The millennial generation, those born after 1980 and before 2000, have been criticized as narcissistic and entitled. But some recent press suggests this is a bum rap, and that these young people are nice, compassionate, and hard working.
Psychology professor and author Jeffrey Jensen Arnett defends millennials, and recently shared his “warm and benevolent views” of these “emerging adults”.
One of the most common insults to today’s emerging adults is that they’re lazy. According to this view, young people are ‘slackers’ who avoid work whenever possible, preferring to sponge off their parents for as long as they can get away with it. One of the reasons they avoid real work is that have an inflated sense of entitlement. They expect work to be fun, and if it’s not fun, they refuse to do it.
But millennials are hard workers.
“So, yes, emerging adults today have high and often unrealistic expectations for work, but lazy? That’s laughably false. While they look for their elusive dream job, they don’t simply sit around and play video games and update their Facebook page all day. The great majority of them spend most of their twenties in a series of unglamorous, low-paying jobs as they search for something better. The average American holds ten different jobs between the ages of 18 and 29, and most of them are the kinds of jobs that promise little respect and less money. Have you noticed who is waiting on your table at the restaurant, working the counter at the retail store, stocking the shelves at the supermarket? Most of them are emerging adults. Many of them are working and attending school at the same time, trying to make ends meet while they strive to move up the ladder. It’s unfair to tar the many hard-working emerging adults with a stereotype that is true for only a small percentage of them.”
Society’s elders, meaning anyone older than 35, are encouraged to accept the new normal that is defined by the emerging adulthood stage of life.
The origins of the many prejudices against today’s emerging adults are complex, but maybe one key reason is that many of their elders still use old yardsticks to measure their progress. The pace of social, economic and technological change over the past half-century has been mind-boggling, and what is ‘normal’ among young people has changed so fast that the rest of society has not yet caught up. Many observers are still finding them wanting if they are not married and settled into a stable job by age 23 or 25, even though that would be unusually early by today’s standards. Understanding that a new life stage of emerging adulthood is now typical between adolescence and young adulthood, and that it is a time when change and instability is the norm, will help make it possible to ease up on the negative stereotypes and learn to appreciate their energy, their creativity, and their zest for life.
The New York Times tells us “The Millennials Are Generation Nice”, at least according to Pew research that found they are not entitle but rather “complex and introspective”.
What Pew found was not an entitled generation but a complex and introspective one — with a far higher proportion of nonwhites than its predecessors as well as a greater number of people raised by a single parent. Its members also have weathered many large public traumas: the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, costly (and unresolved) wars, the Great Recession. Add to those the flood of images of Iraq and Katrina (and, for older millennials, Oklahoma City and Columbine) — episodes lived and relived, played and replayed, on TV and computer screens.
Both cynical and empathetic
There’s something to be said for experiencing “large public traumas” through digital media that makes us relive them in a more personal way than previous generations did. It could have the effect of making a person more cynical, yet more empathetic in some ways, an apt description of millennials I know personally.
Jeffrey Jensen Arnett, “Growing-ups”, Aeon, April 17, 2014.
Sam Tanenhausaug, “Generation Nice”, New York Times, August 15, 2014.