As a millennial, I am not sorry for my work habits or my lifestyle choices.
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But Alexis Bloomer seems to think we should be – making our relationship with older generations even worse and undermining the unique value of the millennial generation in the process. Not to mention making sweeping generalizations by claiming her own experiences represent the 80+ million other millennials. She could have used data to back up her claims, but she chose not to. Now many of us will have to go to lengths to salvage our reputation in the face of the 30+ million views on that video.
According to some, millennials are the greatest generation – but to many, we are literally the worst. But every generation has evolved from the generation before them. We were shaped by their beliefs, ideas and teachings. It is not like we just showed up one day and decided to “ruin” everything. Still, many Baby Boomers and Gen Xers love to spurt facts about how entitled, selfish and lazy we are. But is any of this true? The data shows… mostly not.
Millennials have found new ways to live, love and work–myself included. For some, change is scary but why do we of the younger generation constantly have to defend ourselves? It is time to set the record straight, especially because millennials are now the largest generation. We are also an incredibly entrepreneurial, resilient, accepting and charitable generation. But too often we are simplified into just a few less than complimentary characteristics.
Using data from the Census Bureau and other reputable sources, we took an extended look into those beliefs with the aim of busting some popular myths about millennials. Without giving too much away, we found that most, if not all of the myths are overblown or widely misreported (often, I believe, as a measure of resistance against a rapidly changing world). So with that said, let’s get to busting – or confirming – myths about millennials.
Check out the interactive wheel of myths below and full investigations into the seven most common myths below that!
MYTH #1: Millennials have it easier than previous generations.
It is commonly believed that the millennial generation is full of lazy, entitled and selfish people. Or that we all started with a leg up on every other generation. That is statistically untrue, as I will explain below. Let’s not forget that we have just recently come out of one of the worst recessions. Which was in no way caused by millennials – but we are dealing with the repercussions. I believe that the growth of the internet and access to information have made millennials hyper- visible. Because of that, many poor representatives of our generations are getting exposure. But for every Rich Kids Of Instagram or Kardashian, there are thousands of millennials positively impacting the world. Also, there are thousands more on food stamps. And that number is at least doubled what it was for our parents’ generation. Even in the case of those who are college educated. Last time I checked, the American Dream did not involve being unable to pay for food. Or massive unemployment.
Unemployment is still a big problem for millennials, even if it is getting better for the rest of the American population. Unemployment has actually been steadily decreasing since 2010 to a reasonable five percent for the overall population as of April 2016. As you can see in the graphic above, the average unemployment rate for millennials is at eight percent. That is at least 40 percent percent more than Gen X and 25 percent more than Baby Boomers, at comparable ages. And for younger millennials from ages 18-29, the rate of unemployment is double the rate for those over 30. To put it simply, the country is recovering but millennials are not feeling the effects.
Additionally, at the rate of unemployment for millennials is higher than older generations at every education level. So the belief that higher education is the way to a better life is now almost a myth in itself. But I will dig deeper into the educational differences and challenges a bit later It also is frightening that we wholeheartedly believe we will not be richer than our parents’ generation. My parents have done incredibly well for themselves by going to a great college and working hard their entire life.
But as children of the recession we are still taking the brunt of its negative effects. We truly may be the first generation in history to make less than our parents. Or we may come out of it stronger than them. With increasing debt from student loans and decreases in wages, the jury is still out. But we do know that at this point in time, one out of every five millennials are living in poverty – a 43 percent increase from the situation of older generations when they were the same age.
The median income for people aged 18-34 years old has fallen from $35k to $33k in the past 30 years alone. It should be noted that those are in real, directly comparable numbers. The average income actually peaked in 2000 at almost $38k before the dot-com bubble bust. In 10 short years it has decreased by 14 percent, and hopefully won’t continue to drop. To make matters worse, the age that someone first achieves that median wage has increased from 26 to 30.
Now to bust the last part of this myth: income inequality. It’s out of control. This is more of a multi-generational problem but it is still very troubling. From 1970 onwards there has been almost a 70 percent increase in income for both the top one percent and 10 percent of earners, with the top one percent of earners making, on average, 10 times more than the bottom 10 percent of earners. Even when looking at the middle 50 percent of earners, the top earners make four times more on average.
