Have you heard? Millennials are failing. The headlines blare: the poor unfortunate souls born between ~1980 to ~2000 are anxious, depressed, lonely, maladjusted, emotionally needy, participation-trophy-owning, selfie-stick-clutching, over-sharing, lol, I can’t even failures at this game called life.
Some of the headlines just sound ridiculous, like, when the New York Times recently claimed Millennials are killing breakfast cereal. Why? The poor little darlings don’t want to clean out the bowl is the going theory. This week the Times focused on how Millennials are doing their best to kill office culture. After reading that NYT article about how Millennials act like spoiled children who’ve wandered into an office where actual adults are trying to work, Kyle Smith of the New York Post piled on with his article, sweetly entitled: Millennials Need to Put Away the Juice Boxes and Grow Up. But that’s nothing. Last year, over at Breitbart, Ben Shapiro wrote a hell of a poison pen love letter to Gen-Y called: 7 Reasons Millennials Are the Worst Generation. Male journalists love to take that Old Testament tough love approach since they believe Millennials are too soft, and that having spared the rod, we’ve spoiled the child.
Over at Quartz, Jenny Anderson clutched at pearls, worried with concern for the mental health and wellbeing of Millennials. Mental health is a very real concern (unlike any of Shapiro’s blathering). Citing a recent study that showed that Millennials suffer from increased rates of anxiety and depression, Anderson focused on findings from a San Diego State University study. She pointed out that: “high school students in the 2010s were twice as likely to see a professional for mental health issues than those in the 1980s.” Anderson went on to list a few possible motives for this mental health crisis. Here’s a sample:
1. Helicopter parenting undermined the need to let kids struggle
2. Unavailable/overworked parents
3. As kids they didn’t enjoy enough unstructured play
4. Career expectations rise but opportunity has flat-lined
That does sound like a recipe for disaster. But hold up! What if Millennials aren’t experiencing an increased rate of depression, but rather what if they’re the first generation to overcome the stigma of therapy and are willing to seek help? What if they’re not more messed up but actually braver than previous generations? What about that?
Anderson considered this; she points out that the study’s author, Jean Twenge, doesn’t “believe the rise in anxiety and depression is due solely to more awareness about it.” Twenge argues that more kids these days are reporting “symptoms that predict depression, like inability to focus or trouble sleeping, without reporting an increase in feeling depressed.” Um, since when is prediction outcome? (If we want our fortunes read we can go to a $10 psychic like everyone else.)
If you ask Millennials they’ll tell you shit isn’t peachy, but they’re doing OK. And generational reports, such as the 2016 Deloitte Millennial survey, have found similar reasons for optimism. However, since the New York Times and most every other Gen-X or Baby Boomer journalist seem to miss this message, let’s bust up these Millennial myths.
Popular Opinion: Millennials Are Terrible with Money, and They’re Sinking in Student Debt
While it’s true that many Millennials are mired in student debt, which, as Bloomberg noted in December, does affect their timelines for marriage, families and home purchases, that shouldn’t be considered a fault of theirs. Should we judge Gen-Y for investing in their education? Or for the lack of affordable housing in major cities? No. But what about how little money they’re putting away into savings? That can’t be good. At the beginning of this year, Forbes reported that 50 percent of Millennials have less than $2,000 in savings to deal with an emergency. Yikes! That’s hectic. Those poor Millennials just constantly skirting the edge of disaster! Except…
Actual Facts: Millennials Are Good with Money
The truth is: Millennials’ rate of saving is better than the national average. Forbes also reported that 63 percent of American adults don’t have enough savings if they were faced with a $500 or $1,000 surprise calamity. Tucked away at the end of that same Forbes article that rang alarm bells about Millennial savings you find this comment from an investment banker:
“When Millennials have the means to do the right thing, it appears that they often do,” T. Rowe Price senior manager Anne Coveney told me last year. “They are exhibiting financial discipline in managing their spending and are defying stereotypes that this generation is prone to spend-thrift, short-sighted thinking.”
When you graduate from college into an economy that appears less promising than the one your parents entered, it may take you a moment to find your economic footing. But when you ask the people paid to pay attention to the spreadsheets, the truth is right there in the numbers.
Popular Opinion: Millennials Make Terrible, Needy Employees Who Don’t Respect Authority
“They prefer more informal arrangements. They prefer to judge on merit rather than on status. They are far less loyal to their companies. They are the first generation in America to be raised on a heavy diet of workplace participation and teamwork. They know computers inside and out. They like money, but they also say they want balance in their lives.”
