By Sharon Jayson, USA TODAY
The views of young people today on politics, social attitudes and even life goals are far different from those of their baby boomer parents, suggests a new national survey of 18- to 25-year-olds.
More than two-thirds (67%) believe immigrants strengthen American society; a quarter favor increasing legal immigration.
Just 47% of those ages 41-60 say immigrants strengthen society; among those 26 and older, only 16% say immigration should increase.
While young people are split over gay marriage (47% in favor, 46% opposed), those over 25 are not: 64% oppose same-sex marriage; 30% favor it.
"This is a more tolerant generation than its predecessors," says Scott Keeter, director of survey research for the Pew Research Center, which surveyed 579 young adults and 922 adults age 26 and older.
The poll also finds that this generation's top life goals are to be rich (81%) and famous. (51%)
"It's their perception," Keeter says. "It's what they're getting from the culture about themselves."
By contrast, a study of college freshmen in 1967 found that 85.8% thought it was essential to "develop a meaningful philosophy of life" while just 41.9% thought it essential to "be very well off financially."
The Pew telephone survey of young people (alternately dubbed Generation Y, "millennials" or echo boomers) asked more than 75 questions on issues from world events to national politics to tattoos and binge drinking. Keeter says the study, which called 130 young people on cellphones because they don't have a landline, is among the most extensive of this age group.
Keeter says he doesn't expect their attitudes on such social issues to become more conservative with time. One can imagine the complexion of these issues changing pretty significantly when this generation is in positions of power and authority," he says.
Among other findings:
32% attend church at least once a week; 20% have no religious affiliation or are atheist or agnostic.
48% identify more with Democrats; 35% with Republicans.
91% are satisfied with their relationships with their parents; 64% say parents have helped them with errands, housework and home repairs and 73% say they parents helped them financially in the past year.
85% are unmarried. Of those singles, 57% say they definitely want to marry and 28% probably do; 12% say they don't. Just over a quarter (27%) already have children. Among the childless, 52% definitely want children and another 34% probably do.
39% say they keep up with the news "a lot," 64% check in "from time to time." Only 34% do watch or listen to news regularly.
81% exercise at least weekly. One in five say they are in excellent physical condition and another 56% say they are in good condition.
But their habits are not all positive. In the seven days prior to being surveyed, 41% say they consumed alcohol; 31% smoked cigarettes and 9% took illegal drugs. Thirty percent believe it is OK to drink a lot of alcohol; 41% believe it's OK to smoke marijuana.
36% got a tattoo and 30% a body piercing in a place other than an ear lobe; 25% have dyed their hair a non-traditional color.
46% said sharing music or video files without paying was OK.
Overall, these young adults are content with their lives and extremely optimistic about the future: 84% say their life is excellent or good; 14% say fair or poor.
Of those who are employed, 70% don't think they make enough money to lead the kind of life they want, but 65% expect to earn enough in the future; 5% expect not to. make enough money.
The poll was conducted Sept. 6- Oct. 2 as part of MacNeil/Lehrer Productions' Generation Next project. USA TODAY is a reporting partner in the project but did not participate in funding the research. Margin of error for the subset of young respondents is plus or minus 5 percentage points; for the overall poll it is plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.