Why you should care
Because not everyone sees themselves the way others do.
Imagine sitting in a meeting where everyone’s talking about what YOU think … the collective “you” being that tech-savvy but supposedly lazy and entitled lot born between 1980 and 2000. You know, the M-word: millennials. This happens a lot to London-based marketing consultant Jessica Riches, whose colleagues — be they from Generations X,Y or Z — are forever trying to figure out how best to penetrate her generation’s heart (and, naturally, wallets).
Their best move, it turns out, may be in dropping the label altogether. A recent report on generational identification by the Pew Research Center reveals that:
A surprising 60 percent of 18- to 34-year-olds don’t consider themselves part of the “millennial generation.”
Just over 40 percent of 27- to 34-year-olds, in fact, believe they’re Gen Xers, and of the younger ones — aged 18 to 26 — less than half see themselves as millennials. Did I hear you whisper “pain in the ass”? Every young generation’s been accused of being contradictory, but many millennials genuinely don’t identify with the term, and for good reason. Just 58 percent of them have even heard the term, says Alec Tyson, a senior researcher at Pew. That alone accounts for a lot of the disconnect, but there’s another factor: Every generation spans a relatively wide swath of ages, so this could “stem from a bit of understandable confusion about where the line is,” Tyson adds.
Well-educated and media-savvy groups were most likely to be familiar with “millennials,” Tyson says, but even those who knew what it meant weren’t loving it. When asked how well the label described them personally, only 30 percent said it described them well. According to Tyson, “not many” millennials see this as a very important part of how they describe or think of themselves. Riches and many others of “that” generation seem to agree. “It’s hard to say whether we should be happy with the term … that appears to include so many things, but at the same time describes nothing at all,” she says, noting the contradictions. They’re described as entitled, for example, yet face huge debts; they’re lazy but entrepreneurial; and they’re expected to determine political outcomes, while also being apathetic.
Some also point to the fact that 20 years of births are too much for one umbrella, especially in the digital age. “There is a HUGE difference between millennials … born in 1985 and those born in 1995,” says Lauren Seward, 22, in San Francisco. Others, of course, simply hate the negative connotation. When her Gen X peers use the “M” term, many do so in a derogatory way, says Carrie Searing, a Washington-based 33-year-old who adds: “I take offense to it.”
Millennials aren’t alone in generational-identification woes. Only 58 percent of Gen Xers see themselves as such, and a whopping 82 percent of the silent generation don’t appreciate the moniker. The M-word, by comparison, has been around only a short while and could catch on more widely as the generation ages, Tyson suggests. But the terms used to describe generations do matter, he adds, noting: “Who wants to be called ‘silent’?”