Millennials Are Getting Old

For two decades, the word “millennial” has been shorthand for “young person.” It’s almost become a tic when thinking of fickle, ‘gramming kids to call them millennials. A millennial isn’t the tired-looking dad dragging a tween peering into her phone—it’s the tween.

Folks, it’s time to update your priors. Next year the oldest millennials turn 40. The youngest will be in their mid-20s. Most millennials are in their thirties, that time in life when people settle into careers and marriages, when they take on mortgages and car payments, when they start having kids. So of course we would expect this to happen: “Millennials are cutting back on alcohol, and beer is being hit the hardest.” (The article, which sports this title, does not bear much more investigation: “Millennials are shunning beer because they say it makes them ‘fat.’”) People can’t party all night when they have to get the kids to school in the morning.

In fact, it’s probably time to give up on the idea of generational psychographics altogether. Older generations always attribute the qualities of youth to any new generation. Every new generation is described by older ones as lazy, disrespectful, and childish. To older generations, the appearance of younger ones is evidence society is collapsing. Every new generation births a jillion oh-my-god-have-you-seen-how-terrible-these-kids-are-today?! articles. In fact, so many have been written about millennials that the word has become something of an epithet for the qualities attributed to them. The word is often spat out with irritation or mystification.

Generations do have personalities, but that’s because societies change and so people do, too. Newer generations reflect the changes. In terms of mapping behavior, though, a generation is a very weak predictor compared to other affiliations. So many of the qualities ascribed to millennials—multicultural, over-parented, hyper-sensitive—apply to upper middle class urban kids. Compare a millennial from a city to one from a small town and where that person lives will dictate a lot more than when they were born. And really, how different is a 51-year-old now (my age) than ones in 1999 or 1979? I’m certain I have more in common with 51-year-olds from earlier generations than I do with my 21-year-old self. “Generations” should probably refer to mainly to age cohorts.

But mainly, it’s time to start focusing our collective angst elsewhere. Millennials aren’t those damn kids anymore. There’s a whole new generation coming into adulthood, and they’re so overlooked they don’t really have a name yet (Gen Z? Postmillennials? iGen?). It’s their time to become the whipping boy for older generations. Millennials are getting old—time to cut them a break.


Jeff Alworth2 Comments