After working for more than a year with a growing Think Tank of Millennials, I can say with 100% certainty, that Millennials aren’t really that unique.
Yes, many of them are hard working; many of them work in tech. Many of them ARE close to their parents, and yes, some of them still live at home, but that does not mean that the entire generation is ‘close to their parents.’
Two opposing stereotypes infuriate me the most:
- The Millennial generation is single handedly changing the way we work.
- Millennials are lazy, in need of constant reassurance, and lacking in soft skills.
BOTH of these are flat out wrong, but they are en vogue with a cavalcade of bloggers trying to feed off of the Millennial hype.
Millennials, like the Boomers they echoed, are an 80 million strong generation; stereotyping 80 million people is just stupid.
There ARE things that make their experience unique to the previous 2 generations:
College educated Millennials are usually burdened with a load of student loan debt averaging $30K and 6% interest. Many of them carry this debt for more than a decade, and the sky rocketing costs of a college degree has impacted their decision to purchase a home and have children.
Of course there are other traits that differentiate this generation, but they are primarily the things that differentiate modern society. Much of it revolves around technology and how it has changed our lives. Some of it concerns the Great Recession and the upheaval in our economy over the last 7 years, but that affected ALL generations.
To give substance to my rant on the hype, consider this information:
The Ethical Buying Trait is a Myth
Millennial purchasing habits are NOT as dependent upon their assessment of company ethics as many of the “hypesters” would have you believe. In our discussion Millennial Views on Microsoft, it became clear that not only did price and solution matter more than anything, Millennials saw Apple’s bad corporate behavior as part of a the price of living in the West.
Reinforcing this point is the popularity of Wal-mart with Millennials; whether due to the big box’s mobile and ecommerce investments, or simply because of the sharp pricing, Millennials are Wal-mart’s strongest demographic. Kind of flies in the face of much that we’re told about GenY shopping habits, doesn’t it?
Millennials Are Not Tech Savvy
Most Millennials from the middle to upper socio-economic classes are gadget savvy; they can pick up a tablet or new piece of technology and figure it out on their own, for the most part because they grew up learning how to use gadgets. That fact has caused a lot of talk about how tech savvy they are. It has caused many Millennials to be assigned ‘tech’ responsibilities at work, simply due to their age.
I challenge the assumption that being gadget savvy = technological knowhow. We are moving farther away from understanding how things work as they becomes easier to use, and becoming more dependent upon the producers of technology. Being able to USE a gadget is very, very different than being able to build one, or a program to run on it.
Consider this from the Level Playing Field Institute:
- The World Economic Forum ranks the United States 52ndin the quality of mathematics and science education, and 5th (and declining) in overall global competitiveness [v]
- The United States ranks 27thin developed nations in the proportion of college students receiving undergraduate degrees in science or engineering [vi]
- There are more foreign students studying in U.S. graduate schools than the number of U.S. students[vii] and over 2/3 of the engineers who receive Ph.D.’s from United States universities are not United States citizens [viii]
This is the schooling that the US Millennial generation experienced.
Boomers Have FAR More Spending & Political Power
As fashionable as it is to ride the coattails of the Millennial experts and buy into the hype, the straightforward truth is that Boomers still control the purse and political strings in the US.
Check out these states from an Immersion Active post:
- 78 million Americans who were 50 or older as of 2001 controlled 67% of the country’s wealth, or $28 trillion (U.S. Census and Federal Reserve).
- Boomers’ median household income is 55% greater than post-Boomers and 61% more than pre-Boomers. They have an average annual disposable income of $24,000 (US Government Consumer Expenditure Survey).
- Adults 50 and older own 65% of the aggregate net worth of all U.S. households (U.S. Consumer Expenditure Survey).
And as of December 2014, the US political structure looked like this:
- US Senators: 27 are from the Silent Generation, 64 are Boomers, and 8 are from GenX
- US Governors: 6 are from the Silent Generation, 41 are Boomers, and 3 are from GenX
- US House of Representatives: 46 are from the Silent Generation, 320 are Boomers, 63 are from GenX, and 6 are Millennials.
Boomers and their elders are firmly in control of political power. Based on how long those two generations stay in their jobs, and assuming GenXers who are beginning to take seats at the political power table do the same, it will be a LONG time before Millennials are actually in control.
Just as in business, there will not be a symbolic or even real life handing of the torch to GenY. We will all continue working side by side, some Boomers and Xers staying longer than the generations before… and slowly Millennials will work their way up the ladder, still working alongside older and then younger generations.
GenZ is beginning to enter college, and in 4 short years they’ll be out there competing with GenY.
End of Rant
I am blessed to work with some brilliant Millennials in our Think Tank, and some wise Xers and Boomers in their respective Think Tanks. What I have learned is that none of us are that special, or that different, based on membership in a particular generation. There are brilliant entrepreneurs and lazy entitled members of each generation.
Look, Millennials, to paraphrase Chuck Palahniuk, we are not special. We’re not a beautiful and unique snowflake. We’re the same decaying organic matter as everything else.
We, like everyone else, are broke. The economic system Mom and Dad relied on fell apart somewhere along the way—the only difference is that they were lucky enough to have stashed something away before it all came crashing down.
We live with our parents because we can’t get jobs, even with college degrees. We don’t buy homes because less than half of for sale homes are within the reach of median Millennials. We don’t buy cars because between rising housing costs and ballooning student loan debts, we don’t really have the economic strength to add auto loans onto our financial load.
We aren’t weird. We aren’t special. We aren’t lazy.
We’re just broke.
So let’s stop asking the boring questions and start asking interesting ones.
I’m with Armand. Let’s stop the relentless spin and ask real questions about the future and how it will look for all of us.