The Short-Sighted Criticisms Of Millennials

If I hear one more story about or see one more nonsense piece about millennials, I’m going to resign my literacy. Seriously, I’m going to give up and watch silent movies until this term, and it’s attendant self-righteous fuckery vanishes.

Criticism of millennials has become the refuge of every monthly magazine without a cover story, every opinion columnist who’s had a slow day, and every person reaching the threshold of age where people under thirty start to annoy them.

There are consistent tropes in pieces like this, they usually focus on the narcissism of millennials, on their political sensitivities, they are the offended generation, the ‘me’ generation; disloyal, lazy and self-obsessed. In the rare instances that these accusations are supported by data, it is almost always devoid of context or explanation, concluding that these trends are simply by-products of some innate millennial-ness, of a generation too spoiled and sheltered to be serious. When there is no data, there is always an anecdote, some person’s twitter tirade against a prospective employer, a horror story about a young person unwilling to work hard for their success. It’s all bunk.

I’m here to say definitively that there is no millennial. Grouping a generation and ascribing it characteristics feels good for older generations and so we keep doing it. It feels taxonomically good. We can categorize it and remember the times in a concise way. We can think about flower power, we can think about gritting your teeth a jumping out of an airplane, we can think about big hair and cocaine – but these snapshots give us nothing of reality. There have never been millennials, nor were there Gen. Xers, nor were there Baby Boomers, nor was there a greatest generation before them.

There were clusters of population growth, sure. Trends changed with an evolving society, but to lay the times at the feet of people who happen to be born in a 20 to 30-year span is sociological laziness. It is drug store economics. It is armchair psychology. It is, ultimately, damaging.

Here are three generational myths about millennials I can’t stand, and why they are bullshit.

They Are The Most Narcissistic Generation Ever

I’m pretty sure people have been saying this one since we started grinding lenses into mirrors. Due to the proliferation of social media, it is now more simple to catalog the narcissistic behavior of any given individual. Make a laundry list of selfies or statuses on any major platform, and the evidence can seem damning, surely these people are self-obsessed. However, are they any different from the folks that Time Magazine declared “The Me Generation” in 1976? Are they so different from the generation that let banking get so far out of control for individual gain that it almost collapsed the global market? Are they more narcissistic than those who started foxtrotting and invented the personal photograph in 1920? Or those who commissioned portraits before them? Those who had busts made before that? Narcissism is not a new phenomenon, it just so happens that people now have resources like never before to plumb its depths. But the notion that this makes the current generation more narcissistic is laughable.

Some sources point to data that says a millennial is three times more likely to be ‘extremely narcissistic’ than a baby boomer. I think you’d be hard pressed to find a young person in any time who is more humble than someone near retirement. In fact, the University of Illinois corroborated this notion in 2010, finding that age was the primary determinant of narcissistic behavior, the conclusion of the study reading that “every generation is generation me.”

They Are Lazy And Disloyal Employees

Of course, the millennial who wants a middle management position or to pull down six figures but is unwilling to work their way there. They jump ship constantly, looking for the next best thing, unwilling to work their way up like their forebears.

Alright, let’s just take for granted that the notion of advancement in a corporate environment is a post-WWII ideology and has straight up never existed in any prior generation, how bad are millennials at working hard and smart?

Well, recent polling has suggested that millennials are actually working more hours than the prior two generations, and that they demonstrate the highest willingness to work long hours, on weekends or during holidays amongst the current workforce. Some will point to the unemployment rates being highest among the millennial age bracket, but those statistics usually include people aged 18-24, a high proportion of which are still in school. Again, it’s not a millennial thing. It’s a youth thing. Of course new entrants to the job market are willing to work harder to prove themselves than those who have been employed longer, and of course young people find it hardest to get work having accumulated the least experience.

Also worth considering is that the workforce is older now than it ever has been, and that the effects of the inverted boomer population pyramid really do trickle down into fewer jobs being available. Nobody’s fault, there’s just more people looking to be employed than in past generations. Millenials are disloyal because of the proliferation of short-term contracts and constant job searching. They want stability as badly as anybody else, it’s just that finding it has become more difficult.

There is also the logical fallacy in the “lazy millennial” line of thinking that they feel entitled to good jobs. Are they not? It was my impression that the mythos of a capitalist system was that a good education and hard, more hours than your peers, work were the qualifications of stable employment. If that is no longer (read: never was) the case, then is the outrage of the current generation not justified?

Millenials Were Spoiled And Coddled And That’s Why They’re Like This

Please consider a time when a flushing toilet in a film was a national headline. A time when someone’s curiosity in communism constituted treason. When the Rolling Stones had to change “Let’s Spend The Night Together” to “Let’s Spend Some Time Together.” A time when a woman speaking at a political event caused scandal, or the notion that someone’s bare ankles were inherently sexual.

The problem with social progress is that there is always a thick and thin edge of the wedge. The people who now deride millennials for over-sensitivity were the same generation that could not abide the social restriction and casual misogyny of their parents, who themselves were tired of the children’s sensitivities. And so on, ad infinitum. That is the side effect of an evolving society, one obsessed with progress and knowledge. We are going to change what we believe and when we do there will always be younger people who seem radical to older people. They will always earn ire.

There is no data to support the notion that people are more sensitive, special snowflake-y or coddled than every before.

As a parting thought I would like to mention that in a comparison done by PEW Research, baby boomers were only 10% more likely than millennials to have $10,000 saved for retirement. I’d like to think that this 10% reflects real differences between generations. Small changes in social mores, different preferences in art and music, the stratification of society and the small benefits conferred by age account for the rest.

So can we please, please, stop using these inaccurate and essentially meaningless terms to pit the old against the young? Can we instead focus on the reality that no one has enough saved for retirement, that many people are underemployed, that the causes of social equality have room to grow? If we forget that we are different ages, I think we might realize what a similar boat we’re all in.

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