Everything you think you know about millennials is wrong

David Donovan, BridgeTower Media Newswires

I really don’t know why an article about modular furniture finally pushed me over the edge, but that’s where I find myself, and so I’m here today to tell you that almost everything you’ve ever read about millennials is wrong.

In this story I read, the author blithely asserted, with no evidence, that millennials want to buy furniture that will look good on Instagram. Lazy journalists make these kinds of unsupported assertions all the time, and I don’t know why this particular straw broke the camel’s back for me. But let me first assure you that outside of maybe a tiny, tiny minority, almost nobody is buying furniture with an eye toward their Insta feed. (Although the whole point of furniture is that it’s supposed to look nice.)

So that brings me here to clarify that any time you read a sweeping generalization about what millennials want or love or hate or are totally killing, you can and should ignore it. Here’s why:
“Millennials” are a made-up thing that doesn’t exist

Our whole modern taxonomy of generations starts with the G.I. Generation, the Silent Generation, and then the Baby Boomers. Roughly speaking, these are people (and specifically men) old enough to have fought in World War II, people who lived through World II but were too young to fight in it, and people born after World War II, respectively.

Each of these generations spans roughly 18 years, because that’s the age of conscription. Thus the Baby Boom kicked off in 1946 after the war concluded and ended around 1964, Generation X ended roughly around 1982 or so, and conveniently enough the millennial generation ended around 2000—hence the name. But we prudently decided to stop organizing world wars after the second one, and so there’s no sensible reason why the early 1980s should form any demarcation between two different generations.

Conversely, a lot of cultural change happened gradually over the course of 18 years, and so there’s similarly no reason why children of the mid-1980s would be lumped into the same generation as children of the late 1990s. But rather than concede the ridiculousness of the exercise, someone (it’s unclear whom) simply invented the term “Xennial,” intended to describe a “microgeneration” that straddles these two macro generations, both of which are, I stress again, totally imaginary. (Problem solved!)


The kids are alright

Of course, these generalizations of millennials are usually implied, or often even explicit, criticisms. The word itself is practically an epithet at this point, a shorthand for everything wrong with our great country today. If we (the author is one of those Xennials) aren’t single-handedly killing some beloved industry, then we’re posting too many selfies on Instagram, or demanding safe spaces, or some other unpardonable sin. But these arguments quickly fall apart upon closer scrutiny, for a couple of reasons.

First, at least as long as written words have existed, each generation has enjoyed complaining about Kids These Days. In 20 B.C., the Roman poet Horace lamented that “our sires’ age was worse than our grandsires.’ We, their sons, are more worthless than they; so in our turn we shall give the world a progeny yet more corrupt.” Although things seem to have actually turned out just fine, elders’ opinions of young people have rarely improved since then.

Second, differences within groups are much more important than those between groups. For instance, due to economic factors beyond their control, millennials are less likely to own a home than Boomers or Gen Xers were at the same age, and so you’ll see news stories with headlines like “Why millennials Aren’t Buying Homes.” But millions of millennials do own homes—and there are plenty of Boomers and Gen Xers who don’t, or didn’t at that stage of their lives. So these labels are actually lousy predictors of home ownership.


Slide of the Applebee’s

Dig deeper into any alleged Millennial “trend” and you’ll typically find the same thing, whether it’s our purported job-hopping (which actually proves to be not true anyway when you contextualize the data) or the amount of time we spend on Facebook. (It turns out that older people also love Facebook.) And many differences are just a function of being young, rather than Millennials per se.

For instance, if you believe everything you read on the internet, millennials are eviscerating a diverse swath of American economic sectors, including golf, motorcycles, department stores, films, cable television, casinos, menswear, and awful middlebrow restaurants like Applebee’s. We’re taking the heat for a lot of economic carnage.

But the free market is ruthlessly Darwinian, and industries go extinct all the time, thanks to evolving fashions, new technologies making old ones obsolete, or new competitors wresting away market share.
I’m blessed to live in an age where Amazon delivers all my Christmas shopping to my front porch, Netflix offers more great television than I could possibly watch for $11 a month, and the value proposition of trekking to JCPenney or the movies suddenly looks much poorer.

Nobody uses typewriters anymore, but it would be pretty silly to argue that Baby Boomers Totally Destroyed the Typewriter Industry. Likewise, Millennials most often are simply responding rationally to the societal changes that are killing these industries, rather than driving them ourselves. (Except for Applebee’s. That’s us, and we’re not stopping until the job’s done.)


Things are great. Don’t @ me.

I’m blessed to work with many college students preparing for the LSAT (and GMAT). I do notice some subtle generational differences, but overall, they’re an absolute joy to work with—more polite, mature and hard-working than I remember my generation being at that age. I’m very confident that the future of the legal profession is in excellent hands. (Incidentally, I’ve never once been asked about safe places or trigger warnings, and despite the fear-mongering I hear, studies suggest that today’s students are actually more protective of free speech than past ones.)

Statistics back this up. Under millennials’ watch, teen pregnancy rates, teenage drug use, and crime in general all plummeted. I use the past tense because we’ve now hit the point where “Millennial” and “young person” are no longer synonyms. Even using the broadest definition of the term, the teens heading to college next fall will no longer be Millennials—they’re part of the generation that will follow Millennials, tentatively titled Generation Z until someone dreams up something better. (Millennials were called Generation Y for a while, because Y comes after X and this whole nomenclature is quite dumb.)

I’m guessing they’ll be called Generation Smartphone or something, but we’ll see. And the babies being born today likely won’t even be part of Generation Z. They’ll likely be the vanguard of whatever comes after Generation Z. We’ve mercifully hit the end of the alphabet, so maybe my daughter will be part of Generation A, or Generation Z+1. Or maybe we’ll just stop playing this silly game altogether—though I wouldn’t bet on it.


David Donovan is a staff writer for Lawyers Weekly, and a Millennial, or maybe an Xennial, or something, and so therefore he has multiple social media accounts. You can follow him on Twitter @NCLWDonovan


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