The definition of Gen Y varies from place-to-place but broadly it refers to the people born between 1980 and 2000. Disclaimer: that period includes ammo and I. Sometimes we also roll by “millennials” or “echo boomers”. Gen Y are the children of the baby boomers, who I’ve covered my feelings towards in two previous Drunken Speculation columns (part 1 and part 2).
Too often I see articles about what Gen Y is. A perfect example is this nauseating example of editorialism from The Age: Is this the most narcissistic generation we’ve ever seen? Maybe, maybe not but I know which generation is actively making your job obsolete, journalist.
Perhaps understandably, this kind of commentary tends to infuriate me, especially when I go out of my way to avoid it and it still manages to rape my eyeballs. In the interests of defending (some of) my co-generationals, I present the following. Let us begin the speculation:
Is Gen Y narcissistic?
Gen Y is narcissistic in the sense that all young people are narcissistic. As The Atlantic fairly succinctly summed up with a series of covers of Time magazine, every post-War generation has been considered the “Me” generation. To quote the article:
The type of young person that magazine writers come across most frequently are magazine interns. Because the media industry is high-status, but, at least early on, very low pay in a very expensive city, it attracts a lot of rich kids. Entitled, arrogant, spoiled, preening — those are the alleged signature traits of Millennials, as diagnosed by countless magazine writers. Those traits curiously align perfectly with the signature traits of a rich kid.
A few people become representative of a broader group of people who share nothing in common except an accident of birth. The stereotype propagates because the media hasn’t got a fucking clue and inevitably, articles about inter-generational relations are smeared with comments about how Gen Y is this or that, usually written by a boomer in management (another clueless group of people) who has failed to engage an eager and talented younger worker because of preconceived notions. Not that I have a chip on my shoulder or anything.
Is Gen Y entitled?
What does “entitled” actually mean? If you’re to have a meaningful debate about something, you need to define the terms. Does Gen Y expect a future quality of life better than that of their parents and much greater than that of their grandparents? Ben Bernanke, chairman of the US Fed, seems to think so. I’m under the impression that was the whole point of human civilisation: to actively aspire to progress so that your kids are better off than you were.
Unfortunately for us, for reasons I’ve gone out about ad nauseum on this very blog, things aren’t looking good. Indeed, as the NY Times put it:
It seems more like financial melancholy. “They look at the house their parents live in and say, ‘I could work for 100 years and I couldn’t afford this place,’ ” Howe said. “If that doesn’t make you focus on money, what would? Millennials have a very conventional notion of the American dream — a spouse, a house, a kid — but it is not going to be easy for them to get those things.”
Substitute “American dream” for wherever you are because its the same the developed world over: a dream of a house to put your family and things in. Pretty simple and yet many of my generation will struggle to achieve what most people born after the War have had relatively easy access to.
Is Gen Y really worse off than their parents?
No, not yet at least. For example, we still have technology beyond the wildest dreams of our parents and mileage will vary across any large group of people like a generation. Sure, youth unemployment is extraordinary, especially in peripheral Europe, but in the Anglosphere, many people are riding it out in their parents homes and, as one comedian recently put it, “we work hard, party harder and wait for our parents to die so we can take the house”. Think about it, baby boomers.
At the end of the day, instead of marching in protest as our parents like to claim they would have in the face of social injustice, Gen Y (and Gen Z, I suppose) will deal with the problem in their own way: making memes.
Old Economy Steven (see above) both sums up the economic realities facing many young people in developed countries and simultaneously expresses the frustration of dealing with an older generation who doesn’t understand the situation. The humour is disarming but also illustrates the uphill economic battle Gen Y faces. And as much as I’d like to whinge some more about it, no one is going to help us. We’re going to have to buckle down, get on with it and hope that our kids won’t have to work as hard to get ahead as we did.