I’m no political strategist, but I come bearing perspective on millennials.

Millennial investors, that is. My organization, the Center for Audit Quality (CAQ), just surveyed hundreds of them. What did we learn? Plenty, and our findings ought to be of interest to policymakers across the political spectrum.


Since 2007, the CAQ has measured the confidence of “Main Street” investors in U.S. capital markets, global capital markets, and audited financial information, as well as their confidence in investing in publicly traded companies. The survey also polls investors on the current financial and economic landscape. 

This year, with an eye toward “the investor of the future,” we focused on millennials, interviewing over 1,000 from this generation (which we define as being between the ages of 18 to 34) across the United States.

The topline results are clear: millennial investors show a healthy degree of trust in U.S. capital markets. In line with older generations, 76 percent of millennials expressed at least some confidence in capital markets. Over one-quarter of them said they had “quite a bit” or “a great deal” of confidence. 

In some respects, the confidence of millennials in U.S. and global capital markets is even stronger than that of other generations. For example, when asked why they feel confident investing in U.S. public companies, 24 percent of millennials said it was because public companies are more responsible, more accountable to shareholders, and so on. Only 16 percent of the broader pool of investors chose that reasoning.

Millennials are also more likely than other generations to express confidence in capital markets outside the United States; 43 percent of millennials said they had confidence in non-U.S. markets. While that may not be a ringing endorsement, it is above the somewhat grim 38 percent confidence level expressed by all investors regarding markets overseas.

So the American investor (and voter) of the future has solid faith in U.S. markets, and that’s a welcome development. But policymakers and others might be wise to heed the millennial worry list. Here are a few that stood out.

Cybersecurity. Millennials were especially attuned to Internet security. When asked about the biggest threat to their investment portfolio, 37 percent of millennial investors cited concerns about cyber-attacks on their financial information or the capital markets. That's above the level among all investors, for whom cyber-attacks ranked third among concerns.

Partisan bickering. Millennials who don’t have confidence in U.S. capital markets, mirroring findings in the broader survey, pointed to a lack of political leadership and partisan bickering as top concerns.

Debt. What would they do with an extra $10,000? Perhaps not surprisingly, given the weight of student loans, 38 percent of millennial investors (7 percentage points more than all investors nationwide) said they would pay down debt. It’s not hard to imagine that this aversion to debt could be seared into this generation—and that everything from previous forecasts of consumer spending to home buying may need to be adjusted.

Job security. When asked about the biggest threat to their or their families' financial well-being, 18 percent of millennial investors cited the threat that they or someone in their household might lose a job or not being able to find a job—significantly higher than the 11 percent of all nationwide investors who chose that option. (Note: all investors perceive not being able to afford healthcare as the top financial risk they face; millennials at 25 percent were noticeably lower on this indicator than the 32 percent for all surveyed).

Consider all these results in light of signs that millennial votes may be up for grabs. According to the Pew Research Center, 48 percent of millennials describe themselves as political independents.

Policymakers interested in changing that situation might want to take a closer look at our survey.

Fornelli, a former deputy director of Investment Management at the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission has served as the executive director of the Center for Audit Quality since its establishment in 2007.