Newsflash: Millennials Are No Worse Than Any Other Generation

There are an awful lot of articles right now that spend a lot of time bagging the Millennials, who are supposedly the generation after Generation X, who are supposedly the generation after the Baby Boomers. Even in articles about something completely unrelated to generations the Millennials get bagged. Take this evisceration of a poorly researched article about Mexican food which ends:

Of course, America doesn’t give a shit about actual facts: at last count, this pendejada had been shared over 40,000 times on Facebook and garnered nearly 600,000 page views. And that, Mr. and Mrs. Millennial, is why your generation is fucked.

Seriously? Poor research and shoddy journalism didn’t exist until the Millennials came along? Tell that to Mr Randolph Hearst and his tabloids of yesteryear that routinely made stuff up. I roll my eyes at you, sir.1

You may detect a hint of skepticism about generations. You’d be right. I do not believe in them. There is no way everyone born within a decade or so of each other have the same tastes and aspirations and experiences and shitty research skills.

For starters these generational labels don’t even apply to the vast majority of people born within their timespan. The way they are used in Australia and the USA, which is all I know about, they usually only include relatively affluent, able-bodied, white people. Because factoring in class and race and anything else is too complicated, isn’t it? Even amongst the anointed ones there are vast differences in politics and world view and how well off they are. It’s still absurd to think that all the affluent, able-bodied white people born within the same decade are all the same.

So what is the point of generational labels?

They’re mainly used: 1) to help advertisers figure out how to sell things to people, 2) to let previous generations bag on current generations.

When the Generation X tag first started being used many of us so-called Generation Xers would talk about how stupid it was. Actually, we do work really hard. We are, too, politically engaged. We are, too, feminists.2 Those of us still living with our parents did so because the rents were way higher than for previous generations and we couldn’t afford to move out. We are not a lazy generation. Nor are the Baby Boomers, nor are the Millennials.

But now I’m seeing plenty of the so-called Generation Xers bagging so-called Millennials in the exact same ways we were bagged. I’m also hearing them say, “Oh, it’s not like when we were bagged. These Millennials really are lazy and indulged and all about themselves. They really are the Me Generation.” Yes, there was even a Time magazine cover story about the Millennials being the Me Generation.

Sigh. Do you know who was first called the Me Generation? The Baby Boomers. Then it was applied to, you guessed it, Generation X. And so on and so on.

That Time article begins like this:

I am about to do what old people have done throughout history: call those younger than me lazy, entitled, selfish and shallow. But I have studies! I have statistics! I have quotes from respected academics! Unlike my parents, my grandparents and my great-grandparents, I have proof.

And I roll my eyes at you, too, sir. They always have proof. Every single time.

Am I saying there have been no changes in people in Australia the USA over the period in which we’ve been talking about these generations? Of course not.

A century ago in Australia and the USA the vast majority of people were living in extended family households. Far fewer people, back then, were left alone to raise their children. They were helped by grandparents, siblings, aunts etc. etc. Far fewer people lived alone. Far fewer people were ever alone. We were vastly more socially connected back then than we are now. This basic shift in how most of us live has caused a great many changes. Some good, some not so good.

We still don’t understand the extent of those changes. But some researchers believe that the rise in depression and other mental illnesses, including, yes, narcissistic personality disorder, is closely connected to these changes in our basic family unit.3

Those changes to the family unit did not happen over night and those changes didn’t all of a sudden manifest themselves in one single generation. The very idea is absurd. And yet generation after so-called generation we keep repeating that absurd notion.

I keep seeing people say that teenagers are addicted to social media. Yet when I go out you know who it’s hardest to get to put their damn phone away? The adults right up into their forties. When I see teenagers out together their phones are mostly in their pockets. Anecdotal evidence I know.

But if you don’t believe my observations about an extremely small sample size—and why should you—then read Danah Boyd’s It’s Complicated she’s got proof! Her basic thesis is that teens are not addicted to social media, they’re addicted to each other, to socialising and often, because of the tight controls of their parents, social media is the only way they can socialise.

