogeneous generation, despite mounting evidence of
variances across their private and workplace behaviors, at-
titudes and preferences, and personal values. This article
examines the personal value orientations of millennials in
the Unites States, reporting consistencies, variations, and
contrasts based on a large sample drawn from seven diverse
universities. Results of this article suggest more similarities
across a national population of millennials than differences,
suggesting a national identity among American millennials.
Practical implications of our findings and future research
are discussed.
WEBER Et al.
millennials became the largest generation in the U.S. labor force. In order to understand if there is a
common national identity of the U.S. millennial generation, we posit that it would be useful to con-
sider consistencies, variations, and contrasts in their values based on a national sampling.
The millennial population is often described as a uniformly homogeneous generation (see Deal
& Levenson, 2016) despite mounting evidence of variances across their private and workplace be-
haviors, attitudes and preferences, and personal values (Costanza, Badger, Fraser, Severt, & Gade,
2012; Parry & Urwin, 2011). Earlier investigations reported that millennials were interested in so-
cial and sustainability issues and connecting or interacting with others (Murphy, Mujtaba, Manyakb,
Sungkhawanc, & Greenwood, 2010). Yet, Weber (2017) and Weber and Urick (2017), using different
populations of millennials from the United States, found that the subjects tended to exhibit a stronger
orientation toward self‐interested or personal, rather than social values. Moreover, millennials seemed
more interested in values that supported their interests in being competent, successful, or productive
in the workplace, rather than values oriented toward ethical or moral values, a concern for others, or a
social focus. These conflicting findings raise the question of a consistent national identity across this
generation. When Deal, Altman, and Rogelberg (2010) set out to explore millennials at work, they
began with the assumption that “the relatively sparse empirical research published on millennials is
confusing at best and contradictory at worst” (p. 191). While there has been an increase in millen-
nial research published in recent years, it appears as conclusions drawn from this work are no less
This article will review generational research and values theory as foundations for our investigation
of research questions to guide us in our search for a national millennials identity. Specifically, we will
explore if personal value orientations (PVOs) are consistent among millennials in the United States,
despite regional, institutional, and demographic differences.
Who are millennials, as a generation, and does this generation have a single identity? Sociologist
Karl Mannheim (1970) is widely credited with introducing the “generation” concept as a variable for
systematic study. He described members of a generation as people who share a common perspective
because of common experiences of significant events occurring during their formative years (Kertzer,
1983). Yet, there is disagreement regarding the definition and subsequent operationalization of the
construct, resulting in significant obstacles in the study of generations and generational differences
(Macky, Gardner, & Forsyth, 2008).
Previous organizational research has pointed out the inconsistency in categorization of generations
identifying multiple generations in the twentieth century using different ranges in their review of gen-
erational research: World War II (1909–1933); Swingers (1934–1945); Matures (before 1940); Baby
Boomers (1946–1960, but as late as 1964); Generation X (as early as 1961, and ending in 1975, 1980,
1981, or 1982); and finally Millennials (1979–1994) (Smola & Sutton, 2002, pp. 364–365.) The in-
ability to agree on consistent ranges for generational cohorts makes replicating studies to differentiate
the impacts of various generations difficult.
Researchers cite further problems with interpreting the results of generational research due to the
difficulty in distinguishing generational effects from age, life stage, and historical period (Lyons,
Duxbury, & Higgins, 2007). Macky and his colleagues (2008) note that that even if there is agreement
on the membership of a generational group it is not clear that all members of that generation will ex-
perience the same significant cultural and/or economic events in the same way due to differences in
social class, gender, ethnicity, or national culture. Furthermore, the authors point out that differences

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