These days, you hear terms like millennial, or Gen Xers all the time. While they refer to different generations and age groups it’s not always clear who’s a part of these groups. In fact, these generational nicknames are (for the most part) unofficial social constructs. But, with their constant use in the news and across social media, it seems more important than ever to know what these terms really mean, so that you can finally understand why exactly we millennials are killing everything.
There tend to be tons of preconceived notions about these groups. Like any group of people, characteristics will definitely vary depending on region and socio-economic status. So let’s take a look at millennials and see who they, or we, really are.
Before we can look at millennials, we need to take a quick look at who and what came before. However, it’s important to remember that cut-off points between generations aren’t meant to be exact. It’s not like hospitals suddenly declared that “this is the last baby boomer! The next child born shall be part of Generation X.”
These dates are just tools used to analyse the shifts in how age groups are experiencing the world— whether it is socially, economically, politically, or technologically. Broadly speaking, most research about generational differences comes from the US, and as such can refer to experiences that are quite different from the rest of the world.
After the devastation of WWII, there was a massive “baby boom” with lots of people having more children than before (possibly due to all that joy at being alive). This rise in birth rates between the mid-1940s to the mid-1960s (1946 – 1964, according to the US census) has given rise to the nickname “baby boomers”. In general, this generation saw an era of higher income and increased affluence than their parents (who came of age during or between the World Wars).
This resulted in a surge in consumerism, though this is usually more visible in Europe and America. Like most demographics, this definition encompasses people 20 years apart in age, which results in vastly different life experiences. Attitudes and society changed significantly during these years (due to events like the Civil Rights movements and the Vietnam War in the US and so many others around the world). However, the baby boomers, in general, have still benefited from excellent job opportunities and easy access to housing.
Following the baby boomers, Gen X refers to those born between the mid-1960s and the early 1980s (1965-1980, says the US census – which has an 18-year generation policy – and the Pew Research Center). Like most generational cycles, this generation is significantly smaller than the last, though it is also more culturally diverse partly due to the introduction of the birth control pill in the early 1960s, and the rapid increase in immigration.
This generation was raised during an era of major social changes (seeing more women enter the workforce, the rise of the AIDS epidemic, the end of apartheid and the Soviet Union, as well as the start of computers being used in their homes and schools).
Also during this time, MTV was introduced, meaning that many in this generation were influenced by music, such as punk, heavy metal, alt-rock, etc which contributed in creating a bit of an above-it-all, despondent counterculture. In turn, they became responsible for the popularity of grunge music in the 1990s and early 2000s. As adolescents and young adults they were called “unfocused,” “cynical,” and as the “Slacker Generation” because they tended to change jobs a lot (sound familiar?). Now entering middle age, and as parents themselves, they have been credited with the most entrepreneurial tendencies.
Generation Y – i.e. Millennials
Popularly called millennials (or “snowflakes,” “avocado eaters,” or “the generation that killed everything”), we are actually the worst defined generation. While the term Gen Y usually refers to those born between the early 1980s and the mid-1990s (1981 – 1996 according to the Pew Research Center) many use it to refer to those born all the way up to 2000. Others wrongly believe that millennials are those born in the new millennium (meaning today’s teenagers and young adults). But they are a very different group.
Broadly speaking, millennials are people who are in their 20s and 30s right now. NOT today’s teenagers, and certainly not everyone younger than a baby boomer.
Us much-maligned millennials are usually the children of baby boomers and are also part of an increase in birth rates due to thriving economies (so they’re also referred to as “echo boomers”).
This generation is characterised by an increase in use and familiarity with media and with technology and was raised in a more liberal political and economic world than before leading to the increased equality, self-expression, and a sense of optimism and humour that seems to survive everything that is thrown at us.
We were also raised in relative economic prosperity but were severely impacted by the recent recession. This led to many of us coming of age in a period of economic instability, which impacted the early careers of many, while others would have had their education influenced by it. This means that we are one of the first generations who aren’t likely to do as well as our parents. Of course, this just means we’re out to ruin everything from marriage to the housing market.
