Whether being referred to as “The Trophy Kids” or “The Me Generation” by some, or “Generation Y” and “The Entitlement Generation” by others, the millennial generation stands apart. Many different factors play contributing roles as to why this specific age range functions so unconventionally in comparison to the Baby Boomers and Generation X, ranging from the evolution of technology to contrasting parenting styles.
To begin, one must first define which particular group of people makes up the Millennial Generation.
Neil Howe and William Strauss, authors of the 2008 book Millennials Go To College , define the group in the following manner: “The Millennial Generation, born from 1982 through the present, represents a generational cohort, distinct from their parents of the Baby Boomer generation, and their immediate predecessors, Generation X.” According to the Pew Research Center, there are 50 million millennials in the United States today.
Tony Shin, a media analyst at Online Graduate Programs, created a graphic based on Pew Research Center’s data on Millennials where he describes the group as, “anyone, according to research, that is ages 18-29, socially liberal, tech savvy, educated and excited for the future.” Shin also refers to millennials as “the most diverse generation in American history.”
But what is it that makes these millennials more diverse than their superiors? Social media, in 2012, gives users the ability to coexist in the Internet community, which happens to be the largest community on the planet. According to data collected by the Pew Research Center, 75 percent of millennials use social networking sites. This means more than half of all 18 through 29-year-olds in the United States have the opportunity to interact with one another at their fingertips.
Mikal E. Belicove and Joe Kraynak, Authors of The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Facebook, Second Edition, write that the interaction social networking provides does not just connect this generation, but also ensures that they stay connected.
“In the days B.C. (Before Computers), losing touch with friends and family was a part of life. You’d graduate and all your school chums would wander off in different directions,” the authors wrote. “Facebook, with the help of computers and the Internet, has reversed that trend. Not only does it enable you to stay in touch with people, but it also facilitates the process of tracking down people you lost touch with years or decades ago.”
Is the lure and dependency on the cyber community holding millennials back from the ability to gain world experience? Departmental psychologist and TCU psychology professor David Cross said one difference he sees in TCU students is their lack of worldly experience. When he was 15, Cross backpacked through the Sierra mountains alone. He hitchhiked his way to college. Other professors, he said, could attest to having more real-life experience than what they see in students now. He said the millennials are now often gaining “virtual world experience” instead. Cross said that he believes parents of the millennial generation can be often over protective of letting their kids explore in a way that his generation had.
“It’s like a pendulum, I think these things come and go,” Cross said. “What happens is, I think families make decisions sometimes based on fear. We’re over-protective of our kids because we hear about kids getting sexually abused by teachers or kids getting bullied by their peers, or whatever it is.”
Cross said that he is guilty of being a sheltering parent. He also said that the over-protective mentality over the millennial generation is just a phase, and will come and go with time.
“I think we move away from it,” he said. ”I think we realize maybe we’ve gone too far. I think if you look back through history, there are periods of time where parents did go too far in one direction and then a correction will set in and move it back, so I think that’s part of it.”
Millennials also show side effects of a coddled upbringing. Generation Me, a book published by Jean M. Twenge in 2006, highlights millennials’ parents offer continuous positive reinforcement, which is proving to hinder the millennial work ethic in the real world.
Twenge said millennials, now more than ever, have their egos catered to from an early age. She said children are constantly told how special and unique they are, and that they were taught “feeling good about yourself is more important than good performance.”
It has been said countless times that the millennials are notorious for their unjustified sense of entitlement. This is apparent from Anthony Balderrama’s 2007 CNN article titled, “Generation Y: Too Demanding to Work?” to author Ron Alsop’s Wall Street Journal article, “The ‘Trophy Kids’ Go To Work” in which he writes, “Although members of other generations were considered somewhat spoiled in their youth, millennials feel an unusually strong sense of entitlement.”
Twenge said the stigma associated with an emphasis on self-esteem is the leading factor in the rise of millennial narcissism.
Cross said he has seen companies hire TCU graduates, and in one instance had seen a company hire five different TCU alumni, only to later let them go because they did not want to work. He said that it began to happen somewhere in the later 1990s, early 2000s.
“You kind of got the sense that they didn’t want to be in a classroom where they had to work because I guess they thought, ‘well, all I’ve got to do is show up and I’ll get my degree, maybe even get a good grade, and then when I get out, I shouldn’t have to work, I should get a good job, and get a good salary,’ he said. “That’s not true of everybody, but that seemed to be a sense that you got from the students.”
Cross said this trend, too, is changing and that with the economic downturn in 2008, millennials faced the scarcity of jobs after graduation. He said students are again working harder to pursue their degrees and to acquire and maintain jobs after graduation.
“Millennials are poised to fundamentally reshape the way America has historically thought about race, and, as a result, will likely reconceive our nation’s own ethnic and cultural self-identity in the process.”
That quote, from Thomas Tseng’s 2008 article in Newgeography, is an indicator a millennial strength—diversity.
The millennial generation is the most ethically diverse generation in American history. Four out of 10 millennials are Latino, Asian, or African American, according to Tseng’s article.
“[Millennials’ ethnic diversity] makes them far more racially and ethnically tolerant than their elders—and far less conservative,” said Scott Keeter, Director of Survey Research at the Pew Research Center. “It’s not an accident that we have our first African-American president elected to office with the strong support of this multi-ethnic generation.”
The generation also shows the most religious and cultural diversity. Twenge writes in her book that millennials are twice as likely to agree with the statement, “There is no single right way to live.”
Twenge added that millennials promotes individualism, using examples from modern pop culture to show the focus ages 18-29 have on “the falling of social rules and the rise of the individual.”
Individualism, according to the book, focuses on religion and the declining number of millennials with organized religious faith. Twenge referenced Jeffery Arnett’s Emerging Adulthood: The Winding Road from Late Teens Through Early the Twenties , in which he describes the belief systems of young people as “highly individualized.” Arnett’s research shows that 23 percent of young people are “conservative believers” while 77 percent were “agnostic/atheist, deist or liberal believers [who believe in a religion but question some aspects of it].” Twenge also writes that millennials are more open to share experience, even in an explicit fashion, with “anyone who will listen.”
What, then, is the future for the millennial generation? For millennials who are in college, there is a significant amount of adversity they must overcome. In the U.S., the average millennial will leave college $24,000 in debt, which pales in comparison to the price tag on a TCU diploma. Millennials are also victims of the highest U.S. loan default in a decade.
Skeptics may believe that millennials’ misfortune is a direct result of their lack of interest in pursuing challenging degrees, such as biology, chemistry or engineering.
In Fareed Zakaria’s column in Time Magazine, he writes that in 2008 and 2009 there were more psychology majors than engineering majors and more fitness studies majors than physical science majors. He also said that “a generation ago, America had the highest percentage of college graduates in the world. Today we’re ninth and falling.”
Overall, it may seem like millennials are taking the easy way out, but, at TCU, students and faculty said that they are working as hard as they ever have.
Junior finance and accounting major Nick Newman said his education has not gotten easier, and students in his major now have to learn even more information than generations in the past.
“I think that since technology has advanced and we’ve gotten more sophisticated in [education], it may have gotten even more difficult because of those things,” Newman said. “I don’t know about any other majors, and maybe it has gotten easier in more of a research-related major where you can just easily look things up online, but as for business I would say that it seems like it’s gotten more difficult.”
Cross said he believes the work ethic of the average TCU student has not faltered despite the stereotypes associated with the millennial generation.
“In my time here, the quality of the student has increased in terms of their academics,” he said. “I certainly think that our best students can compete with anybody.”