The "Story" of the Millennial Generation

What makes a "millennial"? What is the cultural narrative or story that surrounds "millennials"?

  1. According to Rose in the article below, “Stories are recognizable patterns, and in those patterns we find meaning. We use stories to make sense of our world and to share that understanding with others.” Stories, then, are our attempt to make sense of what we see in our world. Stories are a way to identify patterns and trends and categorize seemingly random pieces of information to something that we can wrap our minds around.
  2. The "story" of the millennials serves the same function. By creating a cultural narrative to describe this generation, we attempt to make sense of the generation as a whole and attempt to understand their behavior; we seek to categorize them into recognizable patterns and identify overarching trends. If you are a millennial, you already have a "story" attached to you, simply by being part of this generation.
  3. Who are "the millennials"?

  4. The millennials are usually considered to include people born from the early 1980's to the early 2000's. It means basically the same thing as "Generation Y," which was originally used to distinguish the millennial generation because it was the generation that followed Generation X (people born between the 1960's and the 1980's). If you do the math, this means that the millennials are now ages 18 to 34, more or less.
  5. What is the story of the millennials?

  6. What is the cultural narrative that surrounds this generation? In other words, what is the "story" that people have in their heads about what characterizes the millennials? To boil it down, often (but not always, as we'll look at it a second) millennials are characterized in the following ways.
  7. Self-Centered
  8. Millennials grew up in an era where you got a trophy for participating to boost "self-esteem," which many say led to a generation of narcissists with a sense of entitlement. (And support their argument by pointing to a National Institutes of Health survey that indicated 58% more college students scored higher on a narcissism scale in 2009 than in 1982).
  9. Unwilling to Work Hard
  10. In a survey in 1992, 80% of people stated they wanted a job with more responsibility. When the same question was posed to millennials in 2002, that number had fallen to 60%. Millennials are notorious for valuing work-life balance and flexible work schedules more than a paycheck. In fact, 15% of male and 21% of female millennials would give up some pay and slow their pace of promotion if it meant working fewer hours.
  11. Transient and Afraid of Adulthood
  12. Millennials take longer to reach the "adulthood" milestones as compared to previous generations. 70% of millennial have never been married and they reach other milestones like home ownership and parenthood later than previous generations. For some, this delay into true "adulthood" indicates a perpetual unwillingness to "grow up." The TIME article above even relates that more millennials live with their parents than with a spouse, and that millennials are "stunted, having prolonged a life stage between teenager and adult."
  13. Technology-Driven, aka Smartphone Obsessed
  14. 39% of millennials say they interact with their smartphones more on a daily basis than their significant other, children, co-workers, parents or friends. Millennials account for 41% of smartphone usage, when they only make up 21% of the population.
  15. What's the other story?

  16. Generation Nice
  17. The cultural narrative surrounding the generation of millennials that I described above isn't the only story out there. In fact, in a New York Times article describes the millennials very differently: it's not "Generation Me"-- it is "Generation Nice." While the above story crafted millennials as lazy and entitled, you can take some of those same statistics and find a different story. For example, in the article below, it is quoted that 64% of millennials would rather make $40,000 a year at a job they love, rather than $100,000 a year at a job they think is boring. So maybe it isn't so much laziness, but different priorities. Similarly, millennials favor companies that promote good citizenship, and so they're more likely to be vegetarian or wear clothes made from organically formed cotton. The above narrative would say this is an example of narcissism; the article below argues that this really represents the millennial propensity for empathy. Millennials, this argue explains, are also open-minded, civically minded, confident, and self-expressive.
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