This basically means that the rich have only gotten richer over the last almost 50 years. On the other side, the rest of the earners have seen their income barely increase. The middle 50 percent and bottom 10 percent are where most millennials are, and we are definitely feeling it.
MYTH #2: Millennials are lazy.
For the laziest generation, we sure like to start our own businesses. We have experienced the worst recession in recent memory, massive layoffs, and tons of corruption. Making our own work is the best way to take control of our situation. After all, we have seen how big companies can turn their backs on employees as soon as trouble starts.
Compared to Boomers and Gen Xers, we are creating companies at twice the rate they did. Granted, access to technology has made it easier for millennials to do so. But we are also starting our businesses a lot earlier than past generations: at the average age of 27, while Boomers waited almost eight years later to start their businesses at 35.
I was one of those entrepreneurial millennials before I joined Venngage. Starting a little earlier than average at 22, and only with one legitimate company. It was one of my most challenging experiences, both mentally and emotionally. But I wouldn’t have done it any other way. There were many things that I could not have learned at a traditional company. But I still felt shunned by some of the older people or colleagues just from taking an unconventional path. Even though I was working harder than most of them.
Millennials also tend to have a different mindset about big companies. We are coming of age in an economy that is going nowhere. We have learned that we need to craft our own future. That is why we are the generation of startup and entrepreneurship. Unlike other generations, we do not care about climbing the corporate ladder, with only 13 percent of millennials wanting to rise to a CxO level through traditional paths. Instead, 66 percent want to start their own business as their main career goal.
Not only are we the generation of entrepreneurship, we are also the generation of flexibility. Which for some reason is commonly perceived as laziness by people of older generations. We work just as hard as other generations, we just do it on our own time. A healthy work/life balance has been a cornerstone of the millennial workforce and will be for some time, with 77 percent of all millennials wanting flexible work hours because they believe they will be more productive. Recently, big companies have listened; now over half of big companies allow flexible work hours.
It is unfair to think that we are lazy because we do not work in the same way as generations before us. We are in a vastly different world than when they were entering the workforce. Right now I am able to work them from anywhere using little more than my computer. That would have not been possible even five years ago.
But there are some major downsides to this new work culture. Unlike less technologically-driven generations, we are always working. There is no off switch. It has been found that almost 89 percent of millennial workers are checking and responding to work emails outside of normal working hours. Additionally, 73 percent of millennials are expected to be able to respond to calls or emails at any time. Unless I am sleeping, I always have my phone on my body or within reach. Gone are the days when you leaving the office meaning work was over.
MYTH #3: Millennials are job hoppers.
The myth of job hopping sounds legitimate if you still believe that we are incredibly selfish. Some of us are job hopping more than others, but not because of that reason. We are just responding to a more fluid economy. And know that a life long career at a single company is a pipe dream. We have seen pensions disappear and lifelong employees get laid off in droves. The gold watch retirement banquet is as extinct as the dodo.
When looking at the other generations, we are actually more loyal to our first jobs. In fact, we are staying with our first major employer on average three to six years, as opposed to Gen Xers, who stayed for less than a year on average. That’s certainly true for most of my close friends, who have stayed with the same company since they graduated. Increased tenure could be from a bevy of factors including needing to repay student loans, a volatile job market, and the fear of unemployment. But I can confidently say that it’s not because they have a greater sense of loyalty towards their companies. We have seen and experienced companies turn on their employees at the first sign of trouble.
In fact, 86 percent of millennials would leave a job if it was in our best professional and financial interest. Traditionally, people worked their way up the corporate ladder to increase pay, but now it’s not as easy. With job cutting on the rise, can you blame millennials for losing faith?
MYTH #4: If millennials go to college, life will be good!
Going to college has always been a big part of the American Dream. No matter who you were, it was the path to a better life. And we believed it. We are now a highly educated and highly indebted generation.
Let’s look at the positives first: Compared to our parents’ generation, 54 percent more people have a bachelor’s degrees. In 2015, 60 percent more people aged 25-34 had earned a college degree on top of a high school diploma than older generations. It has not always been like this – in 2000, the percentage of people with a college degree and people with a high school diploma were exactly the same. But go back 10 years and 70 percent more people had only a high school diploma.
A college degree has become the new high school diploma, with it being a requirement for most entry-level jobs. By 2020, 65 percent of all the jobs in the US will require a postsecondary education as a qualification. Of that 65 percent, 35 percent of all jobs requiring a bachelor’s degree of some sort. Right now, 62 percent of millennials are in a job that requires a degree but only a quarter are working in a field similar to their field of study.
