Several commentators on a local Internet news site slammed millennials for being entitled, narcissistic, and lazy. Not all of them, just the majority. Amazing! I would love to take a look at their data source. Millennials are an ill defined group of older teens and those in their twenties who are said to form a cohort of similar social attitudes and behaviors. It’s part of a name game begun a few decades ago when we began naming Gen X, Gen Y, and so forth. I guess it started with the naming of the Baby Boomers who were those born of Greatest Generation parents in the baby explosion following WWII. The advertising industry loves to use this sort of pseudo scientific psychographic jargon to sell their wares to their clients. If it makes any sense at all, it is as a shorthand way to describe shifts, imagined or real, in whatever it is we define as normative social values and behavior. I used it myself in my consulting days. It made our clients feel like they had a better handle on the confusing times that lay ahead of them. Shoot, it made me feel like I really knew what I was talking about. Smoke and mirrors, but we believed it.
So what do we know about millennials? Wikipedia has a lengthy article about them that cites several studies, notably from the U. of Michigan, which is known for its social research. Apparently high school seniors and college students do not score as well as their predecessor generations on instruments intended to measure things such as altruism, desire for wealth, interest in politics, etc. How much weight can one give to measurements of teenage social values as predictors of adult behavior? What high schools or colleges were included in the studies, and how representative were they of the greater population of others the same age? Apparently most of it was conducted among white, affluent, suburban raised youth in, or applying to, elite colleges. The same age group from other ethnic, cultural, or economic circumstances displays the greater diversity of characteristics one might expect, at least according to the limited research I noted in a very quick and superficial look.
There is no doubt that the nation is experiencing shifts in what are acceptable normative social values and behavior, as it always has. Nothing new there. As they age, generational cohorts, if there are such things, carry the shifts from cutting edge, to established mores, to declining values, but it’s a messy process that defies easy generalization. Or as one wag put it, “Today’s radicals are tomorrow’s stuffed shirts.”
Has there ever been an older generation that has not derided the younger generation for being soft and lazy? I am a member of the Quiet Generation tucked in-between the Greatest and the Boomers. We were not supposed to have amounted to much of anything as we lolled about in the shadows of our Greatest parents while being overwhelmed by the booming numbers of those younger than us. Now we’re the old goats with all the money the younger generations hope we will leave to them when we die. We have no plans to do either. Commentators critical of the lazy, entitled millennials who will some day run the place seem to forget that they were members of the drug and sex crazed hippie generation. Flower children, every one of them, and not a decent blossom in the bunch. Sure not going to leave our hard earned cash to them.
I have limited exposure to those in their late teens through mid thirties. What I have seen gives me confidence that my old(er) age will be in good hands – if the complainers get out of their way.