The media loves to talk about Millennials. Every day there is a new article about Millennials doing something or another. Amongst the flurry of headlines about ‘Millennials this‘ and ‘Millennials that,’ have we ever stopped to consider what is a Millennial?
Let’s explore what a Millennial is, from their history, and personality to their future.
What is a Millennial?
Millennials are the generation of people born between 1981 and 1996. There is still some debate over what a millennial is – where exactly one age group end, and the next begins – but overall, this is the definition that is accepted as fact.
In other words, Millennials are the ’90s kids – children that shaped and were shaped by the pop culture trends of the 1990s. If you were a young person during that time, you are probably a Millennial.
Millennials were the demographic that brought us most of the fashion and entertainment trends of the noughties and nineties. You can identify who and what is a millennial by specific popular trends.
The millennial generation’s favorite childhood cartoons include SpongeBob SquarePants, Dragon Tales, and rugrats. A rise then followed the stylized, hand-drawn Cartoon Network and Nickelodeon cartoons in Disney Channel shows. As millennials became teenagers, they watched shows like Lizzie Mcguire, That’s So Raven and Phil Of The Future.
Many millennials also popularized many iconic fashion trends. Accessories like skinny scarves, jelly shoes, and studded belts flew off the shelves throughout the decade. Many millennials also normalized the coexistence of multiple different style ‘scenes.’
‘Emo‘ and ‘goth‘ styles were readily available next to ‘hipster‘ and ‘preppy‘ styles. In other words, ‘Hot Topic’ kids and ‘Forever 21’ kids lived in harmony. This was just the beginning of the millennial generation’s rising social justice and cultural acceptance. After all, what is a millennial if not an activist?
1. A Brief History of Millennials, Boomers, and Gen X:
Before millennials hit the scene, the previous generations, Baby Boomers and Generation X were the dominant generations. Baby Boomers were the name given to the population of children born between 1946 and 1964, during what was called the ‘baby boom.’ The ‘baby boom’ happened after World War II when prosperity was high, and people were having more and more babies. They both are in the same generation.
Baby Boomers were the largest generation the world had seen so far. Boomers were the children of the 60s; they created the hippie and mod cultures that the decade was synonymous with. Hippies had a mantra of ‘make love, not war’ (usually aimed toward the gruesome Vietnam War that was going on at the time). Hippies were called ‘tree huggers’ for their environmentally friendly lifestyle.
‘Mods,’ on the other hand, were a different type of counterculture, one that looked towards the future. With the rise of science fiction literature and film, the 60’s version of the future became more transparent and more precise. ‘Mods‘ were the group that believed in ‘the future is now.’ Bright colors and short, blunt hair defined the style. Mods’ and hippies also ushered in the second sexual liberation as teens and young adults, younger generations were pushing back against the rule’s of 50’s society.
Baby boomers came into a world that was steadily getting better. Civil rights movements, space exploration, television and radio, and growing feminism – all became during their youths. This is why Boomers tend to think of progress as linear; ‘things can only get better‘ is a mentality Boomers still have today. This is why Boomers see the Government (and establishment in general) as an ally and their country of origin as the best in the world. They tend to be more conservative as a result.
Baby Boomers are the parents of Millennials, and some members of Generation X (the generations that are often confused about whatare most millennials) Generation X (or Gen X) is often forgotten about in conversations regarding ages. They were generally regarded as a generation of ‘slackers,’ but this may not be entirely fair.
Gen X children saw the highest divorce rates of any of their predecessors. Boomers were getting divorced more often as the sexual revolution made dating in middle age and remarrying more acceptable. Gen X also had the lowest parental oversight as more Boomer women were entering the workforce. This meant Gen X were more independent children.
Gen X was a generation born during a steady recession. They did not know the economic prosperity of their parents. Their personal finance and financial debt had tripled during their youth, and a single income could no longer support a household. This economic strain was a significant factor in the crack cocaine and AIDS epidemic. Trust in the Government was declining due to this, and the Watergate scandal did not help.
It wasn’t all bad, however. Gen X saw an increase in college graduates by 53 per cent from their Boomer predecessors. Gen X was the first to have personal computers in the home. The civil rights movements had a substantial impact on Gen X, and they were a more tolerant and accepting generation when compared to their parents. The term millennial generation refers to those between the ages of Generation X and Generation Z.
Gen X has a reputation for being cynical and lazy. This is an inaccurate assessment, however, as they were born with high expectations to live up to and very few resources to help them accomplish those standards. They were deemed ‘slackers‘ for not surpassing the Boomers in their careers despite having undergraduate degrees.
The generations that criticized Gen X for their relatively stagnant progress were already stable in their careers, so they did not know of the economic hardships Gen X faced. It is because of this that Gen X became ‘cynical‘ as they resented being blamed for the government’s shortcomings by the prior generations.
This brings us now to what a Millennial is. Millennials are the children of Boomers and Gen X. Millennials were initially called Generation Y, The “Me” Generation, and The Internet generation.
Millennials, as we established, are kids in the 90’s. They have always been familiar with the internet, although they have seen massive technological changes in their lifetime.
They witnessed the migration from dial-up modems to WiFi networks, saw the rise and fall of various mobile devices (Nokia 3310, flip phones, BlackBerry, and smartphones).
They were born and brought up in a digitized landscape, and that means they were well equipped to pioneer digital technologies like Bluetooth and social media (Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube, most notably).
