Just read a so-so Washington Post article about a much more interesting study from the Pew Research Center that attempts to understand the Millennial generation (loosely defined as those adults born after 1980). The WP article, which I really didn’t enjoy other than for pointing me towards this study, mostly just focused on the negative perspective (read ‘fear’) that older generations have of Millennials and the fact that we don’t value “Work Ethic” as highly, a term which they don’t even bother to define (and each generation likely defines differently).
Here is a chart of the What Makes Your Generation Unique answers:
The actual study from PRC is pretty interesting. They provide some important caveats at the end, pointing out that defining generations is clearly a murky process, for example what makes my brother born in 1979 from a different generation than me, born in 1982? At the same time, although my brother and I share many of the same experiences and cultural exposure from our childhood, in some ways I think of him as more of a GenXer, especially when it comes to technology, but my sister born in 1977, who is more clearly a GenXer is as technologically connected as myself. All this serves to demonstrate that defining generations is far from an exact science (social sciences and economics in general both fitting that description), but nonetheless, we like to feel a loose association of values that tie our ‘generation’ together.
I’d be curious to see how much the values we associate with our generational uniqueness change with time. I can’t imagine Baby Boomers in the 1960s listing “Respectful,” “Work Ethic,” and “Values/Morals” as their representative values. What happened to “Rebellion,” “Freedom,” and “Don’t trust anybody over 30?” I also like that every generation believes on of their Top 5 Unique Characteristics is that they’re smarter than other generations.
Interestingly, although Millennials choose Music/Pop Culture as things that make us unique (something that the young always seem to relish; seriously, the Baby Boomers didn’t identify with this in the 60s?), I find it odd that our priorities are much more in line with traditionally mainstream mores related to family and happiness (defined outside of career success):
This study has raised a lot of concerns in my mind, and I can’t really even begin to address them in this post, but I thought I’d put it out there for people to see and give some comments feedback on their generational thoughts.
Following (and submitting to) the comments section on the Washington Post article has been really weird, mostly to see the vast number of negative comments about Millennials from older generations, comments primarily focused on our laziness, sense of entitlement, spoiled upbringings, and general buffoonery. Unfortunately, my first reaction is to defend my generation and hit back, attacking other generations for perceived faults and lack of understanding and fear (primarily that they are going to lose their jobs to us, which will happen. It happens to every generation. It’s not a unique thing or something to be afraid of, but rather just the natural cycle of things).
But I think getting into dogmatically stereotyping generations and staunchly defending your own is silly. I’d wager to say that as high a percentage of each generation is lazy, stupid, brilliant, or mediocre. The major differences are the ages we are at right now and how open we are remembering how we felt when we were younger and sympathizing with how older generations might feel.
At the same time, I have to agree that older generations are right on some of the entitlement. My experience throughout school and university was that we were told we could do anything we wanted. Anything. The reality when we got to the workplace, especially in this crappy recession market, has been far from that promising. I and others around me have had to adjust to the realities of working life and recognize that boredom and lack of satisfaction in the workforce is not something new or unique to our generation. At the same time, I have found the workplace to be horribly inefficient and most work to be conducted at a fairly lax pace (I admit, I have no problem with this, why rush), but at the same time, there is this constant expectation, in America at least, that one must put in hours and face time and be present, even when actual does not take up 100% of 40 hours or greater. Yet everybody is living in this facade of 40+ hours, with real work taking up significantly less than that. Why can’t we all just recognize this and go home early on Friday?
My other primary concern, which is related, is that all people and ideas be judged on their individual merits, not on their generation or the years of experience they have. Experience doesn’t make necessarily make you better at something, just as a higher level of education doesn’t, or good breeding. Sometimes the best person for the job might be young, sometimes old, but let’s stop making generalizations, and I wish that older generations would give more credit to the young when they have sound ideas, even if less experience. I saw a lot of this attitude during the Democratic Primaries in 2008, with Baby Boomer supporters of Hillary discrediting young Obama supporters, because we just didn’t know yet, and we’d learn to throw away our lofty ideals (I generalize, but there was a LOT of that talk being thrown around).
Luckily, one nice thing about being young: we’re way more optimistic. I encourage older generations to cheer up a bit and pray (well, hope) that we don’t follow a similar path, but I am inclined to think that the world really does belong to the young. I will try not to begrudge them it when I am no longer young.
“There is no sadder sight than a young pessimist”
“What is the more universal human characteristic: fear or laziness?”