Hi, I’m Elizabeth and I’m a Millennial. I was raised by the ’90s, and I’m proud of it. My co-workers often scoff, “You were born in 1988? Psh.” Yes, I was. I wasn’t alive when JFK was shot and I was too naïve to understand why 9/11 was significant at the time, but I was watching when Obama was elected both times and I lived in Boston during the Boston Marathon Bombings, so you know what? I’m gaining my own life experience that some day, a younger generation will ask me about.
Net Generation. Echo Boomers. Generation Next. Youths. We’ve all got names for who we think Millennials are. Maybe you’re one yourself. Maybe you’ve been stereotyped as one. Or maybe, you’re one at heart. But who really are the Millennials? Are the stereotypes accurate, or is Generation Y growing up? Let’s start by breaking the generations down so we know where Millennials fit in:
Baby Boomers: born mid 1940s-mid 1960s
Generation X: born early 1960s-early 1980s
Generation Y (The Millennial Generation): born early 1980s-early 2000s
Generation Z: born early 2000s-present
There are conflicting opinions on the exact dates of when one generation ends and another begins. According to my vague timeline, Millennials were born any time between the early 1980s to the early 2000s. Have you ever heard otherwise? Me, too. But for the purposes of this article, I’m separating the generations into roughly 20-year chunks, because it minimizes overlap. Now, let’s talk about Millennials.
Today, Millennials are people anywhere from 13 to 33, give or take a few months. As you can tell, that’s a broad age range; there are obvious differences between 13-year-olds and 33-year-olds. It would be easy to assume the two ends of the spectrum don’t have anything in common. But the generation line had to be drawn somewhere, and in those 20 years from 1980-2000, a lot of social change happened that impacted the members of the group in the same way. The same goes for the Baby Boomers, Gen X and Gen Z. Chances are, a Millennial has a different stance on gay marriage, Title IX or animal testing than a Baby Boomer. What’s more, the generations experience things differently – everything from diversity to salary to home life.
That’s not to say that all members of each generation fit the social beliefs of their time. Or that we can’t identify with more than one generation. What does it all matter, really? A generation is just a label. There are plenty of Millennials who are old souls. And, there are just as many Gen X-ers who are super tech-savvy. See? Now I’m just stereotyping.
Stereotypes seem to follow Millennials wherever they go. I’ve noticed they’re either spoken about in one of those two terms: extremely positively, or extremely negatively. “I feel just okay about 20-somethings,” said nobody ever; it’s a love/hate thing. On one hand, this group is thought of as a confident generation who is capable of anything and everything; they know what they want and they aren’t afraid to ask for it. Not to mention the increase in female empowerment! Young women are doing more and more without even batting an eye to the prejudices of the past. Why? Because those past prejudices are becoming irrelevant, and they know it.
On the other hand, Millennials are often also thought of as an overly-confident, over-consuming generation who assume they’re entitled to everything; they take what they want, because they’re selfish. Have you ever seen a Gen X-er take out their own personal frustrations on the first college kid they saw holding an iPhone? Or, at least mutter something about “kids these days”? Sometimes it seems like the moment Gen Y pulls out their phones, Gen X wants to swoop in and save them. From what, I’m not sure. Maybe technology overload. But if I may defend my fellow Gen Y-ers for a moment: we’re not as careless, spoon-fed or ignorant as we’re often made to feel.
If I may also defend stereotypes for a moment, they do come from somewhere. Every generation grew up during a certain time frame, was raised with certain ideals and experienced certain life events that were the “norm”* at the time. Here’s an example: Gen X will never ask for directions. Gen Y will look them up on their phones. Gen Z already knows where they’re going because they’re all robots wearing Google Glasses. I’m joking (see how we stereotype?) but there is some truth to generational stereotypes, based simply on the fact that we were raised in different eras. What does asking for directions have to do with social politics? IT’S NOT ABOUT THE DIRECTIONS. It’s about how your environment dictates your outlook.
*We can get into the definition of what is “normal” at another time, but I simply mean that in every time period, there is a widely-practiced set of standards that is loosely defined by the government and social politics.
What comes next? What happens when the last of the Baby Boomers and Gen X-ers are no longer here? It sounds dramatic, but some day, the elders of our society will be the people who are currently in their 20s and 30s. Unless science perfects some kind of anti-aging miracle, or Johnny Depp discovers the Fountain of Youth for real. For now, there’s Generation Z. This generation will face the same praises and criticisms as Gen Y, which I predict will only intensify for future generations. As more opportunities and technologies become available, younger generations will learn to keep up with them, and be praised and considered smart for knowing how to use them. But then, they’ll also be reprimanded for being technology-obsessed, so it’ll surely be a double-edged sword. One that will have unlimited data and 14G. But, maybe they won’t be the eye roll of society in the same ways we are today. Because aren’t we going to be the elders some day? Won’t we know what it felt like, so we’ll know better than to treat them like they don’t matter? Only time will tell.
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