Millennials have been hit harder by the recessions and rising inflation than both their predecessors. Unemployment, homelessness, public debt, and student loan debt are at an all-time high, and Millennials have suffered the brunt of the consequences.
Millennials did continue the overall trend of higher education, with most young people now having bachelor’s or even master’s degrees.
The problem with this is that it led to Millennials amassing a considerable amount of student debt. Colleges like Yale have increased their tuition fees from 2,550 dollars in 1970 (where the minimum wage was 1 dollar 45 cents) to 45,800 dollars in 2015 (where the minimum wage was 7.25).
In other words, a student would have to work 5 hours daily to pay off their fees in 1970 but would have to work 18 hours daily to do the same in 2015!
Furthermore, the saturation of the job market means that the only jobs available to students now are minimum wage jobs.
In contrast, in 1970, a high school diploma would be sufficient to get a job that would support a family of four. It seems the trend towards more extended college stays is not a choice but a necessity as it is impossible to compete in the sparse job market without at least a college degree.
Recessions like the 2008 housing crisis and the recent Corona Virus crisis have had negative impacts on both their finances and their mental health. Millennials are the unhappiest generation since the Silent Generation (one of the age groups that suffered through two World Wars!).
Since Millennials have never seen economic prosperity, they are less likely to have blind faith in the capitalist system. Boomers found enormous success through the system, and Gen X saw the failures of the communist Soviet Union, so neither challenged the economic status quo.
Millennials have not been so complacent. Wage gaps, the shrinking middle class, and rising homelessness have made millennials consistently more socialist.
Millennials have always been politically active. Born in an increasingly diverse society, Millennials are unlikely to discriminate based on gender, race, or sexuality.
They also call out injustice more often as a result. The recent Black Lives Matter movement and protests over the murder of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor by U.S police are an example of that. Millennials also helped push for diversity in media through boycotts of the Oscars for not being inclusive enough and boosting LGBTQ+ shows like Rupaul’s Drag Race.
2. What Is a Millennial Like?
While we have established ‘what is a millennial,’ we have yet to explore the characteristics of the generation. Of course, many stereotypes are surrounding Millennials. Some are accurate, but some are reductive, untrue, and downright rude!
So let’s separate ‘what a millennial’: fact vs. fiction is.
2.1. Millennials Are Entitled:
Fiction: The theory that Millennials grew up entitled and lazy because of their secure childhoods merely is false. ‘Participation trophies’ don’t make someone entitled; their privilege does! Millennials have been historically disadvantaged, and their cries for change have been misinterpreted as greed. Privileged boomers are more likely to act entitled as they grew up with the mentality that ‘the world was their oyster.’
2.2. Millennials Are The New ‘Tree Huggers’:
Fact: What is a millennial without their metal straws and jute bags? Millennials are notoriously environmentally conscious, calling for action against climate change and consistently following ‘Reduce, Reuse, Recycle‘ protocol. They were labeled ‘Hipsters‘ and had a message that bears a striking resemblance to the ‘Hippies‘ of 1960.
2.3. Millennials Are Killing Industries:
Fiction: Millennials are not the reason industries are failing; the market is! Wages have barely moved since the 60s despite massive inflation. It’s no wonder Millennials aren’t buying diamonds or dinner napkins- the industry cannot keep up with the lower incomes and fiercer competition. During a recession, if something isn’t a necessity, you cannot expect people to indulge in it.
The question ‘what is a millennial‘ has long been met with this presumption, but the idea that millennials are killing industries is simply not right.
2.4. Millennials Are Self-Obsessed:
Somewhat: Instagram and Snapchat make it seem like Millennials are obsessed with themselves and are continually documenting every mundane detail of their life.
At least many older people think so. While it is true that Millennials are a tad narcissistic, it is more to do with the fact that they are young rather than a generational trait. They are also known as the net generation or gen y.
Even Boomers were deemed narcissistic in the ’60s! So, it appears that 20-year-olds, regardless of generation, are self-centred. Now, as Millennials are entering their 30s and 40s, this is less characteristic of them.
So now we can see that every generation is concerned about the next demographic cohort, and fail to see that they were once just like them! There are reports from a principal’s publication in 1815 that criticized children for using too much paper and not being able to use slate and chalk properly! Perhaps older generations should cut Millennials some slack.
3. Who’s Next?
Now that Millennials have begun having children, the question is, who’s next? While discussing ‘what is a millennial,’ we have covered everything from their ancestors their personalities, but we have yet to see who they will be as parents.
Generation Z (Gen Z or Zoomers as they are colloquially known) is the newest generation to come onto the scene, and they have hit the ground running. These young millennials have taken over the internet; TikTok, Instagram, and Youtube are their very own digital playgrounds.
What is a Millennial Gen Z taking the political activism of their predecessors and running with it? They are more left-wing, more radical, and more vocal than Millennials.
Greta Thunberg, a famous Zoomer activist, gave an intensely moving speech at the U.N General Assembly at just 17 years of age! Gen Z has raised funds, and awareness for the Black Lives Matter and Yemen relief funds by harnessing the crowdsourcing power of social media. Gen Z is on the road to greatness.
4. What Have We Learned?
The answer to the question ‘who is a millennial‘ is complicated. They are a generation of personal branding, social networks, and social justice, although not all millennials are the same this is the most common observation.
They may seem novel and unprecedented, but in actuality, they are generally the same as every other generation that came before them.
The platforms, social networks, or mediums may be different, but in its essence, the youth have and always will be full of energy and ideas for change. Older generations will just have to accept that they are no longer the voice of the nation.