What does it mean to be young in an ageing world?

I submitted an essay to the Nine Dots Prize in October, if you remember that post. They announced their winner today. I didn’t want to scrap the essay, so I decided to post it on my blog. It will read like I’m going to write a book about it, but I’m not. And if I do, it won’t be any time soon unless you see something you really want me to expand on.

It will read like I’m far left because people feel like they need to categorize you these days before deciding if they like you. I’m open to views from all angles, just so you know. However, seven months later, I think some of my opinions have changed.

I understand that essays are an exhausting read, therefore, I won’t be mad if you decide to skim it. This will be the only essay. I look forward to hearing what you think.


The last batch of Millennials are in their prime time now, but what kind of prime time is it if they have to fix what went wrong in the past for which they are not responsible?

In the 1950s and ‘60s, North America peaked from the Industrial Revolution, during which the Baby Boomers were thriving. Baby Boomers had their prime time from the 1960s to ‘80s, which had allowed them to secure jobs and invest in affordable homes. In Joseph C. Sternberg’s The Theft of a Decade, he explains why the Great Recession in 2008 proves it:

The Boomers grew up during an era of unprecedented economic growth and job security in America. The mid-twentieth century of their childhoods was, in retrospect, the high-water mark for a particular model of employment that had never been seen before in human history…” (Sternberg, p.49)

They saw their chance to protect their future. Little did they realize that instead of creating a better future for their children, they probably made it worse.

Recession

With Sternberg’s sources, my book will investigate how the Western world failed to maintain a healthy economy for decades starting in the ‘80s. Then, focus on what the Boomers overlooked that ultimately triggered the Great Recession in 2008. How the illusion of the American Dream and greed had eclipsed their rational thinking, and how they let foreign investors ruin the housing market up to this day, leaving the young with no money to invest in a secure future. As a result, the young are stuck with debt and less financial security. The young are left to fix the economy.

My book will briefly refer to my family’s economic background, which was negatively affected by the recession in 2008. I find that Boomers owning small businesses often fail to expand and were more susceptible to recessions. I will link my parents’ business to other small companies I had worked for, where I dealt with Boomer and Gen X bosses.

One would complain about Millennials working for the government, as they would strictly go by the book, unwilling to bend the rules like their predecessors. The other boss would welcome Millennials and immigrants since they were flexible and willing to accept low wages. I will talk about Millennials of different backgrounds that I have worked with and link them with Sternberg’s research. (Sternberg, p. 112)

College

The first wave of Millennials would have been in college during the 2008 recession. We go to college because our Boomer parents had worked hard for it. Later the debate arose whether college, as an investment, was even necessary. It would delay the Millennials from entering the workforce and minimize their chance of early homeownership. The chances of increasing their human capital are also low:

The fact that Millennials have proven themselves desperate to buy a college education at any price should be prompting a different set of questions to start: Is college really that important? And why? Millennials think it is, because Baby Boomers made it so.” (Sternberg, p.88)

What if the only point of college is to pay back a student loan? When can they start saving for the future? One issue arose in 2017 according to Charlotte Alter—author of The Ones We’ve Been Waiting For:

Trump and his allies quickly went about implementing policies that appealed to his graying base but that would leave young people to deal with the long-term consequences. His 2017 tax cuts have helped create a $1 trillion deficit that millennials would have to pay down in the future.” (Alter, p. 195)

Ever since college opportunities became a dream come true, college tuition is seen as an investment, requiring circa four years of higher education during which the student is less likely to be making any money, except enough to fund their living expenses. Here, I will expand on my experiences studying in Europe and compare college to on-the-job apprenticeship programs. The young have the opportunity to choose but are overwhelmed by decision paralysis.

The Atlantic’s journalist Joe Pinsker examines how students choose their college majors and how it depends on economic backgrounds:

An analysis of National Center for Education Statistics data commissioned by the Atlantic magazine in 2015 found a discernible relationship between average household income and a student’s choice of major, with students from lower-income households more likely to major in law enforcement or education, and students from higher-income households more likely to major in history or art.” (Pinsker, Sternberg, p. 93)

However, some Millennials might have chosen profitable jobs, such as HR managers or accountants, except their choices do not always bring happiness. J.T. O’Donnell—the CEO of INC.com, analyzed why most people hate their job:

I have worked with thousands of people on their career challenges, and one reason for job dissatisfaction stands out as the most common. It’s called praise addiction. We’ve been trained to seek out incentives like good grades, stickers, trophies, and yes, praise. We like to be liked. More important, we like to be respected. We want people to be impressed with us. It gives us a temporary feeling of happiness. The problem is we end up making career choices to impress other people so we can feel that fleeting rush of validation. In the process, we lose sight of what makes us truly happy...” (O’Donnell, INC.com)

Millennials need thorough guidance to make the right decisions by weighing out the pros and cons to strategically create a balance between their passions and skills. Also, to avoid future disappointments, they must look at their choices now.

