Michael Metzger

Zipcar’s target audience is millennials. Yet the median age of its members globally is 36—decidedly non-millennial. That’s why Zipcar has altered its ideas about generations in general. That’s good news. This shift aligns with the Bible’s take on generations.

For the last five years, Zipcar has conducted an annual study of the preferences of millennials and their shifting ideas about car ownership. Millennials are defined as those born between 1980 and the mid-90s. The survey has found that they are 1) more interested in alternative forms of transportation, 2) often find car ownership a pain, and 3) are more likely to give up their cars than their smartphones.

More importantly, Zipcar’s survey points out how “millennial” attitudes disproportionately describe people in cities, regardless of their age. A 28-year-old professional in the city has more in common with the 42-year-old living in the apartment next door than a 28-year-old mom who chooses to live in a subdivision. It seems that non-millennial urbanites still think millennial-like. Geography defines generations.

“This solidified what we suspected for years,” says Brian Harrington, Zipcar’s chief marketing officer. City-dwellers of all ages tend to try new technologies like new mobility solutions. Suburbanites are less inclined to do so. The ‘burbs offer wide roads and easy parking, generating less millennial-like attitudes about car ownership.

This idea—geography defines generations—gibes with Genesis. Everyone is hard-wired to “make culture.” It operates like a pebble thrown in a pond. The ripples extend out in all directions. Genesis traces the ever-widening arc of Adam and Eve’s successive generations striving to make cultures. The first is Adam (5:1), then Noah (6:9), the sons of Noah (10:1), Shem (11:10), Terah (11:27), Ishmael (25:12), Isaac (25:19), Esau (36:1), and finally Jacob (37:2)—generations defined by geography.

There can, of course, be differences between generations. But these are due more often to location than date of birth. Harvard professor Louis Menand picked up on this in a recent New Yorker article (“Thinking Sideways”). He derides our modern idea of generations (what he calls “an especially specious category”). They fail to explain why some 60-year-olds have less in common with folks their age and more in common with 20-year-olds. It’s more a question of where they live—urban or suburban?

These findings ought to interest the faith community. In Coming Apart, Charles Murray notes how most of America’s elites live in roughly 882 “super” zip codes throughout America, all urban. Their commonality is geography and thinking millennial-like. They also “do not have a close friend who is an evangelical Christian.”1 He cites Bill Bishop’s The Big Sort for a comprehensive analysis of this issue.

I’m fortunate to be part of a project seeking to create common ground with those who think millennial-like. There are Christians who think this way. They live in cities. They’re exiles. Yet few know how to connect with neighbors—“religious nones” next door. Nones also think millennial-like. They dislike religion but love spirituality. Nones represent the fastest growing percentage of the US population (now over 20 percent). Our project seeks to create common ground between the two. Take a look: New Copernicans Episode 1: Copernicus

This is a collaborative project featuring Peabody Award winning producer John Priddy (Windrider Forum), John Seel (The John Templeton Foundation), filmmaker Josh Weise, Mike McHargue (aka Science Mike who has an internet audience of over 100,000 discussing faith and science), and Jacob Marshall (MORE partnerships and drummer for MAE). All are New Copernicans. John Priddy is in his 50s. John Seel and I are in our 60s. Josh is 25. Jacob and Mike McHargue are in their 30s. We all think millennial-like. We live in urban settings—a generational mindset defined by geography.

Some of Zipcar’s success lies in seeing generations as a mindset rooted in geography, not in age segmentation. Chopping up life into stages that are more or less age specific only really emerged in popular consciousness in the nineteenth century. That coincided with the emergence of the modern evangelical movement. Both fail to define generations as the Bible does. Perhaps the rise of the New Copernicans will rectify this.

Follow me on Twitter: @Metzger_Mike

1 Charles Murray, Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010 (New York: Crown Publishing Group, 2012), p. 107.


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  1. Mike – I have to concur completely. For the past 7 years, my wife & I, both now Medicare eligible :), have lived in the city and do find more in common with millennials and Gen-X/Y than many our age.

    I look forward to hearing more about the project as we seek to be light in DC.

  2. Follow your line of thought but find a contradiction in the video, as it implies not placing people in a box. Isn’t one of the real disconnects from personalisation the attempt to quantify a generation ? Any dilution of the personal story distances from their reality.
    Individuals being measured in relation to an abstract set of criteria. Not everything that fits in a box is a box. 1% on a spreadsheet could be 100% a life.

  3. Thank you for bringing the Biblical narrative into yet another commonly accepted “truism” of our world. I had never thought of how the Bible explains generations and how that affects my work. I’ve got something to chew on for awhile. Much appreciation.

  4. Love the ideas above, Mike. Can definitely relate with a shift of thinking and really liked the Youtube video you posted above! Good thoughts for a 26 year old.

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