The Millennial Generation: Me or We?
First, there were the Baby Boomers (that’s me), the huge population bubble arriving after World War II. Born into post war optimism and prosperity, we were the children of parents who grew up in the depression. We were the kids of the 60’s who rebelled against authority. Although born into greater affluence, as adults we actualized the hard working values of our parents.
Generation X’ers, born between 1960-1982, are now in their 40’s. In their twenties, they were characterized as disenfranchised, materialistic, and slackers. But according to recent longitudinal studies, these adults entering mid-life are highly educated, happy, well-adjusted, family oriented individuals. They grew up nicely.
The young adults of today, called the Millennial Generation or Generation Y, were born between 1982-2000. My daughters are “Millennials.” This is a crowd that came of age into one of the worst and longest lasting recessions in recent history. I was in my 20’s in the early 1970’s, which was during the last great recession. I went straight into graduate school after college because there were simply no jobs. Like many others, graduate school seemed like a better idea than driving a taxi.
These adults are the most educated generation yet and like the Baby boomers, one of the largest. Emily Smith and Jennifer Aaker write about this generation in their article in the New York Times, 12/1/2013, titled “Millennial Searchers.” They are struggling to manage in hard economic times. They are in debt, many are un- or under-employed, and there is stiff competition for advancement into higher paid positions.
They have been characterized as selfish, lazy, and narcissistic. But the authors of the Times article views them differently. Living through hard economic times, they are a generation in flux. They are considering what constitutes “success” in the face of financial hardship. According to Smith and Aaker, they “appear to be more interested in living lives defined by meaning than by what some would call happiness. They report being less focused on financial success than they are on making a difference.”
But what is the pursuit of meaning versus the pursuit of happiness? Meaning refers to the degree we feel that our lives have purpose, value, and impact. Happiness on the other hand represents getting what you want. The former is more “other oriented” and the latter more “self-oriented.” Of course, those with a life they define as meaningful report greater well-being.
A recent survey of 9,000 top students and recent graduates who were members of the National Honor Society found that they were interested in health care and government over other occupations. They want to help others.
I see this among my children and their friends. My youngest daughter is in school to become a Family Nurse Practitioner. When she was considering career options, she chose health care over finance. Several of her friends are completing social work degrees. She has friends who are in law school and want to work as public defenders. They want to make a difference in other people’s lives.
The generation gap seems the greatest when the new generation is in their early 20’s. But as they grow up, become parents, and develop careers, they mature into their adult selves. There are differences in how they manage those familiar roles and responsibilities, but we also see how they are similar to their parents.
Her generation seems less concerned with making a ton of money. Smith and Aaker suggest that lean economic times have both advantages and disadvantages when it comes to its impact on a generation. “Millenials have been forced to reconsider what constitutes a successful life.” By focusing on meaning, they will be setting themselves up for a life with greater well-being.
What have you observed about this generation?