Millennials are the line that separates Boomers and Gen X’ers from the blossoming Generation Z, and in the coming decades, what they do, say, and believe is going to have a massive impact on the state of the planet in terms of how society operates, and how we as a species move forward with the embrace of the information age.
What is a Millennial?
Pew Research Center confines the generation to those born between 1981 and 1996, 1997 being the beginning of Generation Z. But there’s more to it than that, I mean, why call them Millennials in the first place?
The term Millennial was coined in the early 80s by authors William Strauss and Neil Howe, who saw the, then kindergartners, as the first adults of the new millennium. The Graduating class of 2000 had experienced the first consumer computers, played video games on the first home game consoles, and even had Bop-it! The Internet was on its way to the everyday life of the average American and for some it was already there. Millennials in 2020 are between 24 and 38 years old. Some are well into adulthood buying their first homes, others are just beginning to get their footing in the world, fresh out of college and deeply in debt.
Why the Tao Reference?
Millennials inhabit a scary slice of the population caught between two very different generations, never fully able to ally with either. The Boomers figured out how to dig deep and work through things, began to open up about sexuality, and started to stray away from tradition, but in the 21st century, boomers have had a hard time keeping up with the pace of their modern counterparts. Generation Z is fresh, they are fast, they are smart, they’re deeply in touch with their humanity, and they adapt to change, but they are also inexperienced, easily influenced and heavily marketed to.
Right down the middle there’s Millennials. More adaptable than their parents but more grounded than their younger siblings. In ancient China, philosophers developed a symbol representing the symbiosis and dualistic nature of reality, this symbol known as Taijitu may be more easily recognized as “The Yin and Yang.” The symbol depicts a black and white spiral with a black dot in the white spiral and a white dot in the black spiral. This symbol shows that there is not simply good and evil or rich and poor, but a dance between the poles, each pole having in its heart, a bit of the opposite. In Taoism, the line that separates the two is called The Tao. The Tao is the balancing point, it is neither black nor white, yin nor yang. The generation in question is that dividing line, the point at which a harmony between supposed opposites lives and dances to the rhythm of nature as it ought to.
This article is not an attempt to glorify a certain age group as being more or less important and I need to make that clear. Millennials have their own set issues that we will get into. I did, however, intend to paint a picture of the position that Millennials inhabit in the generational structure.
Educated, Poor, and Unmarried, Depending on what Color You Are
Let’s a take a few things that stand out as key differences between Millennials and Boomers, things that are crucial to understanding why Millennials are sometimes perceived as entitled and lazy to older generations.
Education for boomers was often put aside for more pressing matters like work and family life. In 1982, Baby Boomers with 1 or more college degrees made up only 24% of the population of that demographic. That same 25-37 population in 2018 was nearly 40% college educated with only an 8% dropout (compared to the boomers 30%). Millennials were taught early on that the key to success in the modern age would be an education. That education however was not without a price. Boomers had experienced college under the Higher Education Act, enacted by President Johnson in the 60’s, making it easier to obtain a college education through Federal grants and scholarships. Their perception of college was that it would have been a responsible decision, even if they chose to do otherwise, and, those who did choose otherwise, likely saw their educated counterparts faring well as adults. This led to Millennials being drilled with the importance of a college education by their parents, teachers, the media and people on TV.
Many Millennials went to college without really having a reason to, or even wanting to. Those that did want to go often took up majors that seemed financially advantageous and found they hated actually working in the industry.
Millennials are highly educated, but burdened by massive debts. The large influx of applicants pushed up tuition rates to the point where families today still need assistance through either grants or private loans in order to afford the cost of higher education. Millennials don’t trust academia the same way, the value of a college degree just isn’t what it used to be, making it harder to find employment that satisfies the need to pay back the debt incurred in order to obtain it.
This lack of financial means is likely a contributor to the demographics’ low marriage rates compared to their predecessors. Being unable to set a solid financial foundation means uncertainty, and uncertainty has no place in a marriage. Millennials also grew up with a staggering number of divorced or divorcing parents, making them question what marriage meant to them, whether or not it was worth the possible aftermath.
Every discrepancy mentioned above is based on averages, most data coming from Pew Research Center (those guys really make my life a lot easier). But averages aren’t the same averages they were in the 70s and 80s. Americas Millennial minorities nearly outnumber the white population, and there are wild differences in those numbers when it comes to financial means, education and marriage.
Whites and Asians in America make up much of the upper class Millennials, the ones who can afford college, find employment, and often purchase a home where they can start a family. Blacks and Hispanics are often relegated to lower class communities with less access to education and means of reaching financial stability. On a bright note though, these differences have been showing signs of closing the divide in some areas.
When asked about their perceived feelings about the future of America, Gen Z respondents described a healthy optimism for the state of things, they may not be perfect but we are moving in a lot of the right directions. Millennials aren’t quite as upbeat, though that’s not to say that they are specifically Pessimistic. Many are ready to take up the mantle and work toward their dreams even if there is anxiety about what the future might hold. Many Millennials are seeking out non-traditional types of employment some even venturing into owning a business being self-employed.
The Millennial Day to Day
Millennials have found a different work/life balance than previous generations, working more on the one hand but sleeping more on the other. Their personal care routines take up more of their time, they are more likely to socialize for fun even with many currently working toward a higher education. Their spending habits include spending less on entertainment, spending more online, and being more likely to use coupons.
They spend more time online than Boomers and Gen X’ers but slightly less than Gen Z’ers. There is still a focus on brand names but a trend towards convenience and customer service as more important than brand name.
Millennials Going Forward
As debts start getting paid off and Millennials develop to maturity, their parenting choices, their spending habits, and their overall levels of fulfillment will impact the new developing generations. Will they take the lessons learned from the Boomers and adapt them to a world increasingly made up of younger faces with new technologies? Or will they fall behind? Will they help to build the future up? Or will they be the dead weight that needs to be culled before more progress can occur? That’s their choice.
I am optimistic, I see Millennials changing the face of industries and ushering in the Information age, albeit, not without some growing pains.