Millennials and Parenting: New Approaches in the Digital Age

Flickr_Michael Coghlan

The Millennial generation has delayed such traditional milestones as getting married and having children. Yet over the last decade, more than 20 million Millennials have become parents. And in the coming 10 to 15 years, tens of millions more will join them, leading to perhaps the biggest parenting generation in US history.

Soon to become the largest cohort of adults in the United States, the 80 million Millennials have been shaped by an array of forces — including the digital age, the lingering recession, and the unemployment of their teens or early adulthood — that earlier generations did not experience.

As a result, they have different priorities, lifestyles, and shopping behavior from both Generation X and boomers. And due to these differences, Millennials — who already account for $1.4 trillion in spending and are poised to become the most active spenders of the first half of the 21st century — will likely approach parenting differently as well.


  • More than 20 million Millennials already have children, and the Millennial generation is poised to become perhaps the largest parent cohort ever.
  • For many Millennials, the parenting paradigm has shifted from one parent taking most of the responsibility to a parenting partnership.
  • Digital technologies (smartphones, apps, social networks) have become valuable parenting tools for Gen Y.


Millennials of all ages have begun having children. According to the 2012 US census, 46 percent of women between ages 18 and 34 were mothers. That adds up to 16.2 million mothers and about 30 million parents of both genders.14 In addition, more and more Millennials are becoming parents every day. Gen Y now accounts for over 80 percent of US births, meaning that nearly 10,000 Millennial mothers give birth each day.

  • Parenting matters more than marriage to Millennials: Many Millennials under age 30 have delayed parenthood (compared to previous generations). Some wanted to wait to have children until they had finished school and/or established a career. Others wanted to wait until they had enough financial security to afford children. Still others may have boomeranged back to their own parents’ home and delayed parenting until establishing more independence. Regardless of the individual reasons, the birthrate has fallen among younger adults. In 2010, just 36 percent of adult women under 30 (all Millennials) had ever had a child — down from 41 percent of Gen Xers in 1998.
  • Division of labor through team parenting: Despite the rise of single-parent households in the late 20th and early 21st centuries, the majority of Millennial households with children involve two parents, whether married or not. Yet even in those households that adhere to the conventional family makeup — two parents and one or more children — the paradigm of parenting is shifting. Gen Y is, for example, much less likely than older generations to observe rigid conventions regarding the roles of mothers and fathers within the family and the household. According to the Families and Work Institute, just 42 percent of men today believe that men and women should subscribe to traditional parenting roles — a far smaller share than the 74 percent of men who believed this in 1977. In addition, mothers are now the primary breadwinners in 40 percent of US families.
  • Relying on digital and mobile devices: Despite the dramatic changes brought on by parenthood, Millennials remain the same in one respect. They still rely more heavily than other generations on digital technology and social media. The vast majority of Gen Y parents have laptops (83%), smartphones (81%), and streaming video subscriptions (53%). And they use them regularly: Gen Y mothers devote an average of 8.3 hours per day to screen time — an hour more every day than Gen X mothers.


Although Gen Y parents rely heavily on social media, many have become more cautious since becoming parents. Four of five Millennial mothers go beyond Facebook’s default privacy settings, and three of five turn off location services for photos and/ or social media sites.Social media continues to play a big part in the lives of Millennials after they become parents. Millennials use social media to share photos, videos, parenting ideas, and parenting tips. And Gen Y mothers are twice as likely as Gen X mothers to use social networks to send e-vites to their children’s birthday parties—and 21% less likely to send a written thank-you note.

Some particulars of Gen Y social media use include:

  • Facebook: 86% regularly use Facebook (with 35% saying they have posted within the last day).
  • Video: 83% use video-sharing sites.
  • Photos: 78% use image-sharing sites.
  • Mobile apps: 78% use mobile apps.
  • Pinterest: 38% use Pinterest.
  • Instagram: 33% use Instagram


  • The fact that many Millennials have delayed parenting until their late 20s or 30s — and the fact that a majority consider it one of the most important things in life — suggest that Gen Y parents will place their children high on their list of spending priorities. This emphasis, coupled with the Millennial preference for experiences over possessions, implies a growing market for family vacations, family adventures, and family entertainment of all kinds.
  • The profusion of online social networks, blogs, and online forums for parents suggests that Gen Y consumers may welcome companies that facilitate contact and sharing oriented toward their unique circumstances and concerns as new parents. Engaging on social networks geared to new parents may provide companies and brands with opportunities to both market products and build brand loyalty.
  • Since Millennials are the most diverse generation in North American history, advertising and marketing images intended to appeal to this generation will need to offer a wide diversity of parents: interracial couples, same-sex partners, singles, stay-at-home dads, etc. Yet care must also be taken to avoid alienating the more traditional segments of other consumer groups that may encounter these messages.