If you ask your grandparents about life when they first stepped out on their own, you will get a very different picture than the experience of today’s youth. Changing technologies, economies, and expectations can also bring about differences in generational thinking. While looking at each generation as a whole lumps everyone together and removes the individual; it is helpful for those looking at the overall themes to better understand how we can relate to people from different eras. Sometimes, heated discussions and conflicts are brought about because of this lack of understanding of underlying currents that are absent in your own generation.
There are five generational groups that we will reference in this article.
- Traditionalists / Silent Generation (born 1925 – 1945)
- Baby Boomers (born 1946 – 1964)
- Gen X (born 1965 – 1980)
- Gen Y / Millennials (Born 1981 – 2000)
- Gen Z / Boomlets (Born after 2001)
Each group, as a general rule, has different themes and outlooks on life. Lack of understanding can create conflict with younger generations in several key areas.
1) Financial Independence
Many Mellenniums may find themselves still living at home, or at least leveraging their parents for financial support, well into adulthood. According to the New York Times, one in five people in their twenties and early thirties are still living with their parents. This is a big difference between other generations. Most Baby Boomers and Traditionalists moved out much earlier – usually to get married. The inability to cut the apron strings today could be due, in part, to the fact that many entry-level jobs are often not able to cover basic living expenses; especially in some urban areas where the cost of living outpaces many starting salaries. In fact, a study conducted by the Economic Policy Institute found that entry-level hourly wages for college graduates from 2000 -2013 fell on average at a rate of 8.1 percent among women, and 6.7 percent among men. Many people are also delaying marriage and staying in school longer due to conomic reasons.
Generation X and Baby Boomer parents may be tempted to compare their children’s lack of financial independence to when they were married, working, and on their own at a much earlier age. However, it is hard to correlate today’s job opportunities and financial freedoms to the ones they experienced when they were in their early twenties, due to the constantly changing workplace. Many older parents have a stronger work ethic. They have accumulated wealth over the years and are now able to financially support their children. Unfortunately, their kids are all too happy to take advantage of this.
2) Work Ethic / Company Loyalty
Many older generations tend to label people in the Millennial group as less hard-working than they were in their early twenties. They do this because this younger generation is more inclined to push back against a typical “9 to 5” work day. Many Millennials value flexibility and embrace working in an environment that is more conducive to molding around their needs, rather than forcing them to conform to the needs of the organization.
However, just because older generations were polishing their shoes and settling into their desks at 7:45 a.m. when they were in their 20s, does not mean that the Millennial workers don’t work just as many hours. Many people from older generations feel that if you aren’t in the office under supervision, then you aren’t working. Younger generations do not embrace this mindset. They are much more inclined to take their work home with them. So, while the Baby Boomer generation worked a typical 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. workday, the Millennial generations may work from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., then take the afternoon off before starting up again from 7 p.m. to 11 p.m. Millennial workers are much more likely to work remotely, and may feel less worried about making appearances at the office. To them, as long as the work gets done well, it doesn’t matter if they do it during regular business hours or after a relaxing dinner.
People who are in their early twenties are also typically less trusting of corporations than their predecessors. Older generations wanted to be hired by a good company, slowly building a lifetime legacy there by paying their dues and climbing the corporate ladder. Many Traditionalist and Baby Boomers remark that in their twenties, they simply felt lucky to have a job and did not expect the organization to cater to their needs. Millennials, now in their early twenties, have watched companies perform downsizes; and have seen that their predecessors’ loyalty was often rewarded by corporate cuts for more profitable numbers on Wall Street. They may even have experienced this first hand by watching a parent lose their job with a company they assumed would provide them a good living. In turn, they are often much more comfortable with changing careers and companies, less loyal to their employers, more comfortable pushing back against authority figures, and more willing to leave if they aren’t happy in their current job. They may also build parallel careers, work multiple jobs simultaneously, and have more than one specialty.
3) Chief Motivators
Today’s youth are motivated by different factors than previous generations. Traditionalists were more motivated by security and self worth. Boomers were more motivated with money and status. Generation Xers wanted more time off and were motivated by a balanced work / life balance after watching their overworked parents. Generation Y seems to be motivated by doing work that is meaningful. They also enjoy work that allows them to express their individuality and maintain a personal life. Millennials are less impressed with the status quo, and instead want to feel a strong sense of passion for what they do with their lives. They also tend to be more globally focused than their predecessors due to growing up during a time when news and information are instantly shared with ease via the globally connected Internet.