This has led to an increase in underemployment across the millennial generation, with graduates taking low paying or part time jobs to pay back student loans. In 2011, there were 23 percent of recent graduates working part-time or less, compared to 16 percent in 2000. This is thought to be caused by the amount of millennials entering the workforce in general, as well as the high number of Baby Boomers delaying retirement as well.
Unemployment for college-educated millennials is also a big problem. Millennials are 35 percent more likely to be unemployed than Gen Xers were at their age, and 65 percent more likely than Boomers. Millennials are also staying unemployed for longer.
Leading up to graduation, I realized that finding a job was a nightmare. Just like many of my colleagues, I had believed that college was the path to a great life. But as graduation began to near I finally saw through the façade.
With a degree in economics and international business from an SEC school, a great GPA, and work experience, I should have found a great job right away. But no one reasonable was hiring in my field or would even get back to me. After multiple months of applying to jobs to no avail, I took my future into my own hands upon graduation. Which through a series of successful and failed ventures, brought me to Venngage.
It’s not like the jobs don’t exist. From 2007 to 2013, the share of jobs held by Boomers increased by nine percent and only 0.3 percent percent for millennials. That is a massive difference of 30x. That is such a large number that it hardly seems real – but it is. It’s not all bad news, though: it’s estimated estimate by 2020 there were be about 30 million more job openings based on them retiring. So just make it to 2020 and it’s cake after that.
College is traditionally thought of as an investment in your future. It has always been a pretty large investment, whether parents are paying or it is paid with student loans. But the rising costs to get a degree have spun out of control. With tuition in some places increasing by percents in the double digits each year, there is something very wrong with the system.
This would be more acceptable if wages were increasing at the same rate for those with a bachelor’s degree. But that is not the case, with potential earnings for a bachelor’s degree increasing by only 11 percent. As depicted in the chart above, the real wages have actually decreased at the height of the dot-com bust and the Great Recession. Now they are starting to turn back around.
If we go back a little further, we can really see how high the cost of going to college is nowadays. From 1975 to 2015, the tuition for a public university education has increased by 308 percent. Yes, that is another number so wild that shouldn’t be true – but according to the College Board, it is.
Even private schools are following the same trend, with an increase of 220 percent. The two-year schools clocked in just a little less with 215 percent increase in tuition. Additionally, the cost for room and board has doubled in the 25 years since they started keeping track. Now it is clear why we have a student loan crisis.
The one silver lining, if you can call it that, is that scholarship payouts have also increased. If you were hoping they increased more than the increase in tuition, we have some bad news. The increase in scholarship money has been a seemingly reasonable 237 percent. Enough to keep up with the change in tuition, but just barely. And finally the cost out of pocket after scholarships in 2015 is still almost 200 percent more than the rate was in 1991.
MYTH #5: Millennials should stop wasting their time and get a REAL degree.
For some reason, the other generations think millennials are majoring in more creative and less practical degrees. They think we are pursuing degrees that will not get us hired instead of majoring in STEM subjects. But that is statistically untrue, especially compared to past generations.
Millennials actually have the highest concentration of STEM degrees across generations, with almost half of all millennials studying a STEM subject. This marks a 13 percent increase in people earning STEM degrees compared to Baby Boomers.
STEM degrees have been traditionally regarded as some of the highest earning fields. They seemed like a safe major and a guaranteed job straight out of college. That may not be the case anymore. It is concerning that so many millennials are picking traditionally safe majors and they are still unemployed.
We are also barely outpacing the other generations in studying Arts and Humanities subjects, with only a fourth of all millennials following creative career paths. If older generations were to be believed we would all be majoring in the creative fields.
My degree was in economics, which is more math than anything, and I did not find a job related to economics. Instead, I am in a traditionally creative field and happier than ever. But I would never have been able to major in writing or journalism in school. My parents would have disowned me. There is still a stigma that those who enter the creative fields will never find a stable, well-paying job. And older generations have often dismissed those types of degrees no matter the person or their skills.
Finally, a traditionally safe and popular degree has seen a massive drop off. Those with degrees in education have decreased by 63 percent compared to Baby Boomers. This could be because there are a lot of teachers that major in something other than education. Also with other generations staying in the workplace longer, the demand could be decreasing. That is pure speculation but based on previous findings it fits the narrative.
