- Millennials, as a generation, are largely shaped by technological advancements and the Great Recession.
- The world has been quick to label millennials both positively and negatively based on their finances, personalities, and societal progress.
- Here’s how the world views millennials, who’ve been given labels as varied as “the brokest generation” and “the loneliest generation.”
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
Every generation has its defining characteristics, but millennials are a generation unto their own – at least, that’s what the world says.
Raised by baby boomers, millennials were born between 1981 and 1996 and turn ages 23 to 38 this year. They’re the first generation to grow up with the internet. They came of age and entered the workforce during the Great Recession, both of which played a significant role in shaping their lives.
They’re also the first generation to inspire think pieces about themselves, wrote Annah Feinberg for The New Yorker. As such, perhaps no other generation has received as many labels.
Millennials have been highlighted for their financial struggles, criticised as acting special and entitled, and applauded for making progress in education and diversity.
Here’s how the world sees millennials today.
The most educated generation.
Both NPR and the Pew Research Centre have said millennials are the most educated generation in US history. According to Pew, 39% of millennials have a bachelor’s degree or higher, compared with 29% of Gen Xers, 24% of early baby boomers, and 25% of late baby boomers.
Thirty-six per cent of all millennials ages 25 to 34 received a college education by 2015 – compared with 29% of the same-age cohort in 2000 and 24% in 1980, according to a report by William H. Frey at the Brookings Institution.
The most indebted generation.
Despite being the most educated generation, millennials are also the most indebted generation. According to the New York Federal Reserve, millennials have accumulated more than $US1 trillion in debt, a 22% rise in the past five years. That’s more than any other generation in history.
A decent portion of that debt is student-loan debt. As more millennials attended college and the price of tuition rose, the weight of student-loan debt has gotten higher. According to Student Loan Hero, the average student-loan debt per graduating student in 2018 who took out loans was a whopping $US29,800.
But despite their high levels of debt, the Great Recession and recent technological advancements have made millennials more conservative with their money, Jimmie Lenz, an adjunct professor of finance at the University of South Carolina, wrote in a post syndicated on Business Insider.
The brokest generation.
A report by the Fed published in November found that millennials’ spending habits were similar to earlier generations’ – except they have much less money than Gen Xers and baby boomers had at their age. “Millennials are less well off than members of earlier generations when they were young, with lower earnings, fewer assets, and less wealth,” the study said.
American millennials also have an average net worth of less than $US8,000, which puts them financially behind other generations, according to a Deloitte study released earlier this year. Their financial picture has largely been influenced by the Great Recession, increased living costs, and student-loan debt.
The richest generation.
Despite findings that millennials have less wealth than previous generations, there’s been continuous support for the millennials-are-wealthy narrative.
In December 2018, the Pew Research Centre published a study that found millennial households were earning more than previous generations did at their age nearly any time in the past 50 years. Based on this,Quartz called millennials “the richest generation.”
While the Fed’s November report found that individual incomes were falling for millennials, it did find that family incomes for married couples (household incomes) grew, similar to Pew’s analysis. Individuals are earning less, but households are earning more.
A baby-boomer inheritance, low unemployment rates, and good savings habits mean millennials can catch up financially.
The rental generation.
In an article for The Times, Sapna Maheshwari wrote: “Many young American urbanites have resigned themselves to a life of non-ownership.” These days, everything is up for lease, she said.
Ride-hailing services like Uber and Lyft affect millennials’ calculation about whether they need a car. There are subscription services for clothes – like Rent the Runway – and furniture – like Fernish. Even IKEA recently announced plans to lease furniture. Airbnb and now Marriott offer home rentals. At a shared workspace like WeWork, people can rent office spaces.
There’s also the fact that millennials are renting longer and buying homes later. While millennials’ tendency to rent everything from furniture to homes can partially be attributed to a lack of wealth-building caused by the Great Recession, Maheshwari said some millennials chose the flexibility of renting while exploring different cities and jobs.
The Netflix generation.
Millennials are known as “the Netflix generation” for ditching cable television and bringing streaming services like Netflix and Hulu to life. In fact, 89% of millennials say they watch most of their “TV” on Netflix, versus live TV, Business Insider’s Carrie Wittmer reported, citing a Rotten Tomatoes survey.
They’re even turning to streaming services to cope with burnout. Millennial respondents cited watching Netflix or Hulu as the top coping mechanism, according to a survey by YellowBrick, a psychiatric and trauma treatment centre for young adults.
