New research from London-based fragrance firm Molton Brown blows apart clichéd depictions of Millennials as lazy, entitled, politically naïve social media addicts, with few interests beyond eating avocado toast and posting selfies to fuel their desperate need for validation. The results show that Millennials are not only more attuned to the structural disadvantages and inequality faced by women and minorities than older generations, they are also twice as likely to speak out against societal injustices and notably more optimistic about the prospect of erasing them.

Seventy-eight percent believe women face significant structural disadvantages in society (vs. 53 percent over 35s); 63 percent were aware of gender bias by the time they were 16 years old (vs. 35 percent over 35s); and 53 percent have been inspired by recent cultural movements such as #MeToo and #GenderPayGap to speak out against gender inequality (vs. 27 percent over 35s).

Social media: A force for good

While news stories tend to focus on the negative side of social media, Millennials recognize its value as a platform to champion diversity and give a voice to those who have traditionally been marginalized and silenced:

  • 75 percent think social media is broadening people’s views on gender identity (vs. 42 percent over 35s)
  • 71 percent believe it fosters inclusivity by giving a voice to the disenfranchised (vs 41 percent over 35s)
  • 69 percent think it has been instrumental in advancing gender equality (vs. 43 percent over 35s)
  • 61 percent believe it is a force for good, despite its negative aspects (vs. 39 percent over 35s)

Moreover, Millennials attribute social media with uniting socially conscious thinkers and driving awareness of gender inequality and female harassment:

  • 64 percent say social media has helped them to connect with like-minded individuals they would otherwise not have met (vs 23 percent over 35s)
  • 68 percent say it exposes them to views, ideas and issues they would otherwise not be aware of (vs. 38 percent over 35s)
  • 74 percent say social movements have opened their eyes to female harassment (vs. 52 percent over 35s)

This has, in turn, sparked a new wave of activism amongst young people:

  • 72 percent say social media has inspired them to actively support important cultural movements and worthwhile causes (vs. 32 percent over 35s)
  • 64 percent think such social movements have fostered a greater sense of female solidarity (vs. 42 percent over 35s)

“Molton Brown’s new research shows how Millennials’ natural affinity for social media is enabling them to cultivate a safe space for people to share their lived experience and educate those whose path is different,” said writer and activist Sinéad Burke, according to a news release. “It makes perfect sense that the resulting upswing in awareness and activism is fueling a more positive and proactive approach to gender equality than older generations.”

Millennials are by no means blind to the negative impact social media can have on young people’s confidence:

  • 72 percent admit idealized images sometimes make them feel inadequate (vs. 25 percent over 35s)
  • 69 percent feel pressure to project a certain image on social media (vs. 23 percent over 35s)
  • 62 percent have edited images of themselves to look more attractive (vs. 16 percent over 35s)

However, they also appreciate its potential as an empowering space for people to express themselves freely:

  • 63 percent see it as a platform to showcase their individuality (vs. 27 percent over 35s)
  • 59 percent say their confidence is boosted by the responses they get on social media (vs. 23 percent over 35s)

Icons of empowerment—the Obama / Meghan Effect

When asked which well-known female most embodies the idea of embracing one’s individuality, three of the top five Millennial choices were over 50 years old, suggesting that despite the popularity of YouTube bloggers and reality TV show contestants, Millennials admire the self-possession that comes with experience. For those over 35, Emma Watson was the only selection under 50, but the results clearly indicate a common admiration for bold thinkers with a reputation for confident self-expression and a determination to champion causes they are passionate about.

Millennials’ top 5 women who embrace their individuality:
1. Michelle Obama
= 2. Ellen De Generes
= 2. Beyoncé
4. Emma Watson
5. Oprah Winfrey

Over 35s’ top 5 women who embrace their individuality:
1. Helen Mirren
2. Michelle Obama
3. Oprah Winfrey
4. Madonna
5. Emma Watson

When asked which well-known male is a champion for female empowerment, Barack Obama exceeded his wife’s performance by topping the poll not just for Millennials but every age group—a seemingly nostalgic endorsement of the former President’s progressive attitude to women’s rights. Elsewhere, the consistently strong endorsement of Princes Harry and William pointedly counters Republican accusations of Royal misogyny—the Meghan effect in action.

Millennials’ top 5 men who champion female empowerment:
1. Barack Obama
2. David Arquette
3. Prince Harry
4. Prince William
5. Joseph Gordon Levitt

Over 35s’ top 5 men who champion female empowerment:
1. Barack Obama
2. Prince Harry
3. Prince William
4. David Beckham
5. Ewan McGregor

Millennials lead the fight for female empowerment, thanks to social media 

Research was conducted on 2,000 UK adults aged 18-65+, including 1,000 men and 1,000 women.

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