A new global study of Millennials and technology released this week by Telefonica reveals some interesting insights about the tech-savvy, globetrotting and culturally diverse generation. 

The study, which interviewed 6,700 men and women age 18 to 30 in the Americas and Western Europe, uncovered cultural and geographical differences in attitudes. It also revealed some common denominators.
For example, mobile technology is important to Millennials across the board, and it’s not all about Facebook and cat videos—it plays a serious role in research and education. The vast majority of Millennials everywhere see themselves as being “on the cutting edge of technology,” though they don’t necessarily want a tech career. And while parents who catch them texting beneath the dinner table may doubt it, Millennials from Bogotà to Berlin say that family is still way more important an influence on them than anything that comes out of a gadget.

The American Dream Moves South

Some of the study’s most eye-opening results come from Latin America, where problems are considered severe, but optimism and ambition reign supreme. 

Latin Millennials see corruption and a lagging education system as enormous barriers to growth and success, with 75 percent ranking corruption as the top issue hindering their country’s growth, followed by the education system (51 percent) and political leadership (42 percent). In the U.S., by contrast, 47 percent ranked corruption as the top barrier and 38 percent cited education and leadership.

Nevertheless, 70 percent of Central American Millennials, 61 percent of South American Millennials, and 60 percent of Mexican Millennials said they were “very optimistic” about their future. In the U.S., the figure was just 43 percent, and in Western Europe, it was a pessimistic 22 percent. 

“The American Dream appears to be very strong here,” says Lina Echeverri, Telefonica’s director of public affairs for Latin America. “You find this sense of optimism all around the continent.”

The entrepreneurial spirit is strongest in Latin America, where 26 percent want to start their own business, compared with 8 percent in the U.S. and 6 percent in Western Europe. Some have already begun: 42 percent of Latin American Millennials reported themselves as self-employed, compared to 14 percent of those in the U.S. and 21 percent of those in Western Europe.

Though some enterprising Latin Millennials may be self-starters by necessity rather than choice—as a result of not finding employment in their desired field—more positive factors are at work, too.

“In Latin America, there is a growing middle class,” Echeverri says. “It is a young continent, and people are identifying new opportunities. They have a new reach given to them by technology.” Technology has made the cost of opening a new business much easier and cheaper, she says.

Though Millennials everywhere feel their country’s economy is headed in the wrong direction, most remained positive about the long-term future, with over 50 percent saying their country’s best days lay ahead, not behind. This sentiment is particularly strong in South and Central America, where 75 percent and 72 percent, respectively, said the best days were ahead, compared with 51 percent in the U.S. and 50 percent in Western Europe. 

Today's Millennials

On the Move

The Millennial generation has an itch to travel. Perhaps because they are digital natives accustomed to the internet’s global reach, more than 70 percent worldwide said they would consider career opportunities abroad. In Latin America, the figure was 80 percent. 

While they have no problem leaving their country on an individual level, in Latin America, 73 percent expressed a concern about a “brain drain” of the best and brightest from their countries. In the U.S. and Western Europe, 52 percent and 55 percent, respectively, expressed a similar concern. 

“There’s an interesting tension there,” says Mark Burles, vice president of Penn Schoen Berland, the research and communications company that oversaw the survey. “In Latin America, they’re optimistic, but see problems in their country, and if it doesn’t give them the opportunities they deserve, they feel they need to leave. In Europe and the U.S., they want to broaden themselves culturally and are less optimistic about the future, though they still think the best days are ahead.”

Mobile Technology Experts

It’s no surprise to learn that Millennials are expanding their use of mobile technology. In last year’s survey, 72 percent reported owning a smartphone and 28 percent had a tablet. This year, the numbers rose to 80% and 45%. 

And while both sexes consider themselves experts in using technology, women’s knowledge—or perhaps their confidence—is increasing more rapidly. This year, 87 percent of Millennial men and 78 percent of Millennial women described themselves as being “on the cutting edge” of technology, compared with 80 percent of men and 69 percent of women last year.

Mobile devices aren’t all for fun and games. In addition to entertaining themselves and keeping up with social contacts, 46 percent of US Millennials and more than 60 percent of Latin Millennials said they use their devices for research and education.

Though they may be technologically sophisticated, Millennials are also practical. Across the board, they selected Microsoft Office Suite as being the most important skill required for a decent-paying job, with coding coming in second and social media a distant fourth, after typing speed.  

Click here to watch Telefonica’s Global Millennial Survey launch during One Young World on Thursday, Oct. 16, followed by a special session on Latin America. The broadcast will begin at 13:45 p.m. (IST).