The findings are no surprise, considering millennials’ desire to rent and that they are the first generation to be fully immersed in the tech world.
The wellness generation.
Sanford Health dubbed millennials the “wellness generation” thanks to the generation’s increased spending on health and wellness. In a recent study it conducted, it found that millennials valued health and wellness second only to family.
Millennials overall live a healthier lifestyle than previous generations: They eat healthier, smoke less, and exercise more, according to Sanford Health.
Some millennials even spend more on fitness than tuition,Jeanette Settembre of MarketWatch reported. A 26-year-old in New York City told Settembre that she spent about $US500 a month – or $US6,000 a year – on boutique fitness classes.
The burnout generation.
Cases of burnout have been increasing at an alarming rate in recent years, Business Insider’s Ivan De Luce reported. The World Health Organisation recently classified burnout as a “syndrome,” medically legitmising the condition for the first time.
But millennials have reported they suffer from higher rates of burnout than other generations; in a January 2019 BuzzFeed article that went viral, Anne Helen Petersen coined them the “burnout generation.”
Peterson attributed the generational phenomenon to millennials’ upbringings, the economic environment they grew up in, social media, and the anxiety of easy, straightforward tasks, like running errands.
The loneliest generation.
YouGov called millennials “the loneliest generation” based on a survey that polled 1,254 US adults. It found that millennials were more likely to feel lonely than previous generations. Of survey respondents, 30% of millennials said they always or often felt lonely, compared with 20% of Gen X and 15% of boomers.
More millennials also reported they have no acquaintances, friends, close friends, or best friends.
Considering the loneliness and burnout millennials feel, it makes sense that the generation has seen a 47% increase in major depression diagnoses since 2013, according to a Blue Cross Blue Shield report.
The therapy generation.
Millennials are cognisant about their mental health. They’re helping to destigmatize therapy, Peggy Drexler wrote in an essay for The Wall Street Journal: “Raised by parents who openly went to therapy themselves and who sent their children as well, today’s 20- and 30-somethings turn to therapy sooner and with fewer reservations than young people did in previous eras.”
She cited a 2017 report from the Centre for Collegiate Mental Health at Penn State University that found the number of college students seeking help for mental health grew from 2011 to 2016 at five times the rate of new students starting college.
Millennials, she said, see therapy as a form of self-improvement – and they also suffer from a desire to be perfect, leading them to seek help when they feel they haven’t met their expectations. Celebrities such as Demi Lovato and Lady Gaga, who have been open about their depression struggles, and conversations on social media have also helped normalize therapy, Drexler wrote.
In a 2017 interview with Forbes, the generational expert Neil Howe said that news organisations often referred to millennials as “generation snowflake” – a disparaging term for being sheltered, politically correct, and sensitive.
While this stereotype has “kernels of truth,” Howe said, the criticism paints a distorted picture. “To focus just on these traits in a negative way typically leads to associated claims about millennials that have no basis in fact,” he said. “And it tempts us to overlook genuine millennial strengths that will likely hugely benefit our country in the years to come.”
“The Me Me Me Generation.”
In a 2013 cover story for Time magazine, Joel Stein explored the stereotype of millennials as lazy and entitled.
The data, he said, indicates what everyone believes about the tech-savvy generation that loves to self-promote: The chance of narcissistic personality disorder is nearly three times as high for millennials as it is for baby boomers, according to the National Institute of Health. Stein also said more than half of college students scored higher on a narcissism scale in 2009 than in 1982.
But Stein found a much bigger picture beyond the data – millennials are earnest, positive, accepting of others, and optimistic, qualities that have greater influence in the long run.
“A generation’s greatness isn’t determined by data; it’s determined by how they react to the challenges that befall them,” he wrote. “And, just as important, by how we react to them.”
The most diverse generation.
In 2018, the Brookings Institution released a report revealing that millennials were the most diverse generation in US history – 44% of millennials are minorities.
According to the Pew Research Centre, millennials are more racially and ethnically diverse than previous generations because of large-scale immigration from Asia and Latin America, a rise in racial intermarriage, and fertility-pattern differences.
Diversity has given the generation broader perspectives, contributing to the generation’s rising use of the term “woke,” or being aware of and active about social justice and inequality issues, which has been linked to the #BlackLivesMatter movement.
But millennials may not hold this title for long: Gen Z may be on track to be the most diverse generation yet, Pew found.