Millennials Insight


Karen Wagg, Financial Services

What does the World Economic Forum’s Global Shapers Survey Tell Us?

Millennials Insight

More than 50% of the world’s population are under the age of 30. Certainly, in the developed world this simple yet indisputable fact is obscured by a general preoccupation with the economic and political power of the aging baby boomers.

But as dominant as the baby boomers may be by sheer volume alone the millennials are shaping up to make their presence felt. If you want to better understand what that weight will look like then the World Economic Forum’s (WEFs) annual survey of young people around the world aged 18 to 35 – the 2017 Global Shapers Survey – is now available to read

So what does it tell us?

What is notable when reading the report is that of the 31,495 18 to 35-year olds from 186 different countries who responded to the WEFs survey there are a number of unifying factors that age, gender and nationality seem to have little impact upon. Factors that leaders in business and politics would be wise to take note of.

For leaders the first noteworthy point is that the number one concern uniting Millennials is climate change. 49% of respondents ranked “climate change/destruction of nature” as the most serious issue affecting the world today. This concern was reflected elsewhere in the survey.

For instance, when asked how they decide whether a company is responsible or not 60% said “sustainability/social responsibility”. Businesses and politicians looking to connect with millennials will need to have more than rhetoric to back them up and this also suggests that ESG will continue to have growing relevance for investment too.

If you are reading this and thinking about the idealism of youth it is perhaps worth noting that 47% consider “honesty, integrity and humility” as being the most important characteristics in a leader and that 78% said that they were willing to “change their lifestyle to protect nature and the environment”.

Second point of note for leaders is equality, or rather inequality. Millennials are keen to see the end of inequality. When asked to define inequality it was ranked as follows:


When asked, “What type of inequality was causing the most harm?” income ranked highest at 30%, followed by access to resources (20%), race (16%), gender (12%) and religion (9%). In Europe and Northern America income inequality was ranked highest as an issue.

This is perhaps unsurprising when you consider wealth distribution globally, but in particular in Europe and North America. Looking at the UK for a moment, the economic differences between 18-year olds starting out in work today and how it was for baby boomers starting out in the work-force are striking.

Baby boomers may have been more likely to leave education at 15 years and less likely to progress to higher education than millennials, but they were far less likely to start their working lives in debt. Baby boomers were arguably the first generation of home owners in Britain, something that their grandchildren are increasingly coming to view as aspirational.

The disparity between the top 1% of the world’s wealthiest, relative to the rest of society has never been greater, outstripping even the Victorians and the pay of chief executives relative to their workers is also at record multiples.  

What this means for leaders is that issues of income inequality are likely to become more, rather than less pressing. Something that the conservative party may well be realising as it analyses the surprising resonance with young voters of the Corbyn led Labour party at the last general election.

Whilst at Board room level an expectation that shareholder and public pressure on executive pay is unlikely to go away and more engaging shareholder and public communication around this issue may be worth considering.

The third and perhaps most interesting point of note is that millennials look to be the first citizens of the world. When asked, “As far as your identity is concerned, what defines you most is…” the answer was loud and clear:

  • "I am human" - 41%
  • "I am a citizen of the world" - 19%
  • Nationality - 13%

This was particularly interesting when translated into expectations for their careers and views on refugees; 81% of those surveyed would be happy to work in another country if it advanced their career and 73% would welcome refugees to their country.

Again, these values are at odds with those expressed by the growing political isolationist movements, for example as expressed by Brexit and Trump in the US and UK respectively.

As politicians seek to represent more isolationist and ‘populist’ views will they be doing so at the expense of their relationships with new voters? And can employers access and mobilise this willing global workforce to their and their employee’s mutual benefit?


The Global Shapers Survey also has points of interest for communications professionals. Texting and messaging is by far the most popular means of communication (39%), however it is swiftly followed by in-person (25%) and social networking (23%).

This suggests that this age group, whilst technically savvy, is still aware of the value of face to face communication. It also suggests a generation who prefer “get to the point” communications – texting and messaging encourage short-hand and snappy dialogue in a way that phone scripts and letters do not.

Respondents views of social media was also interesting and suggested that Facebook has some way to go before it can replace more traditional media channels as anything more than a sharing tool.

When asked if they “trust the news I see on social media” just 1.3% strongly agreed, compared to 37% who somewhat or strongly disagreed. Further good news for media outlets came in the form of the answer to “What makes content trustworthy on the internet?”


Highlighting that the power of brand remains undiminished, particularly for news outlets. 

In summary

So, in summary what does the World Economic Forum’s report on young people around the world tell us, particularly now that it is in its 3rd year?

It tells us that millennials are beginning to wake up to the power that they have as a group, not just as individuals and it tells us that they view personal reward as both a financial and socially responsible pay-off.

It tells us that the first generation to grow up in a technologically savvy world, where the computer and internet is king, see the benefits in technology more than they do the drawbacks. Millennials see how technology has shaped the way that they connect with their peers and the world at large yet they continue to value personal interaction.

It suggests that for Boardrooms and political parties accountability to society and shareholders/party voters is a growing theme rather than a flash in the pan. 

Finally, it tells us that in considering themselves humans and citizens of the world first and second, and members of their home nation third, there is a fundamental shift in the way the next dominant generation considers themselves and others.