Conventional wisdom is that young adults are not that connected to their communities. They increasingly lead virtual lives, and real life neighbors and places don't matter as much. Right?
Not so fast. As I have tweeted, there are some trends and data that indicate that young adults may desire real-life community connections as much as any other generation. But how they are going about it appears to be causing some generational tensions.
First, let's go to the data. In my fall 2016 survey of the broader population, I asked respondents about their connection to their community, community attributes they valued, and museum-going patterns.
In terms of connection to community, my data is similar to what the Pew Research Center has found in their civic engagement work. Young adults don't feel as connected to their communities as older ones. But this makes sense. Young adulthood is a time of mobility and transition for many. If you haven't lived long in your local community, you probably wouldn't feel that connected either. Those deep roots simply haven't established yet. Parenthood seems to be a key driver for many to develop roots, but young adults are continuing to put off family formation. That could, theoretically, entail a further slowdown in a feeling of connection.
But that doesn't necessarily mean that young adults (with or without children) don't care about their community. While their connection may be weaker than older individuals (who have likely lived there longer), they appear to want more from their communities. Compared with adults 55 and older, young adults under 35 are about 50% more likely to want access to parks, interesting foods/markets/restaurants, and to live in a diverse neighborhood.
And, likely most important for us, they are also about 50% more likely than older respondents to want and value museums and libraries in their community. In fact, young adults 18 to 24 were the most likely of any age to value local museums and libraries. Yes, you read that right. Additionally, adults 25 - 34 were the age segment that visit museums the most, while adults 55 and older were the least likely to have visited a museum at all in the previous year.
Backing up to community, my data, and evidence in the work of others, what I am seeing is that young adults do value their communities just as much as any other age group … but there is a major shift in how they go about connecting with that community. A shift away from more formal forms of engagement (such as the Masons or Elks) and towards more informal connection (such as the informal sharing economy (via community pages such as Nextdoor or on Facebook) and particularly through anything food-related). These shifts may be causing some generational tensions, as different generations simply don't see what the other is doing. Additionally, some national surveys appear to have not caught up with newer forms of community engagement, making young adults appear less engaged (something I'm giving a great deal of thought to in my work).
Fortunately, the data shows that museums are an important part of community for many young adults. For now. If they are relevant. And that's a very different question, isn't it?
More to come...
Source: Wilkening Consulting fall survey of broader population, n = 1,687 American adults (1,289 completes, 398 partials)
The questions for this survey have been inspired by ongoing conversations within the museum field (who goes to museums, why they visit, and what that means for communities) and ongoing research in the fields of education and psychology around lifelong learning and intrinsic motivation.
I respectfully acknowledge that I live and work on the traditional lands of the Duwamish people. I thank them for the care of this land, and I endeavor to help museums bring forward a more complete and inclusive history and culture in their work.