This text appears in the book Empty Planet (highly recommended):

A 2016 Pew Research poll showed that 60 percent of Americans agreed with the statement that immigrants “strengthen our country because of their hard work and talent,” while only 35 percent believed immigrants “are a burden on our country because they take our jobs, housing and health care.” Twenty years ago, those numbers were essentially reversed. The divide is political and generational. While eight in ten people who identify as Democrats welcome immigrants, only about a third of Republicans feel that way. And while three quarters of millennials support plenty of immigration, only about half of the boomers concur.

Bricker, Darrell; Ibbitson, John. Empty Planet (pp. 176-177). Crown. Kindle Edition.

Note that last sentence – 75% of millennials support immigration while about “about half of the boomers” do.

There might be good reasons for this differing viewpoint by generation.

“Boomers” Grew Up Competing With One Another

“Boomers” grew up and made their careers at a time of rapidly expanding population. Many sat in “portable classrooms” as their schools were overflowing or endured split session days as schools ran morning and afternoon cohorts, to cope with the mass of incoming students in the 1960s and 1970s. Boomers watched as cities became crowded, parks overflowed, and simple things like grocery shopping meant waiting in long lines. They entered the work force (1970s-1980s) during a period of four severe and long-lasting recessions.

This may discourage “boomers” from supporting immigration, which is seen as expanding the population.

“Boomers” Entered a market flooded with new workers

“Boomers” grew up in families typically of 4+/- kids versus less than 2 per family with today’s generation.

Add 20 to 30 years to those birth peaks and the boomers came of age 20-30 years after the 1958 peak in fertility rate – and were competing with each other for jobs, housing, etc, in the 1970 to the 1980s. This excess demand is a factor in why inflation was so high during that period.

Inflation Over Time

Note the high inflation of the 1970s to 1980s related to demand caused by so many young adults coming of age, buying homes, filling them with furniture and other goods, driving up prices.

Millennials had a distinct experience with less domestic competition for jobs, housing, etc.

Why is inflation so high in 2021/2022? Massive government spending due to pandemic policies lowering the value of the dollar, while simultaneously creating excess demand – think stimulus checks, etc. These are the “costs” of public health policies, most of which did not work.

Global Experience by Generation

Second, have “boomers” had fewer international experiences than millennials? Possibly none? I point to myself, at the tail end of the “baby boom” – I had never been to a European country until 2022. Yet when I look online – every young person seems to have traveled the world [1]. Young people who have traveled – and those who are planning to – may view themselves as global citizens, and immigration is part of that.

And that leads to: Travel experience is shown to create a greater tolerance for immigration.

See How do so many young people afford to travel? – Coldstreams Travel and Global Thinking

Shrinking Population

Third, today’s youngest are attending school districts that are closing schools due to enrollment declines. Today’s youth may not feel the competitive pressures felt by the baby boom, the latter of which came into the workplace with a mass of “boomers” competing with one another for positions. Today there is a labor shortage – millennials live in a completely different world.

Unemployment rate over time

Note – how unemployment was calculated in the 1930s was very different than today; if we counted the same way as then, today’s percentages would be much greater.

The 20-year average unemployment rate was 6.8% (1970-1989) and 5.8% (2003-2022). The latter is now poised to drop further thanks to the labor shortage situation gaining traction now. Absent ineffective pandemic policies that put many out of work, the 20-year average would have been 5.6%. Also note the low unemployment from 1950 to 1969. (I entered the workforce at the start of the 1980s, just as the unemployment rate skyrocketed, and mortgage rates hit 13-15%.)

And millennials, thanks to global travel and global Internet connections have different perspectives on global issues than prior, older generations.

It would be surprising if millennials and “boomers” had the same perspectives on the topic of immigration as their lived experiences are very different.

Related: A few years ago, there was a study claiming one’s political preferences (left versus right) could be correlated to birth year and a few other variables. From the above, we see each generation may have different experiences that could shape their political perspectives. That would be worth a separate post – if I cared much about politics (I don’t).


[1] Global travel is larger than I ever imagined. Per Pew Research, 71% of American adults have been to at least one other country and 49% have been to 3 or more. Other research finds among the college educated, 93% have been to at least one other country and 70% have been to 3 or more; 28% have been to 10 or more. An estimated 90% of those earning US $80,000/year or more have traveled internationally. Bloomberg news reports that an estimated 40% of American citizens are eligible for dual citizenship in the EU – this is because several countries in Europe offer a right of descent citizenship to those whose ancestry traces back to these “home” countries. Perhaps 1 in 3 U.S. residents was born abroad, lived abroad, studied abroad or worked abroad. Today’s U.S. population is highly globalized.

Such travel provides new experiences and new ways of looking at issues, which might translate into differing perspectives on immigration.

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