A college degree, or even a graduate degree, is much more common in the Millennial Generation than in the past. According to findings from the Pew Research Center’s survey of 2,002 adults (supplemented by a Pew Research analysis of economic data from the U.S. Census Bureau), today’s Millennials are the best-educated generation in history. A third (34%) have a bachelor’s degree. When you compare the Traditional generation of 25-32 year-olds in 1965, only 13% had a college degree. This percentage expanded to 24% in the late 1970s and 1980s, when the Boomers were in their early 20s. This means that Millennials also have more competition from other highly-educated peers for jobs, and are more likely to delay launching their career until they have obtained a competitive degree.
5) Communication Style
Millennials, and the upcoming Generation Z, are the technology gurus. While other generations remember the life before the Internet, the Generation Y kids obtained a working knowledge of technology very early in their lives. However, this can lead to them preferring e-mail, texting, instant messages, and Facebook exchanges over face-to-face communication. They are always plugged in. Most of them find it very hard to disconnect from their online world.
Today’s youth have grown up with the ability to research anything with the click of their Google app. This means that instead of pouring over library books trying to find their answers, they are now easily found with a quick topic search. Millennials are able to further expand their hobbies and interests much easier than previous generations. For example, instead of pouring over library books or shadowing an expert, you can now find How-To videos and step-by-step instructional articles online within seconds. You can instantly learn how to make everything from home-made wine to how to up-cycle old pallets. Due to the ease of obtaining information about nearly everything online, Millennials are much more well-versed in many different hobbies and passions. They enjoy an eclectic variety of D.I.Y. projects, and are quick to try new things due to this ease of learning.
7) Respect for Authority
Millennials are more comfortable with a fast-paced, changing world, and have no problem pushing back against authority or voicing concerns. Many older generations accuse them of not respecting authority. This is not exactly correct. Millennials have great respect for authority, but unlike previous generations, they don’t respect authority figures just because of their title. For Millennials, respect is not automatically given. It must be earned. For most Millennials, respect for their managers is the main reason they stay with their job. Coincidentally, the dissatisfaction of working for their manager is also the main reason that they quit. Many companies have adapted their approach to leadership when dealing with Mellennials. Management has evolved into a more relational role, rather than an authoritarian one, in order to lower their job turn-over rate.
Millennials are less worried about formal dress-code, and more interested in flexibility and new challenges. They would rather be traveling on new adventures than pressing their pinstripe suit. If they are put into the more traditional roles of their predecessors, they may become bored if the work does not continually push them into new areas of discovery.
People from the Generation Y stage are also delaying marriage in favor of launching careers or furthering their education. Millennials are focused on making a good income before settling down with a family. The typical man now marries for the first time at age 28 and the typical women at age 26. This is about five years older than in 1970 (for both genders). Women are also delaying having children. In Western, Northern, and Southern Europe, first-time mothers are on average 26 to 29 years old, up from 23 to 25 years at the start of the 1970s.
Many Baby Boomers and Traditionalists feel that Generation X-ers and the Millennial Generation don’t want to grow up. Some of that may be true, but it stems from how the Boomers raised their children. Many Boomer parents tended to coddle their children more than past generations. Some Baby Boomers even use their own financial success to ensure their kids don’t experience adversity. Millennials, after watching their parents work so hard, are often not willing to suffer the long hours and general stress that they watched play out when they were growing up. Therefore, they tend to lean toward spending more time with their family in favor of less financial affluence. And, if Mom and Dad haven’t turned their old room into a theater room yet, Millennials see no reason why they shouldn’t hang out there at least a little bit more and delay the intimidating stresses of adulthood.
While generational gaps show us how very different it is to be in your mid-twenties today, these decades apart also illuminate how social, economic, and educational trends have changed over the years. Whether you’re a Millennialist, Traditionalist, Boomer, or a misunderstood Generation X-er, you still have more commonalities than differences.
Each generation can learn from their past. We can also pull older family and friends into current technologies and the fast-paced present. Understanding and celebrating these differences, and learning from one another, is the best way to leverage the strengths of each era and become better individuals.