Sorry, that’s not about Millennials. That’s from this article from 1998, written about Gen X. Most people forget what we once said about the “slacker” generation. But as you can see it’s almost all the same shit. The real story is…
Actual Facts: Millennials are Loyal, Flexible, Cooperative, Value-Driven Employees
According to Pew Research, last year Millennials surpassed Gen-X as the largest generational population in the workforce. Which means, right now, more than one in three American workers are from Gen-Y. By 2030 Millennials will account for 75 percent of the workforce. This is a good and fine thing for the American economy. Why? According to the White House’s study on Millennials in the Workforce (from pg. 29):
Millennials are sometimes characterized as lacking attachment or loyalty to their employers, but in fact, as Figure 20 shows, contrary to popular perceptions Millennials actually stay with their employers longer than Generation X workers did at the same ages.
Not only are Millennials loyal workers, but they are “the most highly educated US generation to date,” among men and women (from pg. 31):
That Millennial women on average exceed Millennial men in terms of educational attainment means that they account for an increasingly large share of our skilled workforce and enter the labor force with early career earnings and employment rates that are considerably closer to their male peers than past generations.
Of course, this isn’t the picture you find in that recent NYT article about office life at Mic.com. In the reported story about what it looks like when Millennials take over the workforce , a female Gen-Y employee is made to look rather childish and ridiculous when she expects an apology from her male boss. Hey, New York Times, that’s how the world works now. Don’t you read that guy you publish: Thomas Friedman? The world is flat, remember? Hierarchies are old news. They slow down progress. These days, a female employee can and should expect an apology from her male boss. That’s not some needy Millennial bullshit. That’s called emotional intelligence. You want that in your workforce. As Forbes pointed out: Millennials don’t want participation trophies. They want reinforcement. They have value-based, non-hierarchical standards, and they want their boss’s help to succeed.
Popular Opinion: Millennials Stumble Through an Empty, Tinder-Based Hookup Culture
Millennials swipe right, drop their drawers and are so quick to hop in bed together they often forget to ask their partner’s name. They engage in a tech-driven hookup culture that ultimately leaves them feeling even more alone and depressed. They prefer fleeting satisfaction to more meaningful relationships. They’re too busy snapping selfies to sink roots and find real love. Except…
Actual Facts: Millennials are More Committed and More Likely to Believe in Marriage While at the Same Time More Willing to Explore Their Sexuality/Kink/Fetishes
Did you know 71 percent of Millennials believe that marriage is a worthwhile institution? That’s according to a study by the Public Religion Research Institute. That kind of counteracts some of the talk about an obsessive hookup culture. For instance, as Bustle noted, a larger proportion of young Millennials are sex-positive and enjoy more casual sex than previous generations, but they also have fewer partners. At roughly the same age Baby Boomers averaged 11.68 partners while Millennials come in at 8.26 partners. And don’t look now, but teen pregnancies and rates of abortion are also falling and have reached an all-time low. Some researchers think this is due to increased use of birth control and cautionary tales from shows like MTV’s Teen Mom. It seems that Millennials enjoy sex responsibly and look forward to the day they can enjoy a committed life of marriage.
The saddest thing about all this handwringing about Millennials is that it’s nothing new. As Wired noted:
In the ’50s, senators fretted that comic books would “offer courses in murder, mayhem, [and] robbery” for youth. In the ’80s, parents worried that Dungeons and Dragons would “pollute and destroy our children’s minds”—and that the Walkman would turn them into antisocial drones. This pattern is as old as the hills.
And, while you’re at it, you can quit with the narcissism talk, too. According to this study on Millennial narcissism, “there is no increase in narcissism in college students over the last few decades.”
It’s past time we put to bed all this talk about the self-obsessed yet failing Millennials. Maybe rather than ridicule the next generation, Baby Boomers (and Gen-X) should focus on their own legacies:
Millennials are selfish & entitled, said the generation that made a cure for old men lacking boners while the ice caps disappeared forever.— Sam Grittner (@SamGrittner) March 23, 2016
So, older folk, go ahead and laugh when a Millennial coworker is snapping a selfie just after leaving her Yelp review of lunch and just before she G-chats her friend a Soundcloud link that she just has to hear. But know that she may not hear your snickering because she’s thinking about her cousin she tutors on FaceTime and is busy in a group text trying to cheer up a friend while in the back of her mind she plans a charity puppy adoption day for this weekend. Basically, Millennials are doing fine. But, please stop distracting them. They have a world to save.