What’s in a word?

Devlyn Lalonde  December 31, 2018

By Oksana Kishchuk

Millennials. It is a term that we hear a lot online, and in the news, and around the office here at Abacus Data. According to Forbes, the word ‘millennial’ was first used to describe this generation in 1991. In the book titled, ‘Generations’, historians Neil Howe and William Straus discussed “generational personalities”, where people born within the same range of years would likely have similar traits, even if they had never met. One of these generational personalities was millennials.

The use of the term didn’t really gain popularity in literature until the turn of the century, with the use of the term at its highest in 2000. It was then that the term was widely recognized by academics as the word to describe this generation.

Even still, the word didn’t really gain mainstream popularity until much later. According to Google Trends data, the use of the term really took off in Canada in 2015, as Google searches for the word sky-rocketed.  Google trends compares search interest relative to the highest point on the chart/time period selected. A value of 100 means peak popularity for the given time period.

As some might say, the rest is history. The day this article was written a Google News search for the term ‘millennial’ returned 24.2 million results. The term is everywhere. Among the top searches today, “12 hottest housing markets for millennial homebuyers” and “Millennials strike again: This time we’re killing cash and ‘Merry Christmas’.

Looking at another interesting tool, sentiment viz, we are able to look further at the conversation about millennials. Sentiment viz gathers Tweets from the past hour that contain your keyword and organizes them on a sentiment map using their sentiment dictionary, and AI. A search of the term millennial brings mainly positive sentiment, and a lot of words relating to money or the holidays.

Looking closer at the most recent search history of the term on Google Trends, it seems to be averaging out since its surge in popularity in 2015.

The term still experiences fluctuations but it seems to have leveled out, and it appears the term is here to stay. The millennial generation is not as new as it once was. Most of us have graduated high school and have moved into adulthood and into the workforce. But this does not mean that this generation is any less important. As the group moves into the workforce, and begins to do adult things like home buying, having children, and saving for retirement, we have no doubt that watching this generation will be more important than ever.


At Abacus we strive to understand the nuances of generational change and how it impacts you and your business. The Canadian Millennials Report is the largest syndicated study of millennials in Canada. We survey 2,000 millennials twice a year on a range of topics including politics, social values, and consumer trends. If you are interested in learning more about this generation, reach out to us and we would be happy to connect.

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