Of Age by the Millennium, but Not a Millennial

The other day in class, my professor was describing sustainable policies and addressed the class as Millennials. Immediately, a girl said we were not known as Millennials but as Generation Y because “we always ask ‘Why? Why? Why?’” Since I’m always up for a debate, I looked at her and said that we are Milennials. I attempted to explain that we can be both Millennials and Generation Y. She argued that she doesn’t consider us Millennials because most of us didn’t have cell phones in middle school. True, I did not have my first cell phone until 7th grade, but that’s not the point. Being a Millennial isn’t solely about the technology we use, or the age individuals received their first cell phone. Being a Millennial is also about how we were raised, and how the media and society have influenced us.

To help my fellow peer out, and others who may be confused as to why we are labeled ‘Millennials’, I’ve decided to spend my weekend writing about it.

Generational labels

Each generation has its own attributes. These characteristics are not all-inclusive, but they are used to reflect societal, cultural, and economic differences each generation would have been exposed to due to historical impacts and changes. Generational labels are used to easily address a certain group of people and are also very important in marketing. For example, because of the way Baby Boomers were impacted by historical and cultural events, the advertising method used to target them would differ from the advertising method used to target a Millennial.

Here are some of the generational labels used today:

Millennials are individuals who have reached adulthood around the turn of the 21st century, the new millennium. The label includes those born after 1980 to 1999. Tech-savvy, resourceful, serial dabblers, easily adaptable, and open to changes are just a few ways to describe Millennials. Compared to previous generations, Millennials are more ethnically and racially diverse, and are more likely to have a college degree. Most have fused technology into their daily lives and have profiles on social networking sites, have put a video or image of themselves online, and have embraced the art of self-expression and self-branding. They are more accepting and open to changes than older generations with approximately four out of ten having a tattoo, and one in every four Millennials having a piercing. Though they grew up during the Age of Terrorism and are a product of a media culture that sensationalizes danger, Millennials are more optimistic about their economic and financial future than previous generations. (Source: Whatis.com)

Generation X includes people born between 1965 to 1980. Generation X-ers are defined by the low birth rates compared to the high birth rates of Baby Boomers and Millennials. The lower fertility rates were due to the availability of birth control in the 1960s and the legalization of abortion in 1973. Generation X-ers are highly educated and family orientated. They witnessed their parents losing their jobs and became concerned with adapting to get ahead and stay afloat. Generation X-ers were more concerned with their own survival than the company they worked for, and they tended to distrust authority and large corporations. Due to witnessing their parent’s struggling with job loss, they are known to be more pessimistic about the economy. Although they are highly educated, the loans they used to attend college were loaned at much higher interest rates than Baby Boomers, resulting in more financial instability and debt. This cohort grew up without segregation and was more inclusive and accepting than their Baby Boomer parents. Generation X-ers also tended to grow up in unstable households. Divorces were more common and even doubled between the 1960s-1970s. The amount of working mothers in the workforce also doubled between 1969-1996. They were also the most unprotected generation in modern history since there were no after school programs, and both parents were usually working full-time jobs (if both parents were still together). Because of their unstable childhood and the lack of supervision due to both parents working, Generation X-ers became the over-protective, helicopters parents Millennials have grown to know and love.

The Baby Boomer label reflects the spike in fertility rates that began in 1946 at the end of World War II. The spike ended in the early 1960s, the time the birth control pill was put on the market and became more widely available. Events that occurred throughout their lifetime include: the Cold War, Cuban Missile Crisis, JFK assassination, Civil Rights Movement, Woodstock, and the Vietnam War. The counterculture movement, sexual freedom, and drug experimentation also rocked their lives, and these movements were documented on television sets that 52 million Americans now had in their living rooms.

Oh, and the Beatles were popular during this time… How could I have forgotten about the Beatles?

The Silent Generation describes adults born from 1928 through 1945. They are the offspring of the Great Depression and World War II. Their “Silent” label refers to their conventional and conformist ideals and attitudes.

