Millennials Aren’t Broken, Just Broke

Millennials Aren’t Broken, Just Broke

In an incisive essay at the New Republic, Laura Marsh pushes back on the idea of millennials as cultural rebels, ruining entire industries with their refusal to buy cars, take vacations, or use napkins:

None of this is true. The idea that these “trends” in consumption are driven primarily by cultural preferences, rather than a faltering economy and ever-rising costs of living, is difficult to believe, but that’s the prevailing narrative. Business Insider’s story blaming millennials for a slump in the sales of paper napkins is a perfect example of why that interpretation is absurd. The article contends that, like eating cereal, buying paper napkins is too much work for millennials. Similarly, The Washington Post has pointed out that young people have found ways to make the paper napkin’s rival, the paper towel, look chic on social media, the only thing they really care about. Neither article mentions that millennials are the first cohort in American history to enjoy lower living standards than their parents. Not buying napkins is a pretty painless way to save money.

Which explanation seems more likely? Do we use Zipcar because we are ideologically committed to sharing, or because car ownership is still out of reach for a lot of people and renting piecemeal is the next best thing? Does a married couple decide to live with roommates because of our generational “openness to communal living” or because people in New York face impossible rents? Do people stop using napkins because of unshakeable cultural convictions, or because they’re a waste of money? If the new generation were really waging war on their forebears’ way of life, I doubt they’d start with the disposable table settings. …

But the language of these articles tells another story on top of those, one that isn’t backed up by any evidence at all: that millennials are “killing” those things, choosing to eliminate them from our shared life. That’s a deeply frustrating story to keep reading, when headlines of “Millennials are killing the X industry” could just as easily read “Millennials are locked out of the X industry.” There’s nothing like being told precarity is actually your cool lifestyle choice.

Meanwhile, at the Harvard Business Review, Sylvia Ann Hewlett and Joan Snyder Kuhl from the Center for Talent Innovation discuss a new study from their organization that debunks the myth of the millennial job-hopper (which we’ve looked at before), finding that in fact, most millennials can’t afford to job hop:

Far fewer Millennials are a flight risk than you think, and the reason is stunningly simple: money. Forty percent of Millennials with a financial safety net — those who have families that could support them indefinitely if they were to quit or lose their job or who receive financial gifts from family members totaling at least $5,000 a year — say they plan to leave their jobs within a year. But these financially privileged folks represent fewer than one in ten Millennials CTI surveyed born between 1982 and 1994 who are working full-time in white-collar professions in the U.S.

Only 10% of the financially unprivileged majority — the other 91% of Millennials — are planning on leaving their jobs within a year. Many of them are staggering under heavy college debt, and they can’t rely on their family for financial help. Fifty-one percent took out loans to fund their undergraduate education, compared to 40% of their financially privileged counterparts; of those less-privileged Millennials burdened by student debt, 43% had loans totaling $40,000 or more. This means that the vast majority of Millennials are ready to commit to their current employer and invest prodigious amounts of time and energy in their work in the hope that their employers will invest in them in return.

And yet most companies act as if their Millennials have one foot out the door.

The myth of the millennial as a unique snowflake is a topic we keep coming back to here at Talent Daily (and will surely revisit again). And CEB Corporate Leadership Council members can read more of our research separating millennial myths from facts here.