Our latest research into environmental, social, and governance (ESG) factors is really quite different from what I’ve read before and provides genuine insight into the views of different generations. I think most people expected a regurgitation of the usual stereotypes: that Baby Boomers are more interested in themselves, millennials are activists, and Generation X is somewhere in between.
But the results came as a surprise. Rather worryingly, my generation and gender (millennial males) look particularly bad in this research. Only 43% of millennial men would invest less, or not at all, if they knew their pension was invested in companies that have attracted criticism for their governance and pay practices, compared with 52% of millennial females, and 59% of Baby Boomer and ‘Gen X’ males. The difference between millennial men and women from the two generations above is even starker.
I was left pondering a simple question – why? Why, when my generation is often reported as the one that cares, is this research telling us something quite different?
Man in the mirror
One of the key points this research underlined was that a generation’s views are often shaped by their experiences. You only have to look at the use of technology to see this. Millennials and Generation Z have grown up with the internet, smartphones and social media. I still remember my first experience of a dial-up connection, thinking how amazing it was (until my mum needed to use the phone!) but now we have something 100 times faster than that in the palm of our hands.
In the same vein, millennials are likely to be impacted most by the climate change crisis and have a real desire to do something about it. As one younger female respondent in our survey put it:
The experiences these generations have had while still relatively young – of the Australian bush fires and Amazon burning, of melting ice caps and bleached coral reefs – have left them fearful for the future of the planet and aware that there is a lot to change.
Living in a material world
So far, the financial experiences of millennials in adulthood and the workforce have been influenced by two significant periods: the tech bubble of 2000 and the credit crunch of 2008. Now we have the COVID-19 crisis to deal with. In between, my generation has been trying to build a life – buying homes in an over-inflated housing market from which primarily older generations have benefitted, and having to deal with reduced social benefits. Like me, many of my peers will have young families and may even be caring for older parents, so financial security is of paramount importance.
Turning back to the supposedly ‘selfish’ view of the millennial males in this survey, then, what did everyone expect? Is it really so surprising that, influenced by the experiences above, this group needs the money that they are working hard to save to work hard for them? With virtually no defined-benefit pension to rely on and precious few other savings, their defined-contribution pension pot will be one of their largest assets in the future.
The key here is that the long-term aspiration towards a more sustainable world, and the shorter-term strain of working hard and saving hard, needn’t be mutually exclusive. The role, or rather responsibility, of the pensions industry has to be to deliver positive social change and environmental action by influencing companies to do better through real impactful engagement, as well as seeking out opportunities from investments that will benefit from the changing economy.
We believe that by doing these two things, not just millennial men, but all of society will benefit over the long term from social and economic prosperity within a sustainable world.
 Quantitative research was conducted with the help of Watermelon Research on 29 October 2019. Qualitative research was undertaken on 27 September 2019 with the help of Strictly Financial Ltd.