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Are millennials breaking up with the sharing economy?

31 January 2020

Born between 1980 and 1996, millennials are portrayed as tech-driven, selfish and, say… not too bright a generation. As the youngest members are reaching adulthood, they’re also a marketing target. However, online service marketplaces strive to reach and to secure them as consumers of the sharing economy.


“See, in this world, there’s two kinds of people, my friend. Those with loaded guns and those who dig. You dig”. Clint Eastwood


Many have tried to categorize humanity but, all in all, it all boils down to two groups of human beings: those born before 1980 and those born after 1980. Digital natives the latter, digital immigrants –“doomed to be forever strangers in a computer-based strange land”– the former.

According to Nature’s editorial cited above, recent studies show that “digital natives” are in fact a myth. While there’s no going back to times before the “digital revolution”, the new generation doesn’t use these technologies differently from their elders: they use them to “passively soak up” information.

In Millennial. Myths and Realities, the Ipsos Institute presents a (somewhat) more balanced and informed study of who the millennials really are. Still, it characterizes (stigmatizes?) young people as “more narcissistic and selfish than ever”, with an average attention span “shorter than a goldfish”.

Millennials have embraced the new technologies, sure. Out of choice? Out of necessity? Part of the answer can be found in how millennials relate to the sharing economy. In fact, as we delve into the subject, it appears that habits have changed and criticism formed. Are Millennials breaking up with the sharing economy?

The sharing economy has emerged as an alternative to traditional exchanges, “introducing the idea that users can grant other users temporary access to their goods and services for economic compensation”. Because of its technological dependency, it has been strongly linked to the “millennial generation”.

Millennials use service marketplaces mostly for ride-hailing and accommodation-sharing needs. They participate in the sharing economy mainly for economic motivations:


  1. Cost-cutting. Millennials use sharing platforms if these offer a more cost-effective alternative to traditional services. In other terms, they value the “budget-friendliness of platforms over other aspects”.
  2. Additional income. For the consumer, sparing costs means more savings to spend for personal benefit. For the provider, additional income may be a motivation in itself.


Non-economic motivations involve social interaction, convenience and to a much lesser extent, sustainability awareness.

Although the EU study highlights the self-serving traits of the millennial generation, it also points out that (if given a little push) they can reflect on the outcomes of their sharing behavior:


  1. Privacy and trust. Millennials are aware that personal data sharing can be an issue but accept the risk. The concerns with trust they have are related to their peers more than with the platforms.
  2. Ratings. Millennials tend not to appreciate the reciprocity of ratings between service providers and service consumers (themselves, in most cases).
  3. Legality. Millennials are uncomfortable with the idea that they may be engaging with services of “legal uncertainty”. A most negative experience for those that have been confronted to the legal authorities.
  4. Professionalization. While being aware of the risk of work exploitation inherent to the sharing platform systems, Millennials “are unwilling to agree to more taxation if it negatively impacted them by increasing prices”.


Millennials use the technologies of their time, obviously. Who would still be using a horse carriage when the automobile was invented and later, democratized?

Are millennials breaking up with the sharing economy? The answer is: “no”, but there are mixed feelings concerning the issues of professionalization and legality. True, the younger members of that generation are perhaps more concerned with their own personal convenience. But those in their thirties, after all, have been directly hit by the 2008 crisis and, contrary to their elders, seen their work conditions worsen and perspectives for the future, shrink.

Perhaps the real question is: what’s left of the “sharing” aspect of the “platform economy” when the natural evolution of non-profit platforms is to become for-profit marketplaces?



Ipsos. “Millennials. Myth and Realities.” (2018).

Nature. “The digital native is a myth.” Nature (2017). web. November 2018.

Ranzini, Giulia, et al. “Millennials and the Sharing Economy”. Report from the EU H2020 Research Project Ps2Share (2018).




At Cocolabs we’re working on the standardization of services. We build custom service marketplaces. Each new project is an opportunity to further our reflection and refine our understanding of what is at stake: human interactions, set in a given time and space dimension.Las Vegas, USA: December 25, 2011- A man impersonating Rich Uncle Pennybags, aka as Whiff or more recently as Mr. Monopoly, performs on the Strip (Las Vegas Boulevard). If people give him money, they can be photographed with him.





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