Consumerism

In terms of consumerism, one would think our Boomer parents or Gen Xers used to be frugal with their spending, but according to the University of California, Berkeley:

Millennials are inducing a growing panic among a lot of retailers precisely because, while we do our fair share of spending, we’re price-sensitive and value-conscious. In a working paper published by the National Bureau of Economic Research in June 2018, economists at University of California, Berkeley, analyzed several patterns of various age cohorts to what the economy had looked like when those cohorts were young. They found out that if a cohort had early experiences of an economic boom (Baby Boomers), lifetime consumption tended to be higher than for cohorts whose early experiences were recessions (Millennials).” (Sternberg, p.82) 

Millennials have become frugal after the recession and would opt for lower-quality brands for food because there is no outlook on saving money any time soon. If microwave meals have fed Millennials throughout college, they will most likely still eat them after graduation. For this, I plan to interview former and recent graduates.

Statistics show that many Millennials fear the lack of job security because all they find are short-term contracts or temporary low-paying positions.

“…new jobs have overwhelmingly been created as nonregular positions. It’s not entirely clear that Japan has the largest second-tier labor market of any developed country, but it does seem to be harder in Japan than in some European countries to climb out of precarious contract work into a ‘proper’ job.” (Sternberg, p. 204)

Sternberg’s studies cover North America, Japan, and European countries—all showing that Boomers and Gen Xers had their jobs secured even during economic downturns. Millennials are not secured anything.

Lifestyle & relationships

Part Two of my book will focus on health concerns that arise as Millennials reach their 30s. Every country’s health system operates differently. Biddy, Thiessen and Bailey focus on Canada:

“…given modern advances in science, medicine, technology, the Canadian social health care safety net, and the fact that large numbers of Canadians have the resources or are assisted in having the resources to live healthy lives. Health Canada’s role is to help Canadians maintain and improve their health.” (p. 46)

Canada’s publicly funded health care is run by the country’s provinces and territories. United Kingdom’s health care is similar, whereas Germany’s private and public sectors involve contributions based on one’s income. The United States, on the other hand, has no universal health care.

Next is how Millennials work toward becoming financially stable while adjusting their lifestyle and relationships accordingly. Younger Millennials have developed a new sense of individuality, in which they no longer think about getting married because it potentially involves investing in a home. However, homeownership is out of the question because they just invested money in college. Therefore, to be young in this world means to create debt at an early age. While doing so, they also need a place to live.

Suppose Millennials choose not to live with their parents. In that case, they live in house shares, renting most likely from Baby Boomers that had invested in plenty of homes when the housing market was thriving (evidence available from Sternberg’s references).

Sternberg provides further evidence of how the recession in 2008 had pushed us back politically, economically and literally. Nowadays, we think that working and saving money is more important than settling down. Investing is a different story, as Millennials need to provide a good credit history too. Some who have small savings will often invest in travels because their parents have most likely never left the continent. So, they follow the urge to do what their parents could not do at their age. Therefore, travelling becomes a priority before entering the labour force (or even college). The young want to explore the ageing world and view it from a new perspective, explore other cultures, expand their horizon and most of all, have fun.

Back in the day, our parents and grandparents worried more about social and marital status than the job economy. (There was not much choice in the job market.) With today’s unstable job market, we have other things on our minds than getting married.

Millennials prioritize work but are also obsessed with freedom and choices enhanced by software and technology. Every second Millennial on the train has a smartphone in their hand, and there is an app for everything: dating apps, personal training apps, food apps, and the list goes on. Being young and smart means aiming for comfort and convenience (, which might not always correspond with the older generation’s principles where hard work and firm rules had to be adhered to). Apps have become a lifestyle; they are the Millennials’ answer to making money, especially during economic crises. Since COVID, more retailers are moving. Online businesses are thriving and promoting remote work, which saves overhead expenses that most start-up companies cannot afford. This has put a new but also a precarious spin on the job market. 

However, it is the Millennial’s innovation and response to an ageing world where they can no longer watch the older generation fail them economically (and morally). More importantly, they have to make this new lifestyle look pretty and fun to attract more young generations to take part (more details in Part Three).

