Michael Barone

Unlike Tocqueville's Americans, and unlike the generations just before them, Millennials seem to be avoiding marriage, church and political affiliation, and to lack a sense of social trust. Only 19 percent say that generally speaking most people can be trusted, compared to 31 to 40 percent among older generations.

This is in line with Harvard political scientist Robert Putnam's thesis that social trust is declining in America. The Pew analysts speculate that this may result, as Putnam has uncomfortably concluded, from increasing racial diversity.

Nearly half, 43 percent, of Millennials are non-white -- about 20 percent Hispanic, 15 percent black and 8 percent Asian and other. Non-white percentages are much lower among the more trusting Boomers (28 percent) and Silents (21 percent).

Racial divisions are mirrored in political attitudes, with white Millennial souring on Obama and his party, Hispanics doing so to some extent (according to other surveys), but blacks remaining loyal.

So whom do Millennials trust? Their friends, those they are connected to in digital social networks. Some 81 percent of Millennials are on Facebook, with a median 250 friend count, and 55 percent have shared a selfie.

The picture we get from the Pew numbers is of a largely disconnected generation, in touch with self-selected peers and distrustful of others. They are more likely to be college-educated but also to be hobbled by college loan debt. They're not doing as well economically as their elders were at their age, but they're eerily optimistic about their economic future (only 14 percent think they won't earn enough to lead the life they want).

A Tocqueville arriving in 2030 will see whether these optimistic expectations are met, and whether the MIllennials' connections to marriage and parenthood, religion and political party were just delayed or never widely established.

He will see whether the absence of a universal popular culture, aimed at everyone, like America had from the 1920s to the 1980s, has caused atrophying social disconnectedness and trust, or whether the Millennials have managed somehow to turn current trends around. Good luck.


Michael Barone

Michael Barone, senior political analyst for The Washington Examiner (www.washingtonexaminer.com), is a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, a Fox News Channel contributor and a co-author of The Almanac of American Politics. To find out more about Michael Barone, and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com. COPYRIGHT 2011 THE WASHINGTON EXAMINER. DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS.COM

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