The generation that has come of age surrounded by technology is keenly aware of the advantages that technology gives them but also sees the potential pitfalls, a new global survey of millennials finds.
The survey, conducted on behalf of the Spanish telecommunications company Telefonica and the Financial Times, found that overall, many millennials see technology as helping their career and economic prospects. Globally, 83 percent said technology makes it easier to get a job, and 69 percent said technology creates more opportunities for all.
But many also saw a darker side to technology's march forward, with 62 percent saying the advent of technology has widened the gap between rich and poor.
Millennials often get a bad rap for being self-involved or unaware. But Frédéric Michel, global director of public engagement for Telefónica, said he thinks the findings show that many young adults in North America and around the world are quite mature, and already see that things are not one-dimensional.
"They basically are very, very aware of how technology can help them improve their career path," Michel said. "And at the same time, they are also conscious that technology can't solve everything."
That could be because many millennials have come of age in a time of great technological change, but also great economic uncertainty. Only about half of the millennials surveyed said the economy was on track, either globally or in their own region, and many said they worry about things like progressing from school into the workplace. That's the type of worry previous generations may not have had because the jobs were much more plentiful.
(Read More: CIA to Starbucks: Where Millennials Want to Work)
They survey of more than 12,000 millennials ages 18 to 30 was conducted across 27 countries and has a margin of error of less than 1 percent.
Neil Howe, president of LifeCourse Associates, a consulting firm that focuses on generations, said he's not surprised to find that millennials have more nuanced feelings about how technology can both create opportunity and widen the wealth gap.
When Keith Farner was 14, he made $2,000 at a summer job. Instead of buying the Xbox he'd been wanting, his parents helped him open a Roth IRA. The 30-year-old, who lives in Athens, Ga., now has more than $30,000 saved.
While Farner may have gotten an earlier start on retirement than most, a new study out Monday from Merrill Edge shows that Gen Y, defined by the study as those 18-34, is starting to save for retirement earlier than any other generation. Many are investing by age 22, compared with Baby Boomers who started on average at age 35.
Abe Mulvihill had two retirement accounts by the time he was 21, opened during a summer internship with a mutual fund company that offered him accounts with no fees. Now the 27-year-old also invests in a 401(k) through work and has more than $10,000 saved total.
"If you look at how money can grow and you reinvest all your dividends and that compounds, it makes complete sense," Mulvihill says.
The Merrill Edge study of mass-affluent Millennials—those with $50,000 to $250,000 in assets—shows that on average the age group has $55,000 saved for retirement, which Merrill Edge director Alok Prasad calls "quite impressive."
"They are a lot more disciplined, in terms of thinking ahead and being proactive about saving for the future," he says, a mindset formed after living through two economic downturns—the dot-com bust and Great Recession—watching their parents struggle financially and then struggling, themselves, due to high unemployment and economic uncertainty.
The age group is also wary of the long-term viability of Social Security.
The survey shows that just under half of Millennials indicated plans to rely on public programs for retirement, down from 63 percent of Millennials who said the same in 2011.
"I'm really just banking on there not being any for me when I get older," says Laura Rusbarsky of Social Security. The 23-year-old St. Louis resident opened a Roth IRA when she was 21 and also invests in a 401(k) through her job. She makes about $30,000 a year as a marketing assistant, and says focusing on retirement over other immediate needs, such as student loans, can be frustrating.
But she says, "I'm doing OK right now. So why not prepare for my future and make that more financially sound than worry about now?"
Income has shown to influence 401(k) participation among Millennials, but even lower earners are investing in company plans. A Prudential survey out in December showed that of employees 21-29 who are eligible for company plans, 91 percent will participate if they're making more than $50,000 a year, while 70 percent participate if they're making less than $50,000 a year.
Millennials are "actually more inclined" to invest in retirement plans, says George Castineiras, senior vice president of retirement solutions for Prudential. Through their parents and grandparents, "Millennials are watching what it means and what it looks like to not have enough money for retirement," he says.
Even Millennials who started saving early, though, have had difficulty staying on track. Matt Watson started investing in a 401(k) with a 6 percent company match at a job with an electric company out of college. The 26-year-old cashed out the roughly $5,000 he had accumulated, though, when he found himself out of work last year.
It "wasn't smart, but I was desperate," Watson says. He now invests in a Roth IRA, money market fund, stock account with Fidelity and recently began a new employer-sponsored program through his job as a special-education teacher in Bossier City, La.
"I'd rather sacrifice a little bit now," he says. "Hopefully, I can realistically look at retiring by the time I'm 55."
There's love and marriage and then there's love and a mortgage.
Millennial couples are more likely to buy a house together before they take their wedding vows than their parents and grandparents were, according to a new Coldwell Banker Real Estate survey.
Almost a quarter of married homeowners aged 18 to 34 bought a home together before they were married, compared with 14 percent of those aged 45 and older.
It's good news for the housing industry that has fretted about a steadily growing trend: Every year, men and women are waiting longer to get married. In 2012, the median age of men who married for the first time was 28.6, up from 26.1 in 1990. Women: 26.6, up from 23.9.
Since buying a home often follows nuptials, delaying marriage could delay homeownership.
"We didn't expect to find that couples committed to each other to buy homes before they were married," says Robi Ludwig, a psychotherapist who works for Coldwell on lifestyle surveys and buyer habits. "It's almost like buying a home is the new engagement ring."
Married homeowners said buying a house did more to strengthen their relationship than any other purchase they made together.
"Increasingly, Americans and especially Millennials see marriage as something that should be entered into only after you've taken several steps toward showing your maturity," says Stephanie Coontz, co-chair of the Council on Contemporary Families. "It's not something you jump into."
Two-thirds of all married couples today lived together before they walked the aisle. Buying a home together is a big proof of commitment.
"The purchase of a home is a monumental step in their relationship," Ludwig says.
The online survey of 2,116 adults March 8-12 found that couples who bought homes before marriage were all planning to tie the knot.
Their decision to buy a home first "was based on being financially savvy," Ludwig says. "Opportunities were coming up in the real estate market and with low mortgage rates, and they take advantage of these ideal conditions and didn't feel they had to wait till they got married."
That's why Lauren Farris, 28, and her boyfriend Mark Sieckman, 30, of Chicago are house hunting. They're not living together and not yet engaged. But they're committed to spending their lives together and determined to buy a condo they can move into when her lease runs out June 1.
"The timing is right," says Farris, a senior media buyer at A. Eicoff & Co. ad agency. "Things are moving so quickly that listings that come on today could be gone tomorrow."
Her parents are helping them make an all-cash offer and are no longer concerned that the two haven't set a date.
"We get along really well and want the same things out of life," Farris says. "We know we're going to be married one day. ... We really don't have any concerns. We need to take advantage of the situation and get a head start in life."
By delaying marriage, some couples can afford to buy big — as long as they have good jobs and clean credit, and interest rates are low.
Detroit-area engaged couple Bryan Carter, 28, and Lisa Valesano, 30, are building their starter home: a $300,000, four-bedroom house with granite countertops. Carter's parents "were definitely surprised that we were building a house at such a young age," he says.
Other findings in the survey:
Southerners are more likely to take the traditional route. Almost three-fourths of married Southerners got a marriage license first, a mortgage second, compared with 60 percent in the Northeast.
Only 16 percent of married Americans have not bought a house with their current spouse.