Despite all the outrageous things millennials are blamed for (we’re somehow killing golf?), the generation as a whole is actually pretty screwed. Regardless of what older people like to say, millennial economic hardship is real. Previous generations (especially those in power) have created a system where there’s no way to win, whether it’s an expensive college degree to enter the workforce, or impossible to achieve years of experience.
This has led to a shift to freelance work, which while being more flexible, leaves many more of us vulnerable in the long run, especially with issues like savings and illness.
Surprisingly (or perhaps not so surprisingly) many of us millennials don’t identify with the word “millennial,” which begins to make sense when you look at the mountains of negative generalizations and stereotypes that are given to us by the media.
But why is this? Every generation is looked down upon to some extent by older people who like to separate themselves in a more positive way than younger people–it’s always been that way. A lot of what is considered to be “millennial behaviour” can also be attributed more a state of mind, and a particular stage in life, rather than an entire generation. (See Gen X and their unfocused slacker ways).
This is true of millennials in just the US as well. With a group of people more focused on seeing themselves as individuals, generalisation can be extremely hard to pinpoint. When this is the case in one area, it becomes twice as hard (if not more) to make assumptions about this demographic across the world.
Even among us, there are often vast differences between how older and younger millennials see the world, people who sometimes cannot even relate to each other. So much so that it can seem ridiculous to group everyone in such a diverse age group as lazy or technologically dependent. With so little commonality, it can also be difficult to find a definitive “millennial voice” to appeal to everyone in this generation.
If some born between the early 1980s and the mid-1990s don’t feel like millennials, you’re not alone. With the term coming to refer more to a set of stereotypes and behaviours (like ‘entitled,’ ‘self-centered,’ ‘lazy,’ ‘social justice warriors,’ and ‘snowflakes’) rather than the demographic group, most millennials don’t feel like they belong. As Bustle.com says, “Could it be that most of us don’t identify with the ways Millennials have been represented in the media and don’t want others to view us as self-absorbed selfie enthusiasts?”
Millennials also face a massive contradiction. While being described as spoilt and lazy we are also seen as the most sought-after demographic in terms of marketing. While this makes sense when looking at our large numbers, using the word “millennial” as a descriptor to millennials can often do more harm than good. As a millennial, let me just say: millennials themselves don’t want you to call them millennials. Due to the previously seen negative stereotypes associated with us, anything “millennial-focused” unfortunately rarely comes off positively.
Some may prefer terms like “emerging professionals,” “young adults,” (though with the oldest members of the demographic closer to reaching the age of 40 this can also be awkward), many would just prefer nothing – no special term at all.
Millennials vs. Xennial
With the rapid advancement of technology generation, gaps tend to become so much wider. “Xennials” are a micro-generation of those born between 1977 and 1983 which serves as a bridge between two generations, as they don’t seem to fit in either.
Often identified as the people who grew up with neither the cynicism and dissatisfaction of Gen Xers or the optimism and confidence of millennials, they were also raised in a (relatively) pre-digital world. However, they also had the chance to get jobs or go to college before the economy truly tanked, giving them a more secure background than millennials.
Generation Z, or What Comes Next?
Just when we’ve started to figure out millennials, it’s time to start looking ahead.
First of all, we need to stop saying ‘millennials’ when talking about people who are currently teenagers. Millennials, as we’ve seen were mostly born in the ’80s and ’90s. This means that the vast majority of teens today aren’t millennials. If you thought there was a lot of confusion about the definition of millennials, well Gen Z takes it to the next level.
There is very little consensus with when this generation starts and ends (if indeed it has even ended). People typically use the large period of the mid-1990s to mid-2000s as a starting point, though 1997-Present is the most accepted.
While giving a generic name to any generation is just a way of pretending that today’s youngsters are different from those in the past, a quick look at past stories bemoaning the laziness of Gen X being reused to describe millennials knows better.
Gen Z are usually the children of Generation X, but some may also have parents that are older Millennials. With shifting parenting styles (and the move against “helicopter parenting”) giving them more space, they are often more self-directed than even Millennials. Modern families also come in all shapes and sizes. Long-standing ideas of nuclear families, race, gender norms, and same-sex partnerships have been challenged by culture, which makes them more adaptable to change.