The Greatest Generation (those born before 1928) “saved the world” when they fought and won World War II.

Screen Shot 2015-09-04 at 10.38.56 AM

(Source: Pew Social Trends)

Screen Shot 2015-09-04 at 10.26.41 AM(Source: Pew Social Trends)

So why do most Millennials reject their label?

“Just 40% of adults ages 18 to 34 consider themselves part of the “Millennial generation,” while another 33% – mostly older Millennials – consider themselves part of the next older cohort, Generation X” because they do not identify with todays pop-culture, tech savvy teens. (Source: People-Press)

“And Millennials, in particular, stand out in their willingness to ascribe negative stereotypes to their own generation: 59% say the term “self-absorbed” describes their generation, compared with 30% among Gen Xers, 20% of Boomers and just 7% of Silents.” (Source: People-Press)

Millennials are highly critical of themselves because the media and older generations are highly critical of them. Older generations think we have lost touch with reality because we are more concerned with leading a fulfilling life and following our dreams, than settling down and focusing on finding a full-time job with benefits. Our parents watch us take selfies on Snapchat and call us narcissists, but fail to understand that this is a new modern way to communicate. Just like how our parents had to adjust from using landlines to using cellphones, Millennials are also adapting to new trends, and we adjust far more easily to these trends since we have been exposed to rapid, continuous changes throughout our entire lives.

While I still do not fully understand the disparity between what Millennials are characterized as and what Millennials think of themselves, I do have a hunch as to why many Millennials reject their label. As Joe Pinsker wrote, “Millennials just have to be unconventional and rebellious about everything, don’t they?” It’s true. We are unconventional and rebellious about many things. We’re turning out to be an incredible politically correct generation. As far as I can tell, most Millennials reject the label Millennial as a whole because it’s not inclusive, too broad, and the words used to describe a Millennial cannot be used to entirely describe themselves. Because the label is so wide-ranging, from tech savvy entrepreneurs, to eco-friendly activists, to social media obsessed self-branders, most Millennials don’t feel a connection with the term. They would prefer to be as specific as possible. There’s a reason why there are so many Millennial sub-groups. Some sub-groups include:

  • The Female Boss: assertive, professionally focused women with a lower interest in dating
  • Brogrammer: masculine-nerdy tech bros who are career focused, and are typically single with above-average income
  • Underemployed: recent graduates stuck in low paying jobs
  • Shut Out: unemployed Millennials with impractical degrees or no college education
  • Nostalgics: “old school” charitable hipsters who are not wired
  • Travel Enthusiasts: world-traveling global citizens with unquenchable wanderlust
  • Culinary Explorers aka Foodies: honestly, just go on Instagram and search #foodies… ‘nuf said.
  • Exuberants: social media content creators who feel the need to maintain their public image; these Millennials post frequent selfies and are most likely to suffer from FOMO
  • Collectors: those who browse and absorb social feeds without creating and sharing content of their own
  • Quarter Life Crisis Millennial: emotionally uncertain Millennials, faced with too many choices and are paralyzed
  • Millennial Martha’s: crafty and DIY-ers; their preferred social network is Pinterest
  • Millennial Moms: family oriented with high online intensity
  • The Activist: whether standing up for the environment, civil rights, and social justice, these Millennials always have something to fight for, and care about making the world a better place

Keep in mind that there are no formal names for these subgroups and they vary widely.

In addition to these popular subgroups, within society itself there are now so any countercultures it’s almost impossible to keep up and categorize everyone. Individuals are also starting to realize and accept that no one fits perfectly into any box. I like to think of myself as a Female Boss, but I also have my Exuberant tendencies and went through my Quarter Life Crisis last Fall. People and their interests are fluid and ever changing, and what you may categorize someone as today won’t be the same as what you categorize them as next year (hopefully they have allowed themselves to grow). But what the Millennials who do not like associating with that label need to realize is that no generational label is ever going to be all-inclusive, they are simply a way to categorize different generations as best as possible. You may still not consider yourself a Millennial, but you are, whether you like it or not.

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