Millennials – the First Post-Consumer Generation?

Twenty years ago, Generation X graduated during what was a comparatively soft recession in the early 1990’s.   The so-called Thirteenth Generation was branded by the media as being “cynical, directionless, and apathetic.”  Subversive films such as Clerks, Reality Bites, and the pseudonymously-titled  Slacker did nothing to harm that reputation.

In comparison, the Millennials are making members of Generation X look like career-obsessed workaholics.

The Millennial generation faces the dual challenge of a weak labor market combined with competitive (and rising) educational standards. It’s been over fifty years since so many young people in America were out of work. A recent study shows that one out of every three Americans between 18 and 29 are either choosing not to work or are looking for a paying job, but cannot find one. There is a new twist to the contemporary job search – Millennials are often looking for the right opportunity and will not always accept an offer that does not fit their interests. Neil Howe, author of several books on generational patterns, says that Millennials are “more likely to take an unpaid internship, classes, or do free consulting – something that advances their goals.”

The American Dream of home-ownership and 2.5 kids is beginning to look like a bum deal.  Why have equity in a sinking asset?   In such an uncertain world, does having children even make sense?  Census data shows that people are getting married later in life – if at all.

To get a sense of where things are going, it is useful to look at the average Millennial.  Every bit of personal history – photos, music, favorite movies,  books, can be kept on a laptop.  The new status is freedom, mobility, and fun.  The key to attacting Millennial employees is to give them work that is engaging and the ability to connect with other interesting people.   Financial compensation is  sometimes not as important as freedom to choose when, where, and how work gets done.

(This bit of information can be tremendously useful for companies attempting to manage expenses.)

Why can it be so hard to “motivate” this generation financially?

Here is a clue:  a survey by Pew Foundation reveals that one in eight Americans aged 22-29 have “boomeranged” back to living with their parents after living on their own.  Many others are sharing living spaces with their peers to save money.  Car ownership is actually declining somewhat – in favor of public transportation or services such as ZipCar.

It appears that the Millennials have been the first generation to adjust their long-term economic expectations.  They have figured out that “access” often makes more sense then “ownership”, particularly since “ownership” often translates into “debt”.

The Millennials aren’t unmotivated — they simply haven’t bought into the old economic system.

Feel free to discuss in the comment section…

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4 Responses to Millennials – the First Post-Consumer Generation?

  1. So consumer demand in America is destined to evaporate. And yet equities are strong. Fascinating, the logic of the market.

  2. Interesting piece, Jim. So is this the first step to the post-comsumeristic nirvana that is going to save the planet from the ravages of militarism and climate change?

  3. Hal says:

    I’m with the new generation, not driven by much besides the big picture. I don’t bet on rainy days, but I would like some balance in the accounting. That’s in order isn’t it? A reevaluation of what purpose business has in our life.

  4. Court says:

    As a millennial who has a job, a appreciate this post and see a lot of truth in it. I think what many older generations miss about us is that our childhoods were full of divorces (our parents or our friends’ parents), school shootings, 9/11, and other events that, while sending shock waves through older generations, we have come to accept as part of life (a bad part, albeit). Why spend life being uphappy when you can be happy?

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