When I say the word ‘Millennials’, what do you think of? Do you think of someone, possibly between the age of 17 to 25, who lives with their parents, drinks Starbucks, and is narcissistic, self-entitled and lazy. I’m here today to tell you that this stereotype we hold of the Millennial Generation is prejudiced, misconceived and just downright wrong. Because the fact is, that there is no such thing as Millennials. Now, I’m not saying that there are no 20 year olds, I’m merely saying that there is no such thing as ‘generations’ in general; we made them up. These divisions we artificially create between generations aren’t real, what these categories we use are actually revealing is our own prejudgements and opinions about the people we’re describing, rather than the reality of what they actually are. We categorize everyone born between 1940 and 1960 as ‘Baby Boomers, people born between 1960 and 1980 as ‘Generation X’, and people born between 1980 and 2000 as ‘Millennials’. Each ‘generation’ having fundamentally different characteristics, strengths and weaknesses. To an extent, this is true, but you cannot say that everyone born in 1979 is hard-working and successful, while everyone born in 1980, just one year later, are lazy and dependent. Everybody cannot be defined by one set category, in fact characteristics tend to be spread out between generations, and even then, these characteristics change dramatically as each person ages. What really exists is people, and to categorize them based on their birth year only shows our ignorance as a population.
You may have seen the edition of the popular ‘Time’ Magazine, in May 2013, titled “The Me Me Me generation”. It quotes that “Millennials are lazy, entitled narcissists who still live with their parents’. Is it fair to class everyone born between 1980 and 2000 as having these characteristics? We have this stereotype of Millennials that they’re so much worse than the youth of the past, that somehow all future generations are doomed, due to Millennial’s apathetic nature. But how can you draw all of these conclusions from just opinions? If you look back into the past, we actually find the exact same characteristics in youth back then. A Life Magazine article from 1968 quotes that ‘the phrase ‘to make a living’ could have absolutely no meaning to these children of the affluent society’, complaining that youth at the time are over-indulged and don’t want to work for a living. Now that’s not Millenials we are talking about, it’s Baby Boomers, who are now saying the exact same thing about Millennials today! Stepping even further back, the Famous Greek poet and economist Hesiod, quoted in one of his books written in 700 BC: “When I was a boy, we were taught to be discreet and respectful of elders, but the present youth are exceedingly… impatient and restraint.’ And the well known greek philosopher Socrates once said that “The children now love luxury; they have bad manners, are contempt for authority; they show disrespect for elders and love chatter in place of exercise.” This shows us that the characteristics Millennials today are stereotyped with have actually existed in young people since as long as 2700 years ago! Somehow, we as a population believe that the mannerisms young people have today are indicative of them becoming substandard citizens in the future, despite the fact that young people have been exhibiting these exact qualities for many years in the past.
But lets face it, most of the time when we are talking about generations, especially in the media, we are usually just using insulting stereotypes, nothing more. And for the most part, these stereotypes we hear about millennials just aren’t true. Now, let’s take one of the stereotypes: “Millennials are narcissists’, basically meaning they only care about themselves. If Millennials are so narcissistic, then why is it that when asked what is most important to them in their life, things like being a good parent, having a successful marriage and helping others in need had the highest percent of answers, while things like having a high paying career, having lots of spare time and becoming famous, traits of a narcissist, were much less commonly answered. To back this up further, a study of Cohort effects from 1976 to 2006 concluded that ‘they found no reason to deduce that the average Millennial was dramatically different in terms of narcissism than previous generations’. In fact, what the study actually found is that as a person ages, their narcissism decreases, but their crankiness towards younger generation’s narcissism increases.
Another stereotype, we hear about: ‘Millennials are entitled’, basically means they believe they are deserving of privileges and special treatment. Okay, so if millennials are entitled, then why is it that 53% of university graduates held internships in 2011 and nearly half of these were unpaid. How can so many millennials be entitled, yet so willing to work for free? And stereotype number three: Millennials are always on their phones, and it’s ruining their lives. In this case, Yes, this is partially true, they are on their phones a lot. But do you know who else is? Your parents are, and even grandparents! Yes, it’s true, my grandma has a mobile phone, iPad, laptop and even a Facebook account! The truth is that everyone’s on their phones, because it is the most revolutionary communications device invented so far within our lifetimes.
Out of all these stereotypes, these categorisations, there are some things we can actually say, truthfully, about the Millennial Generation as a whole. They are the most Diverse generation to date, the most educated generation to date, and 70% of them are already saving for retirement. Overall, the only ‘thing’ they all are together, is young. We need to let go of these concerns we’ve created, because Millennials will end up just fine, as all generations previous to them have done so in the past.