There is no word that a Millennial is more tired of hearing than “Millennial.” A cursory Google search will bombard you with headlines that are as contradictory as they are condescending, making bold declarations about a large, complex group of people based off of a few scattered data points.
“Millennials want their cars,” the title declares, as if the fact that young people today wanted independence and mobility was somehow shocking. “Most millennials say they’d rather rent than buy a home — a decision that could cost them more than $700,000 over the course of their lives,” the headline states, as if Millennials made bad financial decisions for some inexplicable, quirky reason to do with mason jars rather than because they are subject to the same broader economic forces we all are.
As a 25 year old, craft brew sipping, Twitter obsessed, card carrying (but not cash, God forbid) Millennial, I am frustrated with shallow, lazy thought-pieces that pass for analysis of our generation. The media treats us as these weird, unique little creatures who inexplicably refuse to buy homes and are “skittish from the recession” (as if skittishness were an adolescent mood swing, rather than a natural reaction to the worst economic crisis of the current century). Long, agonizing think pieces are dedicated to figuring out why we are “The Cheapest Generation”, written by what I imagine must be a room of bearded, balding men in tiny glasses with thick frames pondering furiously why those darned kids these days were acting so strangely. What’s funny is that I find those who would condemn our generation for being less consumerist less infuriating than those who would praise it. Newsweek tells us that Millennials are “not that into things,” implying that our generation is somehow more moral and pure, as if the combination of circumstance and genetics has magically imbued us with a superior worldview.
(The best part of that article, by the way? The only data it cites on materialism is a study that points out that Millennials and their parents prioritize experiences over possessions at exactly the same rate.)
Look, Millennials, to paraphrase Chuck Palahniuk, we are not special. We’re not a beautiful and unique snowflake. We’re the same decaying organic matter as everything else.
We, like everyone else, are broke. The economic system Mom and Dad relied on fell apart somewhere along the way—the only difference is that they were lucky enough to have stashed something away before it all came crashing down. We live with our parents because we can’t get jobs, even with college degrees. We don’t buy homes because less than half of for sale homes are within the reach of median Millennials. We don’t buy cars because between rising housing costs and ballooning student loan debts, we don’t really have the economic strength to add auto loans onto our financial load.
We aren’t weird. We aren’t special. We aren’t lazy.
We’re just broke.
So let’s stop asking the boring questions and start asking interesting ones.
When the economy picks up, will Millennials begin to act like their parents, or are these economy induced changes permanent? We know the recession affected older Millennials—but what about the youngest, who are set to enter a much healthier job market?
If we’re not special snowflakes, what are we?
This post previously ran on Jan 27th, 2015 as “Millennial Truths: What Marketers Don’t Want You to Know“