Our Grandchildren, the Millennials, Usher in an Era of Change

At first glance, the Millennials look like anyone else, distinguishable only by their youth and the proximity of their iphones. But we know they are different—we can feel it from where we sit, just by looking at them, their group behavior, their subtle interactions. While we are watching everything around us, and making idle conversation, this is not what they are doing. Instead, they are looking down, tracking messages on their phones.

We can see it in their clothing too, simple and comfortable—jeans, tights, blazers, untucked shirts, sneakers, uniformly consistent and understated.

But this is silly, I think, there is no way I can generalize about this large group of young people, 80 million in the US alone, so I view an online article, in LiveScience, only to come up with more adjectives that do not flatter this generation.
“special, sheltered, confident, conventional, pressured, and achieving, a sense of entitlement, a tendency to overshare on social media, and frankness verging on insubordination.”

These descriptions, taken as criticisms, have led Baby Boomer parents to feel the sting of blame.

Elizabeth Dunkel, writing for Sixty and Me, says,

“We are the helicopter parents. We over scheduled them with Kumon, jazz dance, football and violin. We hovered over their homework. We fretted and fixed things before they became broken. We fostered the “participation trophy” idea, making sure everyone felt good instead of awarding achievement. Then, we hovered over them in college, texting them while they were trying to separate from us.”

But every generation is formed, not only by its parents, but by its circumstances as well. Digging a little deeper, I dip into the book that first named them—Millennials Rising: The Next Great Generation, and discover more. (Howe, Straus, 2000)

In assessing any generation, economics leads the way, and by all accounts, the economic reality that greeted the Millennials as they came of age was formidable:

An Economic Downturn was their financial context: Millennials faced down the financial collapse of 2009 and found a different path. (Millennials Go To College, Howe, Strauss, 2003)

Massive Unemployment greeted them at the outset: In an NPR article, Samantha Raphelson reports,  “Over 12 percent of those ages 25-32 without a college degree are unemployed, and about 22 percent of that cohort are below the poverty line…In contrast, 7 percent of boomers with just a high school diploma lived in poverty in 1979.”

Soaring house prices, made buying a home an impossible dream.

Unprecedented student debt plagued them as they graduated—the average student debt has more than tripled in the last 20 years.

As if their financial woes were not enough, Millennials grew up with a rising concern about other world issues:

An Environmental Crisis had them worrying about climate change, dwindling resources, and overburdened landfills—Millennials resolved to make a difference through lifestyle changes that they believed could benefit the environment.

International Threats bombarded them with news of violent world events, as they learned to numb their fears.

But not everything is gloomy as they come of age. As Millennials grow older, they are situated to benefit from several cultural shifts:

Diversity:  Millennials are the first generation to witness the impact of upscaled immigration. Growing up in mixed race communities, with friends from all corners of the world, they don’t seem to be burdened with the prejudices toward other religions and races. Overall, millennials are 55.8 percent white and nearly 30 percent minorities. In 2000 this young adult age group was 63 percent white, whereas in 1990 it was 73 percent white.

Technological Accessibility: Just as their parents were the first television generation, Millennials are the first to grow up in the Internet age. The first to play video games non-stop, the first to learn how to use a computer as children, the first to have a cell phone the minute they could be trusted not to lose them. The internet is at the heart of their lives, with social media an indispensible tool, and the background to their social connections.

A Sharing Mindset:  Coming of age in an environment of reduced financial opportunities, Millennials have an interesting response, one which has already impacted our society and will for many years to come: a willingness to share. Given their lower consumer capacity, they have gravitated to sharing of goods. They live a pared down lifestyle with fewer possessions, starting a trend toward cohousing (Airbnb) and shared car ownership (Uber).

Group Oriented:  Millennials are group oriented rather than being individualists. They may sacrifice their own identity to be part of the team. They prefer egalitarian leadership, not hierarchies. (Howe, Strauss, 2003)

Trust:  On page 12, in The Sharing Economy, Daryl Weber puts his finger on a critical theme:

“What ultimately keeps this economy spinning—and growing—is trust. It’s the elixir that enables us to feel reassured about staying in a stranger’s home or hitching a ride from someone we’ve never met. It’s an interesting mindset of millennials and new consumers, of not necessarily needing to own their own thing. There’s a really different mentality there—less consumerism, less materialism and more of a community building approach.”

Diverse, tech savvy, trusting, team orientated, and continously socially connected: these are the characteristics that perfectly describe this new generation, poised as Jeremy Rifkin (2016) believes, on the cusp of a new paradigm shift that is shaking up the status quo. In their lifetimes, they will experience the inevitable departure from a corporate economy to a cooperative economic system, he says. This may take years to unfold, but will lead, Rifkin believes, to rejuvination of the environment, and equality for all.

Heady optimism, I think, but if it changes our current dystopian view of the future, I would happily buy into it.

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18 Responses to Our Grandchildren, the Millennials, Usher in an Era of Change

  1. I’m with you about ‘heady optimism’ for what millennials and their children will accomplish as they change the status quo. Every generation leaves an imprint. As we grow older, our job is to encourage, understand, respect and support them. Too often we dismiss their ideas and lifestyle while trying desperately to shape them into something that was valuable in the past.