While they are busy working, they still invest time in relationships, but not necessarily the traditional way. Despite it all, they value their freedom. Open relationships and polyamory are prevalent these days. It is easier for the Millennial generation to communicate their sentiments and needs honestly. Contrarily, their conservative and religious Boomer and some Gen Xer parents aren’t always likely to have an open mind as such. What is their stance towards sexuality and the LGBTQ culture? (I plan to interview people on this matter and use Alter’s research material.)

Pope Francis is the first Catholic Traditionalist, who endorsed civil union for gay couples, though, not marriage. Nevertheless, it indicates that he understands the world’s generational changes. It is crucial to adapt to these changes to avoid further conflict between the young revolutionary mind and the traditional one. He knows that Millennials are our future, and they need support and protection. (I will go into depth, analyzing news material and voices within social media.)

Some points of Jordan Peterson’s upcoming book 12 more Rules for Life are worth highlighting. It indicates many controversial and what others will see as conservative aspects that will fuel the left’s anger since many have already condemned Peterson for being a white privileged patriarchal person. While his predecessor 12 Rules for Life is based on biological and psychological research, the new book will strike more sensitive strings and provoke a reaction out of liberals in terms of relationships:

On living together as opposed to marrying – You’re good enough to live with, and attractive enough for temporary sexual purposes, but I want to hold open the possibility for trading up if I’m fortunate enough to find someone preferable to you (someone sufficiently deluded to accept me as a partner, under such conditions.” (@jordanpetersonarchive | Instagram, posted September 30, 2020)

Peterson encourages people to get married and have children while criticizing those who are merely common law. Looking deeper between the lines, Peterson has undoubtedly read similar research material and looked at statistics showing that our future population will have more old than young, which might strike as terrifying when viewing it with an economical eye.

Sternberg states that China has shot itself in the foot with their one-child policy, explaining that China’s future will hold more older citizens than young:

China does face a demographic transformation already—Beijing’s notorious one-child policy, in effect for the entire time that the country’s Millennials were being born, has wrecked that country’s generational balance. But Chinese Millennials will have to confront the demographic crisis their elders manufactured without the benefit of a fully developed economy...” (Sternberg, p.179)

However, this will not change the young’s mind or encourage them to get married and have kids when they have a career to pursue—a career that had required them to invest in a college degree.

What we see is the result of suppressed anger

Millennials have a sense of where the world is headed; they watch and listen. The more the Boomers in politics fail them, the more they get involved, and the angrier they become. News show that Millennials are sick of staying silent; they demand pluralism and drastic changes through protests and follow young, powerful voices such as Greta Thunberg’s. 

The Millennial generation speaks up, especially for the suppressed. The suppressed have been bottling up anger over racism and injustice for centuries. Only in the last sixty-odd years has anger been broiling so intensely that they dig into their country’s history to deny their racistsavage founders, explorers and ancestors through vandalism and hate speech. Trump, too, has fuelled that anger; it is now Biden’s job to iron things out.

There is also the Catholic church in Poland, banning abortion, which only increases the tension between the constitutional court (of religious Boomers) and Millennials. However, the pro-choice movement began in the late sixties when Gen Xers were already protesting against religion’s influence in politics. Religion has always been a constitution. Therefore, most young people see it as the root of all evil and will always protest against it. In Lawrence O’Donnell’s The last word, he questions if now is the time that protesters finally win. The answer is yes because Joe Biden will listen to the young and resume Obama’s work. Furthermore, all the young girls will look up to Kamala Harris—the first female VP of colour.

Why are the young out of control? It is the rough transition from the old into the new world in which individuality has been stifled for so long—to the degree that it is now more difficult to manage challenging situations. Emotions are boiling over, and the consequences are worse than anyone can imagine. Part Two will detail how I view it as a psychological problem (also involving Gen X).

Social media, Comedy & Entertainment

Part Three will take a spin on social media and entertainment. Billions of people share their voices on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. One can share their opinion on the posts of movie stars, politicians, comedians, and other influencers.

One interesting focus will be the link between contemporary comedy and political correctness. Comedy is at risk due to its delivery of racist and homophobic jokes. Nowadays, people do not see any irony or sarcasm anymore (e.g., Kevin Hart, Roseanne Barr, Daniel Tosh, Family Guy, etc.). The anger that arose from social media’s Black Lives Matter movement has wholly altered our perception. People of colour suddenly revisit memories of racist encounters and perhaps take it more to heart than they ever did. It is crucial to create awareness, but on the other hand, one cannot dwell in it for too long. I will bring up some personal experiences as a German-born Chinese girl growing up in northern Germany, where racist songs were nursery rhymes. There was no racial awareness among children except for stereotyping.

