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The US won’t reach Peak Millennial until 2036

The millennials are just going to keep marching on.
Libby Nelson is Vox's policy editor, leading coverage of how government action and inaction shape American life. Libby has more than a decade of policy journalism experience, including at Inside Higher Ed and Politico. She joined Vox in 2014.

Beware, baby boomers: Millennials now outnumber you, and the numbers are only going to get more lopsided.

The Pew Research Center released a new chart on Tuesday showing that there are now more living millennials, which it defines as Americans born between 1981 and 1997, than there are living baby boomers, who used to be the biggest generation in American history.

This was inevitable: Part of the story of generational change is that older generations die off and are replaced by their children and grandchildren.

Even though new millennials aren't being born in the US anymore — kids born after 1997 are part of a still-nameless new generation — the ranks of millennials are going to continue to grow for years through immigration.

People born between 1981 and 1997 are going to keep immigrating to the US in the coming years, and death rates won't outpace immigration rates until 2036, when the oldest millennials are in their 50s. That means millennial dominance could last a long time.

Thinking of those new immigrants as part of the "millennial generation," though, mostly demonstrates how the concept of a "generation" is flawed to begin with. It assumes that people born around the same time share a variety of traits and values — even though the sample size those assumptions are based on is often much smaller than the entire age cohort.

As Derek Thompson recently wrote at the Atlantic, the "average" 29-year-old looks a lot different than the media portrayal of "millennials":

The average 29-year-old did not graduate from a four-year university, but she did start college; held several jobs, including more than two in the last three years; is not as likely to be married as her parents at this age, but is still likely to be living with somebody; is less likely to own a home than 15 years ago, but despite the story of urban renewal, is more likely to live outside of a dense urban area like Brooklyn or Washington, D.C.

And that's doubly true when "millennials," by 2036, will include millions of immigrants who didn't even spend their formative years in the US — and so aren't part of the usual nostalgia-industrial complex of pop culture references used to define "millennials" on the internet. What will it mean when millennials run the world? We don't even know who all of the future millennials are yet.

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