MYTH #6: Millennials are financially irresponsible.
Now that college is almost a requirement and the cost has increased by 200-300 percent most millennials are in massive debt. We are no longer starting with a clean slate after graduation we are starting from behind before we even start working. Other generations have faced the same student loans after graduation, but not to this magnitude.
Right now there are 38 million Americans that owe over $1 trillion in student loans. Of that the average student loan cost is around $35-40k and the average cost of student loan increased by 74 percent in just the last ten years. And 66 percent of all millennials have one form of long term debt, which could include a car, house or student loan.
But we have already talked about the cost of college being out of control, this section is about how great we are at saving. Compared to the other generations, even with these obstacles, we are still saving more and more often. Going through one of the worst recessions has made us a little more hands on with our savings.
Millennials start saving almost 10 years earlier than older generations did. We now start our first major savings account at 23 years old, compared to 26 for Gen X and 32 for Boomers. In fact, 62 percent of millennials saving five percent or more of their income, almost double the rate of other older generations at that age. The problem is, because our income is lower, the total amount saved is not as significant.
With the uncertainty surrounding retirement, millennials are also saving more for later in life. We have seen retirement accounts disappear and parents work well in to their retirement ages, more so than any other generation before. Now over half of all millennials already have a retirement savings account; 80 percent of millennials say the recession caused them to start saving themselves.
MYTH #7: Millennials are delaying making major commitments.
Based on the data in previous sections, it probably won’t come as a surprise to many that this is, in fact, true. Millennials are actually delaying traditional milestones like moving out, getting married and buying homes.
First, 15 percent of millennials are still living with their parents, at a slightly higher rate than previous generations (about 12 percent). My theory is that this is not only due to financial limitations but also to stronger relationships with our parents. Unlike other generations, the ability to stay in contact with our parents almost daily is a given. Over half of us are talking to them on a daily basis and a lot of millennials consider their parents to be their best friends. And sometimes our lack of wanting to leave outweighs our financial ability to do so.
Leaving our parents later in life is also pushing back other milestones, like getting married. Of people aged 18-34, over 65 percent more millennials are not married compared to our parents’ generation. Although college-educated millennials are more likely to be married, it is still at the lowest point overall. Unsurprisingly, it is projected that 25 percent of all millennials will never get married.
But this does not mean we are not forming long-lasting relationships. Our priorities are still relationships and reaching life milestones, but these do not necessarily require marriage. We care more about being a good parent and having children. In fact, 52 percent of millennials say being a great parent is the most important thing in their life, married or not. With only 42 percent of the previous generation with much more importance being put on marriage.
And finally, because we are getting married later or not at all, we are not buying homes. Anyway, it is not like many of us could afford them with the massive debt. Also, we have seen other parts of the American Dream become a myth. Why do we think buying a house should be any different? But let’s forget that for a second and look at the numbers.
For previous generations, 40 percent of all home sales went to first time buyers, but only around 30 percent of millennials consider buying a house a priority. But my prediction is that once we feel more established in our family and work lives, the housing market will explode. By 2025, there should be 20 million more millennials looking to buy houses.
Honestly, I expected that more people would not want to get married and that less people would want to buy houses. Our feelings about both were based on experiences in our most formative years. Some saw the house of cards that was made up of subprime mortgages collapse. Literally. Now they never want to be in that same situation if they have any power. Or as the flexible generation, we never want to be tied down too long.
In terms of marriage, we also are shaped by our experiences. As children, we saw a large number of parents getting divorced around us. Some, including me, have become disillusioned with the idea of marriage in general. Instead, we have made it our mission to be a great and present parent. Married or not it does not matter. That sounds exactly like the selfishness in which millennials are known for. And it is a HUGE change that will continue to define our and scare other generations.
After looking at all the data, I found something very interesting – it’s not revolutionary but once you understand it, the behavior of millennial will make sense. Millennials, just like any other generation, are responding to our environment and experiences. We are a generation who have experienced massive unemployment, a housing market crash, and a recession. It has shaped how we approach every major milestone in our life, from college to getting married. And our approaches are varied.
But we are also children of change. And that is our strongest feature. We are truly changing the world faster than many people of older generations can process. Which used to be a great thing–so why are we continuously chastised for it? As soon as change is demonized, innovation will suffer.