However, altering people’s perception of racism is essential on an emotional, psychological, and empathetic level. In contrast, awareness should be of a redemptive purpose to those not affected by racism but who contributed to it without realizing it. To be young means to create movements like Occupy Wall Street and Black Lives Matter to alter perceptions and create awareness. But how does it affect comedy if one takes things too seriously?

My sources involve podcasts (e.g., Joe Rogan, Bret Easton Ellis), social media posts and news articles.

Did anyone ever notice that Millennials are portrayed as rich in movies? In the last ten years, we have been watching movies about upper-class Millennials that often have a pool in their backyards, drive fancy cars, indulge fully in Western decadence. It would probably strike the people of Hollywood as ordinary. However, the regular Millennial would think: “Wow! Did they earn it, or did their money grow on trees?” Movies set in the 80s and 90s often portrayed Gen Xers as poor or drug addicts.

The children of our favourite (Gen Xers, Baby Boomers) movie stars were born rich. No great effort is needed to become successful actors, directors, and models, as they carry their parents’ names on their backs. Even if they are talented and work hard, they still have a privilege that no one can take from them. Therefore, one cannot compare their hard work to their parents’ efforts, who often started from nothing (e.g., Sylvester Stallone). Wealthy Millennials need to be separated from the other Millennials when creating statistics and other analyses. There is no balance between the two types, not on an economic level.

I will analyze some episodes of Charlie Brooker’s Black Mirror in which he portrays our obsessive and unhealthy relationship with technology. As a social critic, Brooker’s vision of a dystopian future delivers more truth and plausibility than any science fiction movie.

He is one of the few Gen Xers who sees the young’s ideal crash because to be young and successful is about collecting followers and competing for high ratings. Episode Nosedive in season three highlights the shallow and superficial reality that technology has brought upon the Millennials.

To be young is the obsession to be watched because streaming is the new trend. What if, one day, our social status will entirely depend on our ranking on social media? How much of being human will remain valid?

Key conclusions:

The Millennials’ economy is left for them to fix; they will be stuck with debt and no job security for many years to come. To be young is to have grown-up problems.

There are endless options in the realm of education and the job market. But how do Millennials learn to make the right decision that will not ruin their future?

Thanks to the recession in 2008, Millennials have become a frugal nation and will save money wherever they can, as their anxiety revolves around finances. Boomers had long secured their jobs and benefits—way before the Millennials started school. Now entering the workforce, Millennials have no protection from the next economic downturn. The young are the victims of economic injustice.

With their debt, they will also struggle to create a good credit history and always rely on their parents in terms of finances or investments.

Personality-wise, the young are adventurous and love to travel. When working at a hostel in Canada, I greeted hundreds of international backpackers between 18 and 25. Young people want to have fun and explore.

Young entrepreneurs that have made remote work a trend love their freedom and independence with no traditional boss looking over their shoulders. They are also tech-savvy and know how to save and make money. (This lifestyle rarely involves marriage and children.) However, remote work has become more competitive and requires a high skill set. Also, one’s résumé competes against a broader and more diverse digital crowd rather than a local city crowd. 

Millennials pursue a growing career because they invested in college. Boomers invested in a house to have a family—entirely different life goals.

The rise of social media has also given Millennials power and a voice to express their anger. No matter what generation, the young will always fight against constitutions. Social media created strong movements (Occupy and Black Lives Matter) against racism and inequality to promote pluralism. Some Millennials have no control over their anger and vandalize American founders’ statues to riot against the savagery of history. And yet, Millennials are “the most diverse we have ever known; they also are exhibiting greater level of social compassion than adults who have gone before them.” (Bibby, Thiessen, Bailey, p.253)

To be young means to question whether they will finally learn from their previous generations’ mistakes.

To be young in an ageing world also means to be the most serious generation.

(c) Paula C. Deckard, October, 2020


Book References:

Alter, CharlotteThe Ones We’ve Been Waiting For – How a new Generation of Leaders will transform America, Viking, USA, 2020

Reginald W. Bibby, Joel Thiessen, Monetta Bailey, The Millennial Mosaic– How Pluralism and Choice Are Shaping Canadian Youth and the Future of Canada, Dundurn Press, Toronto, 2019

Sternberg, Joseph C. 2019, The Theft of a Decade – How the Baby Boomers stole the Millennials’ Economic Future, Hachette Book Group, New York

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