Many from the Baby Boomer generation didn’t understand the Generation X-ers, and it’s quite possible that many older Millennials will soon find it hard to understand Generation Z, many of whom are now approaching adulthood in an age that would’ve almost seemed like a science fiction setting years ago.
For now, Millennials seem to be the generation others love to hate, so much to the point that even some of us refuse the label altogether.
There is some debate about where the generation begins and ends, but the Pew Research Center usually focuses on those born between 1981 and 1996. That means many Millennials are now in their mid to late-30s.
But why are these particularly significant years? Why are Millennials – more than 70 million of those who make up the largest living generation today in America – so misunderstood?
Furthermore, why do publications like Fortune Magazine and other business publications seem so perplexed that so many of us aren’t purchasing diamonds or buying new homes to own?
It probably has a lot to do with the time in which many of us came to age. Many of us grew up during a recession, and even today, our earnings do not have the same purchasing power as previous generations’ earnings have had.
This, coupled with the majority of Millennials living in debt and job insecurity, is a recipe for disaster and probably part of the reason Millennials are chastised for our supposed “entitlement.” Maybe some folks are mistaking economic anxiety for “entitlement.”
The simple fact of the matter is fewer Millennials believe upward mobility is possible as their wages stagnate and the cost of living increases, which likely contributes to the political generational gap cited by Pew researchers who said Millennials tend to have more leftist, “liberal and Democratic” tendencies than previous generations.
For many working-class Millennials, in particular, the American Dream only happens when asleep. This is especially true for the Millennials born in the ’90s who find it hard to remember a time when the nation was truly prospering.
Consider these numbers:
• In the 1940s, the median home value was about $3,000. By the turn of the century, it had risen to nearly $120,000. Based on the cost of living then, an average house today – adjusted for inflation – should cost around $30,000.
• In just a decade, average tuition at a public four-year institution went from about $7,300 to nearly $10,000. In the late ’90s, that number was around $4,800.
• According to a Harvard study in 2017, hourly inflation-adjusted wages for the typical American worker have grown 0.2 percent each year since the early ’70s, despite the rapid price increases for higher education, homes and even other basic necessities like food and transportation.
In the face of economic anxiety, many Millennials have, however, learned to roll with the punches.
Even Forbes Magazine said in 2014 that Millennials understand the need to put “110 percent” into their work to compete in an increasingly competitive job market and make it in an economy of stagnating wages and increased cost of living.
Perhaps what’s best of all about Millennials is that we have generally kept our cynicism at bay in the face of this economic anxiety.
We generally expect diversity in the workplace and society as a whole – in terms of race, gender and sexuality – more than previous generations. For us, this diversity isn’t a scapegoat for the problems we face, and it’s largely seen as mandatory, not a pipe dream.
We are arguably the first generation to truly embrace a cosmopolitan outlook on the world, and we communicate with millions around the world globally through new technological mediums.
We largely reject the rigid ethnocentrism that says we are all fundamentally different, despite not being able to remember a time when the United States wasn’t involved in a clash of civilizations in the Middle East.
In the face of sociopolitical and economic anxiety, Millennials are working to stake their claim to becoming tomorrow’s leaders, and it’s possible that growing up under different conditions might inspire us to do things differently and embrace innovation in the years to come.
And hopefully, we’ll be kinder to Generation Z when they begin to inherit the world.