But then, they also eat tide pods, so….
This generation was also raised in a time of political and economic turmoil (which pop culture obviously takes to the extreme with dystopian stories like The Hunger Games), showing them that traditional choices don’t guarantee success. With many competing for low wage entry level jobs with older struggling millennials, they also feel pressure to gain useable professional skills at an earlier age.
Having grown up with digital media, immediate access to information and faster internet may also mean that their attention spans are much shorter.
Technology plays a big role in dividing between generations. Baby boomers saw the TV become more common, Gen X saw the rise of computers, and Millennials grew up with the internet. However, Gen Z are considered the first generation of “digital and social media natives” as they grew up in a world where technology plays a much more important role in our lives. With smartphones becoming a part of their lives at a young age, they also tend to be more mobile-first (leading to them also being called the iGeneration).
One of the reasons this generation is so hard to define is because, well, they’re still basically kids. Not having had the time to make their views publically known or their preferences clear, it’s not easy to slap on a label. And by the time they do, its more than likely that ‘Gen Z’ just won’t cut it, because, let’s be real, Gen Y never took hold did it? (happily enough neither did “slackers.”)
Millennials and Travel
Well, you might now be asking yourself, this is a travel site, isn’t it? So what in the name of avocados does all this have to do with travel?
If you haven’t skipped the previous paragraphs you’ll know by now that us millennials form a significant percentage of the population. And, like so many other groups of people, many of us like to travel.
Just as society and technology evolve over generations, so does the way we travel. In previous decades, a holiday might have meant a trip to the seaside, or later an organised bus tour of Europe. But, this just doesn’t cut it for millennials any more.
As we’ve just seen, our generation has grown up with more information and technology at our fingertips than ever before. This also means that we’re constantly exposed to images of places around the world (even if these images are often heavily photoshopped). So, we look for new and unique experiences based on interest, rather than just sightseeing. It’s no longer enough to just be a tourist.
While a “grand tour” once meant large buses of people being carted around from monument to monument, now people (and consequently millennials) want something more. Previously ‘offbeat’ destinations like Iceland and Croatia become popular; we may even be influenced by popular culture, wanting to visit the places that we see on TV or in films.
Also Read: Are Millennials The Newest Fans Of Cruises?
At the other end of the spectrum are digital nomads, who work remotely from anywhere in the world (well, anywhere with internet). They aren’t out to look for the next wanderlust adventure, but rather the most cost-effective (while still exciting and different) place to stay for a while.
With so many millennials choosing to delay having children or get married, we have more time to travel than previous generations at the same age. Instead of saving up for a house (which can seem quite unattainable) many save for the next long vacation. Even those who can’t afford to travel internationally look forward to the occasional domestic trip, or a weekend getaway.
We also want unique and authentic experiences, such as hiking, kayaking, scuba diving rather than relaxing activities. And, while we may be budget conscious, we’re often not stingy, spending where we need to.
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The internet is an important link, being the go-to source for information because of course, everything can be found online. No longer beholden to packaged tours and set itineraries, it is where we find inspiration for our next destination, plan what to see there, book flights and hotels, and of course post all the pictures of our latest trip (because have you really been to India if you don’t post a picture at the Taj Mahal?).
Social media plays a huge role in all of this, not just to provide ideas, but also as a canvas for sharing these authentic experiences and memories (or some would say to validate our trip).
The saying “there’s an app for everything” is absolutely true when it comes to travel; however, the internet can be a wild, wild place. There is now so much information it can take ages to sift through it all to see what’s genuine and what’s not. It also takes the culture of travel and “wanderlust” to an extreme, with thousands and thousands of posts, pictures, and articles flooding all forms of media. As people who like to compose their own holidays in this overwhelming world, many of us millennials tend to trust the opinions of our peers over other information. Something interesting on a friend’s feed is way more credible than a magazine ad or sponsored blog post.
So there you go. That’s the deal with us millennials and everything beyond. Though our lives may differ vastly across countries and backgrounds, lots of experiences stay the same (and with the world the way it is, experiences may be all we have).