You Might Be A Millennial If…
Finally, an easy way to figure out if you’re a Millennial! Forget the hassle of digging out the ol’ birth certificate (wait, does that say 1984 or 1884? Is that why you remember the Klondike Gold Rush so vividly?), the Pew Research Center has come out with a handy dandy little quiz that’s been making the rounds online in the last day or two. It’s as if Jeff Foxworthy rose from the dead (he is dead, right?) and rewrote his You Might Be a Redneck If… shtick for the Facebook/chatroulette/sexting era.
It’s fourteen questions long and queries you on subjects ranging from whether you have a tattoo to your tv viewing habits over the last 24 hours. The average Millennial “should” score a 73. According to birthdate (and yes, I doublechecked), I am a Millennial. I scored a 61. I have seen much higher scores bandied around social media circles from folks a decade or two my senior. And therein lies a problem.
The issue is that Millennial no longer (indeed, if it ever did) simply refers to individuals born during a particular span of years. It has narrowed to represent a certain set of behaviors, attributes and attitudes. These behaviors, attributes and attitudes might occur more frequently among individuals born during a specific time period, but are absolutely not restricted to them. You don’t have to be young to have a tattoo, be a political liberal or an atheist. Or you could be young, Republican and Mormon. According to the checklist of Millennial traits surveyed by Pew, your 65 year-old dad could qualify and the 17 year-old kid who mows his lawn might not make the cut. And that’s not even touching on the fact that certain behaviors allied with the popular Gen Y/Millennial stereotype (entitlement, idealism, anti-authority views, etc.) have been been hallmarks of youth in general since, well, the dawn of time. Don’t kid yourself; those cavemen were rocking the existential angst like nobody’s business.
The conflation of demographics and psychographics is an increasing problem in the field of generational analysis. Providing advice on how to hire, manage, motivate and relate to Millennials/Gen Y is a hot (and lucrative) venture, but most of this advice has a built-in bias. It’s aimed at those who are hiring, managing, motivating and relating to college-educated, middle-class, urban, young men and women working in upwardly-mobile positions in corporate America. They might be part of Gen Y, but we shouldn’t kid ourselves that they are Gen Y in toto. What about those young adults who didn’t attend college? Who don’t work in corporate America? If you enlisted in the army at 18 or you’re a 26 year-old who holds down a part-time job at Borders and another at Chuck E. Cheese to support the son you had during senior year of high school, do you still get to be a part of Gen Y? The emphasis on psychographics over simple demographics disenfranchises those who don’t fit the mold of what we’re now told Millennials are.
I’m not knocking developing subgroup character sketches for the purpose of marketing or even for the purpose of org management (although, my novel suggestion would be to manage the individuals who report to you as individuals and not attempt to get all Millennial on them, but what do I know?) but I’m staunchly opposing taking a handful of traits that represent a specific group and perpetuating the idea that they are universally representative of everyone born in a given era. Millennial is being used as a monolithic term. And if we want to keep going down that path, then we need to decouple it from any demographic basis and acknowledge that just like anyone can be a punk or a goth or a vegan, anyone who scores high enough on Pew’s quiz or relates to the Gen Y tropes is free to call themselves a Millennial.
Yes, even your dad.