Millennials: Doing Worse or Worse Off?

Cheyenne Dorsagno, Editor-in-Chief |

Everyone’s aware of the current intergenerational tension, primarily framed as Baby Boomers versus Millennials.

Members of both groups go back and forth, complaining about who’s been dealt the worse hand and accusing the opposition of having made the world a worse place. This one’s toughed it out in a society without creature comforts and safe spaces; that one’s earning an unlivable wage that cannot measure up to the unaffordable housing market and their indulgent diet of avocado toast. This one set up the climate change crisis; that one’s setting up more “entitlement” programs than ever before. We’ve got the bigots and the snowflakes going head to head, and the Gen Xers are like the forgotten middle child caught in the throes of a Facebook thread, stuck between pointedly capitalized comments and passive aggressive ellipses. While the world is forever changing, this heated rhetoric repeats every day.

However, something about this dialogue doesn’t quite add up. How could these sensitive snowflakes also be the violent socialists or “social justice warriors” they’re claimed to be? How could Millennials have inherited the fight against systemic oppression without giving some of the credit for its progression to the only people that were alive during some of its major turning points?

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If Millennials hadn’t given us meme culture, and if Baby Boomers hadn’t given us Oprah Winfrey, then how else would we have the perfect reaction to this conundrum: Oprah gazing with therapeutic earnest under the white, bold-faced text “So what is the truth?”

To puzzle this out, let’s first look at a sample of anti-Millennial criticism from Nebraskan Senator Ben Sasse, as excerpted from his book, “The Vanishing American Adult”: “[Millennials are] often over-medicated, hooked on screens, failing to venture out into the world, losing touch with religious faith, and increasingly intellectually fragile … [To prepare for the world, they] need to understand mortality, mix with older generations, develop strong reading habits, put production before consumption, nurture a strong work ethic, and travel beyond their comfort zones.”

Millennials are often branded as self-centered, lethargic, irresponsible, apathetic consumerists. However, studies show that Millennials care all too much about a multitude of things. New York Times reports that anxiety is on the rise, and there are so many possible causes. 

Millennials are trying to take control, in one way, by pinching pennies. They are comparing prices in stores and online, and they are much less loyal to brands than previous generations. They would much rather have the off-brand product in favor of a better bargain, as shown by a Born This Way survey. Millennials are prioritizing their spending, but they are willing to spend a little extra on their health and on “experiences” over commodities, according to a Goldman Sachs Global Investment Research. Maybe kids aren’t going out in the snow banks like they used to, but they are saving up to buy a nice pair of athletic shoes to backpack through Europe. America may have an obesity epidemic, but according to Aetna’s What’s Your Healthy Survey, young Americans are growing up with a better understanding of health. Millennials are realizing that health is a daily commitment to diet and exercise, as opposed to simply avoiding illnesses. 

Contrary to popular belief, millennials can be rather smart and caring. It may serve as a surprise to many that this generation has just as much of an interest in God and politics as people did forty years ago, according to a Gallup Poll and New Values Survey.

What cannot be denied is that Millennials are less likely to give to charity, less likely to go to church, and less likely to show up at the voting booths. They are turned off from monoliths and “faceless entities” that come across as cold, impersonal, or even greedy. Two-thirds of young people suspect that politicians enter public service for selfish reasons, and 36 percent of those who don’t attend church are weary of “organized religion,” according to Harvard University and Gallup research, respectively.

Instead, Millennials want to have a direct hand in it all; they want a personal connection. Many Millennials are exploring their faith at home, more likely identifying as “spiritual” than “religious.” They would rather call up their representatives and protest for a cause themselves. 

Millennials would rather physically volunteer in their community, and they are the driving force of crowdfunding campaigns, because they are drawn in by an individual’s unique story, and they like to see the immediate impact of their help. According to BussinessWire, Millennials mostly contribute to international, environmental, and humans’ rights causes.

Millennials don’t just want to do good either; they want to avoid doing harm to begin with. They’re recycling and taking public transportation. They put their money where their mouths are by purchasing from conscientious companies, like indies that sell cruelty-free makeup. Millennials don’t expect others to right the wrongs of the world. They are just holding everyone accountable, themselves especially.

Millennials are big thinkers, desperately trying to acquire a lifetime of wisdom, and they’ve got a five-year plan to do it. They are curious about the universe and the beings in it; they are wondering what their actions mean about themselves and how those actions can change the world. Millennials are challenging themselves. They threw out the participation trophies they never asked for, because they don’t count for squat on a resume. They are starting to take college-level AP classes at 14-years-old and they are participating in extra-curricular activities. Today, there are more degrees being achieved than ever before. College students are studying communication and journalism; science, psychology, math, and business; philosophy and religion; as well as ethnicity, culture, and gender.

Gen Xer and Associate Professor of English at SUNY Oneonta, Dr. Jonathan Sadow, has observed these Millennial interests firsthand.

“I think that Millennials are particularly admirable for their ideals and for their progressive understanding of gender, sexuality, and relationships,” he said.

Dr. Sadow’s claim is backed by Pew Research, which has shown that each generation has become increasingly open minded about opinions and lifestyles different from their own. 

He also commented on this intergenerational conflict as a longstanding trend, “People have fretted about the latest generation ever since Plato [around 400 B.C.]. It is true that my generation has stereotyped [Millennials], but Generation X was considered so unproductive that its iconic movies were ‘Slacker’ and ‘Dazed and Confused.’ Of course, there are differences, but a lot of generational commentary has to do with observing what 20-year-olds are up to and their relationship to the state of the economy, not some essential characteristic that will follow them over time. When I talk to our good English students and see them interact with each other, they remind me more of myself and my friends when I was 20 than some alien and debased generation.”

Each generation has unique burdens to bear, but across time, human beings have shared many of the same concerns and tribulations. So it’s not a matter of Baby Boomers versus Millennials; it’s a constant tension between the youth and their elders. Everyone wants to understand how they fit into the great scheme of things, and when a new generation inevitably comes along, what will that mean for those previous? Maybe seniors feel displaced as their own society changes around them, but maybe that’s not too different from the youths’ plight, in which everything is new to them.

Dr. Sadow added, “I also think that other generations shift alongside culture – so it is true that American culture is a little less ironic and a little more optimistic (or alternately, more apocalyptic) and self-promotional than it used to be, but 50-year-olds are right there on social media participating in all of that.”

The world is always changing, and people of all ages will have to keep adapting. Sasse said that the kids of today are not ready for the world that will soon need them as leaders, but no one is “ready” for the world at any given time. We’re in a constant state of entropy and universal expansion; we’re anxiously awaiting for the takeover of sentient machines, for the New World Order, or for World War III. But truth be told, we’re all in this together., and as a Millennial, I want the older generations to feel proud to pass the torch over to us.

Isaac Newton once said, “If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.”

I appreciate what previous generations have contributed and will continue to contribute to the world. Through the ever accumulating wealth of knowledge, and through the trials and errors of human history, we can gradually better the human race and the world we’re living in. I want previous generations to feel hopeful that they will be leaving the world in good hands, because they are the ones who parented and educated us. Millennials may do things a little differently, but we will try our best to do things right. We may be individualistic, but we care about each and every individual. When we’re plugged into the media, it’s not just about posting selfies, it’s about understanding a little more about every person’s little world. We don’t want a collective; we want diverse individuals united as a community, with each person at the forefront.

Sure, we are young and naïve like everyone once was. Some of us may even be idealistic and sensitive, but we are going to take care of one another and act in ways that will make our ideals a reality. And, hopefully, one day, we can pass the torch gracefully in solidarity with the newest generation.

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