    • Still the Lucky Few says:

      Yes, Jeanette, every generation develops according to its unique setting and challenges. And this group has its challenges, in spades! I think, basically, they are smart, constructive and socially responsible—and they care way more about the planet than we ever did! Their biggest strength, according to the pundits who study them, is their ability to cooperate, rather than compete. After all, I know for a fact, that this was an important theme in schools and communities as they grew up. It goes without saying, that competitiveness didn’t benefit previous generations!

  2. It’s good to see some positive attributes assigned to this generation. Our very young tech savvy grandsons have taught us how to set up new mobile phones, all about wifi speakers which we now use all the time, we’ve done away with the stereo! They’ve donated their Wii so my husband can get in some practice for when they bring their Xbox and in exchange he teaches them how to set up and repair their bikes. One older frandson went on to build a bike from recycled parts for a school project and then did a charity cycle ride from Land’s End to John O’Groats on it (via a dip in a canal just after the start!)

    • Still the Lucky Few says:

      This is so gratifying, seeing generations accept each other and thrive together! Beautiful thoughts, Juice Nut!

  3. Fingers crossed! We can certainly use cheerful news. 🙂

    • Still the Lucky Few says:

      Looking desperately for cheerful news in any available nook and cranny! Today, especially, with news of North Korea’s latest threat, we are in need of something good happening internationally (and nationally!)

  4. Janis says:

    Now that I am retired, I don’t have a lot of chances to interact with Millennials (we don’t have kids), but the Millennial-aged children of friends make me confident that the world is in good hands. When my husband and I were on the Women’s March in our city, I was pleased to see so many of that generation there. In addition to the realities of their world that you listed, I’d add that many of them have received a big wake-up call politically with this recent election. I think that many of the gains we’ve made over the years that they may have taken for granted (women’s rights, environmental awareness, etc.), they now see as fragil and worth fighting for.

    • Still the Lucky Few says:

      I agree that young women, in particular just haven’t been aware about how fragile their rights were. This was, as you say, a wake up call. It hasn’t come too late, I’m sure of that.

  5. Cathy says:

    I’m not sure they really care, at the point before they decide to “settle down” – buy a house, raise a family, become self-employed or work forever in a drudgery job” – do they then realise exactly what their elders probably had to deal with!

    I look at the families that I have near to – with adult children and their toys – the ones who haven’t found that special SO to “settle down” with. Most of them couldn’t care less about any one except themselves. New clothes, latest gadget, a car, nights out… holidays & treats.

    • Still the Lucky Few says:

      Cathy, I think its tempting to have a slightly negative view of this generation—after all, they seem self-absorbed with their social media, their tech toys, and their tendency to exclude us. But many of them are well into their 30s now, and at the age when they are thinking of having families. I think they have a sober attitude about the financial realities of their lives…the realization that unless they inherit a home from their parents, they will never be able to own a real house, and the fact that they will be paying off their student loans for many years to come. Add to that, a deepening world-wide crisis in unstable political systems, and climate change. So I for one, am willing to cut them some slack. I don’t believe they are as spoiled and frivilous as they appear. Just some thoughts, Cathy. I don’t pretend to have all of the answers!

  6. Rummuser says:

    My sole child a son and his wife are generation Xers. They fit in one hundred percent with the description in the penultimate paragraph. I therefore agree that there is heady optimism and I too am very happy to buy into it.

    • Still the Lucky Few says:

      Thank you for your scholarly and thoughtful comment on this, Rummuser. I can always depend on your enlightened observations!

  7. Jane Willis says:

    They certainly have brave new world ahead of them! I think it will be exciting times once those paradigms finally change!

  8. Great discussion of the many patterns that Millennials fit, due to the circumstances of the times and of the ways that parents treated these individuals when they were children. I like the way you identified 11 criteria or characteristics of this large demographic. Well done!

    • Still the Lucky Few says:

      Thanks, Rin. I’m quite optimistic about this group. I know generalizations are not very accurate, but many indications show that they have some very thoughtful attitudes and practises that may benefit everyone, and especially the planet.

  9. Lynne Spreen says:

    I’d like to be optimistic about them, but 37% of them voted for Trump, whose congress has today approved the appointment of a climate science denier as the head of the Environmental Protection Agency. Of course, over half the Boomer voters thought he would be a wonderful choice, so it’s more on my generation.
    I think I’m depressed.

    • Still the Lucky Few says:

      The voting record of the Millennials has been confusing, especially since they seem to support progressive measures. I think many of them responded to the siren call of jobs, jobs, jobs, which will never materialize no matter who sits in the White House. It was a moment of madness, since most of them are realistic enough to appreciate how impossible Trumps’promises were. But I’m optimistic about this group for many reasons that still hold, like their ability to adapt to what they need to do to survive, how they’ve re-invented sharing, and how accepting most of them are about diversity. They appear to be the least materialistic and most cooperative group ever.

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