20 Things You’re Probably Blaming on Millennials—But Shouldn’t
You’d think millennials were responsible for everything! Here’s why some of the country’s recent trends aren’t their fault—or why they’ve actually changed things for the better.
Why does everyone dump on millennials?
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Poor millennials. They have the reputation of being lazy, self-obsessed, aimless, and, well, just plain useless. Of course, these same criticisms have been leveled against pretty much every up-and-coming generation before them. But are these recent claims justified? We asked cultural and economic experts to weigh in, and looked at surveys and research examining socioeconomic trends in the millennial generation, to find out. “It’s typical for millennials to get the blame for cultural and economic changes,” says Miron Lulic, founder and CEO of SuperMoney. “In most cases, their only crime is [behaving] like everybody else.” Some millennials may be doing even better, though: These millennial entrepreneurs started with nothing—and made a fortune.
First, let’s establish exactly who millennials are. According to the Pew Research Center, millennials (also sometimes called Generation Y because they followed Generation X) were born between 1981 and 1996, making them between 23 and 38 years old in 2019. Millennials are followed by what’s now being called Generation Z.
The poor economy
Millennials have been blamed for tanking the economy, but in reality, they simply inherited tons of economic problems that began well before they came on the scene. The Great Recession, which lasted from 2007 to 2009, occurred when the average millennial was just starting out in the workplace. This burst of the housing bubble and drop in the stock market caused a loss of jobs and a sluggish recovery that millennials then had to bear the brunt of. “Income growth in the last 45 years has been modest among all age groups, but the income of adults of ages between 25 and 34 has not changed at all,” Lulic says. Beware of these money mistakes millennials don’t realize they’re making.
While it’s true that millennials have huge amounts of student debt, they can’t really be blamed for it. “The cost of education, inflation-adjusted, has more than doubled in the last 45 years,” Lulic says. With four years of college costing around $100,000, most households can’t afford to pay that with savings. “More than half of families, 53 percent, needed loans to pay children’s undergraduate education,” he says. The result is that student loans are the fastest-growing source of debt for U.S. households, he says. Find out which U.S. state is the worst for student debt.
Killing manufacturing jobs
Well, it’s not like millennials have to go to college, right? Unfortunately, college is expensive but needed in order to get a job if they want to make a living wage. This isn’t due to millennials themselves, but rather global advances in technology and automation that are transitioning our economy from manufacturing to knowledge-based, Lulic says. “The economy puts a higher value on a worker’s knowledge and intellectual capital, which requires time to develop and typically means having a college education,” Lulic says. The decline in demand for unskilled labor means that millennials with only a high school degree are actually earning less at age 25 (median income of $29,000) than Gen X and Baby Boomers did.
Being too lazy to get a job
It’s not that millennials are too lazy to get jobs—it’s just that it’s harder to get one. This also contributes to staying at home longer. “Among the older millennials, say age 25 and older, the increase in living at home has mainly occurred among millennials who have not completed a bachelor’s degree,” Pew Research Center senior researcher Richard Fry says. “For decades, the typical earnings of less-educated young adults have been declining, so it is likely increasingly unaffordable for these young adults to live independently.” Millennial or no, you’ll want to steer clear of these 18 jobs that might disappear in the next 25 years.
Millennials who do have jobs are often seen as not sticking with the same employer for long, but that’s actually not true. “Millennials have a reputation for [a] bad work ethic and not being loyal employees who are constantly job-hopping; however, research by the Pew Research Center shows they are changing jobs just as frequently as Generation X workers did,” Lulic says. And they’re particularly dedicated to their jobs: “Research by the U.S. Travel Association revealed that older Americans take more time off than millennials,” Lulic says. (But millennials still can’t win: Now they’re being accused of “killing” vacations because they work too hard.) In general, though, millennials are changing the workplace, and everyone’s better off for it.
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Another reason for millennials’ failure to launch is that houses are just too expensive to buy, or even to rent—so you can’t really blame them for wanting to save their hard-earned money. “The demand for homeownership is there, but they can’t afford to buy,” Lulic says. “Income growth in the last 45 years has been modest among all age groups, but adults with ages between 25 and 34 only make $29 [a year] more today than in 1974 if you take into account inflation.” Compare that with the huge increase in housing prices in the same time period (about 39 percent in the last 45 years), and no wonder they can’t afford it, he says.
The inability to afford housing is, not surprisingly, especially true in expensive markets. “Studies have shown that the metro areas with the greatest percentages of young adults living at home tend to be metros with the highest rents, suggesting that affordability of housing is an issue,” Fry says. But millennials living “downsized” lives are rewriting the rules for success.
Not leaving the nest
The final reason millennials have been accused of living with their parents past the time when previous generations had moved out might also be related to their education—but not in the ways you think. “Among the younger millennials, more of them are enrolled in college,” says Fry. “We tend to think of college students as living in dorms, but many of them live at home. So more pursuit of college has resulted in more living at home.” Millennials are, in fact, the most educated generation. Does this sound like you? You’ll want to find out how to live with your parents as an adult without losing your mind.
Adults not knowing how to “adult”
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Millennials seem to “stay kids” in other ways, too; the stereotype is that they lack basic skills and still rely on their parents to do everything for them. If there is some truth to this, it has to do with how they were raised—so blame their parents! “It’s not millennials’ fault that now they ended up in a situation where they’re not taught things—it’s the generation who created them,” says Rachel Flehinger, principal of the Adulting School in Portland, Maine, which teaches twenty-somethings life skills like meal planning, home repair, and personal finance. “There are still parents who are not letting their children do [things] for themselves.”
Plus, there’s always a learning curve to develop these skills when you get out on your own, which for millennials is simply happening later. “With every generation, the generation before them has always said, ‘They’re lazy,’” Flehinger says. These are the 34 life skills everyone needs to master to be a grown-up.
No more fancy dinner parties
Some lament the death of the perfect 1950s dinner party: pot roast in the oven, the swish of full skirts, the tinkle of ice in cocktails. But this image might be a fantasy anyway. “Of course millennials aren’t the only people not having dinner parties,” says culinary historian and Root Kitchens founder Julia Skinner, who says she’s heard from Gen Xers, Boomers, and even Greatest Generation members who said they never had dinner parties either. Plus, it’s not that millennials don’t have dinner parties; it’s just that what these parties look like has changed. “There’s a much bigger emphasis on being with people you love and being able to relax and enjoy each other’s company, rather than on having the right dishes and spending all day cooking,” Skinner says of the more casual gatherings millennials favor. “Connecting with others over food is something innately human, and something we all do regardless of what generation we come from.” These are the 35 absolutely essential recipes everyone should know before they turn 35.