You know what my generation was/is mostly addicted to? Socialising with our peers. As was the previous Baby Boomer generation.4 We humans we are very social creatures.

TL;DR: There is no such thing as a coherent generation who are all the same. Historical change happens much more slowly than that. Stop leaving out class and race and other important ways in which identity is determined. Also: GET OFF MY LAWN!5

  1. Though am very grateful to you for this particular corrective piece of journalism. One of the things I love best about the internet is that while, yes, false information spreads quickly; the corrections spread quickly too. And it’s much easier to find correct information than it was in the days before the internet. []
  2. Except for those of us who don’t and aren’t. []
  3. There are, of course, many other theories to do with our increasing dependence on technology etc. But I’m most persuaded by the research on these changes in how we live. []
  4. Before then you’re getting into a time when teenagers haven’t quite been invented yet. []
  5. The lawn I don’t have because I live in a flat. []


  1. marrije on #

    hear hear! Also, danah’s book is probably arriving at my house today, and I really look forward to reading it. And then nagging my children some more about their phones, ha!

    • Justine on #

      Hope you find it as useful as I did. I want everyone to read it!

  2. John on #

    These same Baby Boomers & Gen Xers who complain about Millennials and their addiction to social media – these are the same adults who constantly wax nostalgic about how, when they were kids, they could run around town & ride their bikes everywhere & jump in puddles & didn’t need to home until dinner & their parents didn’t hover over their every moment.

    The world isn’t as safe today as it was then. That’s one of the downsides of increasing urbanization. There are reasons why kids are kept closer to home nowadays. But with safety trumping freedom of movement, with Millennial kids living under more restrictions and limitations than their parents & grandparents, how else do we expect them to have a social life, if not through social media?

    • Justine on #

      Indeed. The restrictions on kids and teens these days are really ridiculous.

      Though I was just reading someone arguing that in fact the world is less dangerous now. That in Australia and many other first world countries the murder and assault rate is way down and that it’s likely children were abused more in that past when it was basically never reported.

  3. Cameron on #

    It seems to be a right of passage as we move into later life to do a Grand Pa Simpson and bag the current teen cohort.
    I’m 51 and distinctly remember being an arrogant little toerag who took the easiest route and constant avoided work. I now have 3 post graduate qualifications and work in eLearning in Higher Ed.
    When conversations about the poor standards of behaviour spring up, I like to use the example of the (now wholesome) Elvis on the Ed Sullivan show when they wouldn’t film him below the waste. Honestly, for that to happen today what would have to be going on below his belt. We seem to have forgotten that Elvis was the Marilyn Mason /Evil Clown Posse of his day.
    Every generation is appalled by the previous one, I can’t find the quote but even Plato despaired of the younger generation.

    • Justine on #

      Ha! You know I went looking for that quote too. And, like you, failed to find it. There are millions of such quotes over the centuries. But could I find a single on in my ten second google? No, I couldn’t.

      It’s also very true that many so-called lazy teens and young adults become much more diligent as they grow older. I certainly did.

      I’d like to go on the record as saying that despite being labelled Generation X I know and like many teens and folks in their 20s and they’re fabulous. (Except for the ones who aren’t.)

  4. alvy b on #

    When anyone goes to the line between the generations they find pretty much as many people on either side of that line as they find in the middle of whatever cohort they’re investigating. The continuum of human births, from 1940 and the beginnings of the so-called boomer cluster, to kids born after 2001, is what’s real. And if it was a united thing think how strong it would be.
    Songs used to be handed down from old to young confirming the common bond. Now the prospect of shared music brings nausea from the young and outrage from the old.
    That’s the real damage of all this segmentation, it separates us, isolates us, and uses that isolation to create bonds intra-generation, in the moment, instead of through time. It works to the advantage of something predatory, I think.
    The formula is “divide and conquer”.

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