Ah, the generational gap. A never-ending phenomenon for us humans. For every generation, there is one looming right behind them ready to criticize, complain, and berate the up and coming youth of the world. And understandably so, considering as one generation ages, they will inevitably begin to worry when they see their leading voices and power in the world being passed on to a new group. They have to ask themselves–who are we leaving the world to?
That’s where we come in–”The Millenials,” or, “Generation Y.” I say “we” because I am one of them, so I’ll admit I have some bias in this. However, that’s what’s pushed me to start this series, because as a millennial, I see the critiques towards us more as convenient and vapid trend pieces rather than valid social critiques. We have been plastered all over the media within the last few years. The list of critiques includes that we are lazy and entitled, that we are extremely narcissistic, that we are a cell-phone obsessed people (okay, I’ll give you that one), but that we are being separated, rather than connected, by this technology. Time called us the “Me, Me, Me” generation, The Daily Mail “The wasted generation,” and a poll conducted in 2014 found that 69% of Americans believe those under 30 years old are lazy. It seems a little ridiculous to be putting such large and negative generalizations onto a generation made up of over 80 million individuals. Of course, no person or group is perfect, and there is much that my generation could work on, but this series is going to be about breaking down and demystifying these generalizations about generation Y. In part one of this series, we’ll be looking at why we’re deemed as lazy and entitled.
We’re the generation that seems to fit the old “failure to launch” stereo-type. A pew research analysis from the census bureau data shows that young adults living in their parents household are the highest it’s been since the 1950’s and has increased significantly within the last six years. Since the Great Recession of 2008, which has much to do with the shaping of younger millennials, the economic backdrop for us has been bleak, although getting brighter. Many of us are graduating with degrees and massive student loan debt with slim pickings for jobs, which then forces young millennials to move back in with their parents as they try to get on their feet. We’ve grown up in the worst economic climate since the Great Depression, so that, coupled with new technology, has made our view of the workforce very different than previous generations. I’m sure our grand or great grandparents had similar feelings of uncertainty, instability, and a thirst for self-exploration, but World War ll had already made those life decisions for them. Expectations we’re clear for men and women, and soldiers came back to a booming economy. They didn’t need a graduate degree to get a job that would allow them to comfortably live in the middle class. This generation, dubbed The Greatest Generation, was forced to immediately transition from child to adult out of necessity. It’s understandable how they look at us now and think we are childish for our age because we seem to have a quarter of responsibilities they were forced to have from a young age.
Jeffrey Arnett, a professor in the department of Psychology at Clark University, has proposed that there is a new demographic society needs to address and accept called “emerging adulthood.” Presented in an article for American Psychologist back in 2000, Arnett is now the leader of a movement to view the 20’s as a distinct life phase. This is analogous to what happened over a century ago when social and economic changes were made after recognizing what we now take for granted as “adolescents” or teenage-hood. When asked if they feel they have reached adulthood, the majority of American millennials said: “in some respects yes, in some respects no.” There are five defining factors of this life-stage, including a sense of broad possibilities for the future, selfishness, feeling in-between, instability, and most importantly, identity exploration. Through trying out different possibilities, we develop a more definite identity, including an understanding of who we are, what our capabilities and limitations are, what our beliefs and values are, and how these all fit into the society around us. As mentioned before, we aren’t able to so easily assimilate into a workforce post-college like before due to the economic climate we’ve grown up in, prolonging this sense of feeling “in-between” as we stay with our parents to figure out how to take the next step in life.
This phenomenon is not found just in America, but it is found mostly in OECD countries (organization for economic co-operation and development), which includes Canada, Western Europe, Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand. So this new phase in life could be viewed as a privileged phase to have. It is a very post-industrial, post-technological development of society. Again, we aren’t forced to immediately become adults out of necessity for survival like previous generations, our technology has allowed us to prolong adolescence while still assimilating to adult life. Some say this new developmental stage is only a temporary by-product of economic and cultural forces. Others, like Arnett, believe this is deeper than that, and may very well be better suited to our neurological hard-wiring. This stage most likely always existed but was never given the chance to be explored.
Society is built on the expectation of a certain “normal” progression: finish school, start your career, settle down and start a family. This simply isn’t happening anymore. We remain untethered to romantic partners because we prolong marriage, we rarely stay in one place during this time, we go back to school and get ourselves into debt for a seeming lack of better options, and then proceed to compete ferociously for unpaid internships, all of this stalling typical “adulthood.” Arnett’s theory is still being heavily debating within the psychological community, but this is very similar to the shift that had to happen when society began to recognize teenage-hood as it’s own developmental stage in life, which we very much take for granted now. Emerging adulthood may very well allow us to become better adults, and perhaps avoid the common and notorious “mid-life” crisis that so many in older generations are aware of, because we truly explored ourselves to a much deeper level than they were allowed to.
A study done in 2015 by Elance-Odesk and Millennial Branding found that hiring managers see millennials in the workforce as more adaptable, more open to change, more creative, and more entrepreneurial than previous generations. They also found that 79% of millennials would consider quitting their job in order to work for themselves in the future. Much of our perceived laziness is actually us utilizing the technology we have to our advantage, allowing us to get the job done more efficiently so that we can do things we enjoy with our extra free time. Freelancing and flexibility are also appealing to us, we’ve blurred the lines between learning, working, and having fun, because, well, we can. We’ve been forced to look for creative, out-of-the-box ways to make a living, so we do our best to intertwine our passions into our work. We don’t have the promise of pensions, we fear we won’t see the social security we’re paying into, and many of us watched our parents lose jobs they’ve invested in for years. We recognize how insecure each job we have is, which makes us very much have to look out for ourselves. Loyalty isn’t a defining characteristic of our work ethic, self-preservation is. So if we seem entitled, it’s because we have to be. We are entrepreneurs, philanthropists, multi-taskers, and self-branders. We don’t take the traditional path because the traditional path is not available to us anymore.