What is a Millennial, Anyway? — 10 Key Facts About Generation Y

What is a Millennial, Anyway? — 10 Key Facts About Generation Y

The world is talking about Millennials. We’re lazy, entitled and narcissistic — unemployed and living at home with our parents.

But, really, what is a Millennial? (Are we that bad?)

A quick Wikipedia reconnaissance explains, as a starting point, that Millennials are those born between the early 1980s and early 2000s — people that are late teens to mid 30s as of 2016. But what else defines this demographic? Here are 10 things you need to know about Generation Y:

1.   The First Digital Natives

Millennials are the first generation to have grown up in a fully digital world — the only generation who haven’t had to adapt to new technologies like the Internet. Unsurprisingly, they are the most avid users of social media, with it playing a central role in their social relationships. Social media also acts as a dominant source of news and information for Millennials, with 88% claiming to get news via Facebook (source).

2.   Less Money to Spend

Lower employment levels, smaller incomes, and student debt repayments have left many Millennials with less money than previous generations. Economic prospects have declined for many Millennials due largely to the Great Recession of the late 2000s, and as a longer-term effect of globalisation and rapid technological change on Western workforces.

Despite higher university attendance rates compared to the preceding Generation X, many Millennials have found themselves stuck in low-paid jobs. They are the first generation in the modern era to have higher levels of student loan debt, poverty and unemployment, and lower levels of wealth and personal income than the two generations before them at the same stage of life.

3.   Delayed Marriage and Childbearing

With less money to spend, Millennials are putting off major milestones like marriage and children. The median age for marriage in the US is now 30, compared with 23 in the 1970s (source). Millennials are also waiting longer to have children — in the 2010s, the percentage of women having kids in their 30s has grown significantly in comparison to the 1970s, when mid 20s was the peak age to start families.

4.   Declining Homeownership

Homeownership among Millennials is significantly lower than previous generations. In light of tougher economic circumstances, many Millennials find themselves living at home with their parents into adulthood. Interestingly, however, declining rates of homeownership might not be blamed on money matters alone — flexibility is important to Millennials, making the geographical and financial limitations that come with ownership unappealing.

At the same time, research suggests that an overwhelming majority of Millennials still hope to own property at some point in the future (source).

5.   Champions of The Sharing Economy

Millennials want access, not ownership. In the age of Netflix, Spotify and Zipcar, this generation no longer need to own DVDs, CDs or cars to enjoy what they represent. Millennials are reluctant to invest in physical consumer goods for themselves, preferring instead new service models that provide access to products without the burdens of ownership.

6.   Seeking Experiences Over Things

Millennials value experiences more than things or assets, a study by Eventbrite noting: For this group, happiness isn’t as focused on possessions or career status. Living a meaningful, happy life is about creating, sharing and capturing memories earned through experiences that span the spectrum of life’s opportunities.

The must have purchases for previous generations — cars and property — are much less important to Millennials; they’re putting off major purchases, or avoiding them entirely. Only 15% deemed car ownership to be extremely important, whilst 30% had no intention to purchase a car in the near future (source).

7.   Wellness

Wellness and health are highly important to Millennials. They’re exercising more, eating healthier, and smoking less than previous generations.

8.   Approach to work

By 2020, Millennials will account for over 50% of the global workforce, and their attitudes towards work greatly differ from previous generations. Whilst Millennials are commonly accused of not wanting to work, it’s more the case that they place great importance on doing work that matters — personal/career development and work/life balance are more important than financial reward. Members of this generation tend to be uncomfortable with rigid corporate structures, and expect a varied and interesting career with rapid progression; they have a strong desire to work abroad, with 71% expecting to an overseas assignment during their career (source).

9.   Politics

As an overall trend, Millennials tend to hold increasingly social liberal attitudes. They maintain a strong level of skepticism towards mainstream politics and politicians, with significant numbers identifying themselves as politically independent or non-affiliated.  

Millennials, unlike generations before them, don’t see government as the best venue for performing their civic duty. Growing up in the online era, where the actions of government are far more visible, this generation have unprecedented expectations of accountability, transparency and responsiveness. Thanks to the Internet and major whistleblowing movements, the mainstream news media are no longer gatekeepers to information; trust in government is no longer a given. (source)

10.   Suspended Adulthood

In the past, we moved straight from childhood to adolescence and then into adulthood. Social scientists are now starting to realise that a permanent re-wiring is taking place, resulting in a new intermediate phase between adolescence and adulthood — suspended adulthood.

Poor employment prospects, student debt and rising costs of living are driving many Millennials back into the parental abode — but the concept of suspended adulthood goes beyond the notion of not being able to buy a house. This new stage of life is being used by Millennials as a time of self-exploration: we travel, we try out careers, we figure out what our priorities for life are. The stable 9-5 job and the house with the white picket fences — the ‘dream’ for the previous generation — hold less value for Millennials.

A more exploratory and experimental approach to life, coupled with economic realities, has given rise to the ‘gig economy’. People are moving away from full-time, long-term jobs towards ad-hoc ‘gigs’, short term employment opportunities that provide variety and mobility: "To the optimists, it promises a future of empowered entrepreneurs and boundless innovation. To the naysayers, it portends a dystopian future of disenfranchised workers hunting for their next wedge of piecework" (source).


Written by Grace Waters


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