Are we the lost generation? Every day it seems there is another article spouting rubbish about millennials being entitled, lazy, not knowing what they’re doing, [insert insult to poorly-defined generational cohort here]. It’s nothing new. Intergenerational feuds have been commonplace at least since TIME magazine said the 'silent generation' was "a still, small flame", implying they had no real political values. Since then, each successive generation has been ripped by its elders, and millennials are no exception.
The problem is that even though many people, including those of our generation, read and agree with these articles, there’s hardly any empirical evidence to support them. Take the perceived fact that millennials are uncommitted to their work. A study in The Journal of Business and Psychology disputed this claim steadfastly, suggesting that "generational differences in… work ethic do not exist". What about the idea that millennials are unequipped to deal with adult life due to their constant infantilising of everything? (See: Unicorn Bongs.) This claim is also wildly inaccurate. Millennials have similar levels of education to their grandparents, though it’s true that we’re slightly less likely to go to university. For a generation so hypersensitive about offending people we’ve called for trigger warnings to be placed on books; it’s rather interesting we’re so keen to pigeonhole ourselves into inaccurate, meaningless stereotypes.
So we’re educated, and we’re committed to our jobs. Moreover, we’re so savvy with technology that we can work smarter : we can do the more complex tasks, while the computers do the boring stuff. This has been seen as laziness, or not knowing what is expected of us at work. But it’s the opposite of that: we aren’t lost or unsure of ourselves at work; on the contrary, we know the age we live in, and we know exactly how to utilise technology for our own benefit.
What about the way we feel about our future? 59% of us say it is ‘competition’ that gets us up in the morning, compared with only half of Baby Boomers. 33% of us chose our jobs in 2015 for future career opportunities, compared to a 21% average over the last two generations. It would seem that a lost generation of people wouldn’t know what gets them up in the morning, and wouldn’t know where they were going in their careers. The stats tell a different story: competition is the reason we work, and we pick our jobs carefully in the hope that it will further our career prospects.
Aside from the platitudes and stereotypes, we are lost in a sense – but not one that is limited to our generation. Our lifestyles – heavy use of technology, poor diets, less sunlight, excessive isolation – are contributing to an increase in mental health disorders. Striking a balance between the fast-paced modern lifestyle and the basic needs essential to maintaining our health is difficult, and something millennials haven’t yet been able to suss.
Importantly, though, we’re talking about it more. Never has society been as open about mental health as it is presently, largely due to millennials knowing that to improve things you have to open a dialogue. Add to that the fact that the young are generally accepting of LGBTQ+ communities, and you have a generation that is more inclusive and supportive of its peers than any that came before it. Even if some feel a personal sense of loss, depression or missing identity, caused by our economic environment and our lifestyle, our support networks are far better than they have ever been.
We’ve also not been given the leg up in life previous generations have. On average, we have lower average incomes, and are getting on the property ladder much later than previous generations – two economic factors which also contribute to a sense of disorientation and instability. Previous generations enjoyed greater economic stability, not to mention things like free higher education, which helped to ground them early on in their lives. We haven’t got these benefits, and yet we’re still using all means at our disposal to get what we want and to find our place in society.
Politically, millennials know where they stand. After years of disillusionment with the political establishment, those between the ages of 18 and 25 turned out in vast swathes to vote in the 2017 General Election. (Around 75% of the young voted, compared to a 69% turnout overall.) The fact that they voted shows that they aren’t lost politically; they’re sick of the norms of politics, and willing to use their voices to show it.
Millennials consistently defy the stereotypes pushed on them by older generations. They know what they want politically, and they’ll vote to get it. They want good jobs, and they’re willing to work hard to get them. They want to stay at the top of the game, and they do by keeping up to date with technology, which makes their job better, and them better at it. They’re more honest about how they’re feeling, and have extensive peer-to-peer support networks. (The backlash of this, of course, is that they get called ‘snowflakes’.) Some of their attention is misguided – a small minority rioting on university campuses, for instance. But overall, they aren’t lost or misguided; they know exactly where they are, they know the challenges that face them, and they’ll take any opportunity to get exactly where they want to be.