Understanding Generation-Y in 5 Easy Steps

Understanding Generation-YThere seems to be a glut of posts, articles and media attention focused around helping baby-boomers understand the crop of this wondrous and frustrating new generation.

It’s amazing to me how most households in the past two decades housed both boomers and millennials and yet neither generation can manage to understand the other. What exactly causes this gaping generational divide?

GL Hoffman over at What Would Dad Say? wrote a great post explaining why boomers are the way they are offering 8 historical events that have shaped the attitudes of those born between 1946 and 1964.

As a public service for all those confused boomers out there, I submit my list of the 5 events that shaped the lives of Generation-Y in hopes of giving everyone a better understanding of why we act the way we do:

1. 9-11
When my mother was 18, she watched footage of the first man setting foot on the moon. A few months before I turned 18, I watched coverage of the twin towers collapsing as planes crashed into them. If there was ever a comparison between the America our parents grew up in and the one we live in now, this is it. Boomers watched this country triumph and make strides over foreign nations. Millennials watch as foreign countries take out their resentment of American intervention upon us. We may not be as ambitious as our boomer parents but maybe it’s because we’ve seen what being #1 gets you and we’re choosing a different path for ourselves.

2. The Demise of Social Security
With the first set of baby boomers retiring and collecting social security in 2007, many millennials see this as the beginning of the end to a guaranteed, care-free retirement. With 401K plans and IRAs replacing traditional pension plans, Generation-Y is feeling the pressure to make more money than ever before. Getting advanced degrees, going into debt, living at home to save money—this is the reality of many of today’s 20-somethings, as I’m sure we’re all aware. This causes a lot of instability and anxiety for someone just starting their career. It’s drilled into us from elementary school: work hard, get an education, get a good job and you’ll be ok. But a lot of us are finding out that this is not that easy and it’s beginning to scare us.

3. Rocketing Divorce Rates
Divorce rates in America have skyrocketed in the 1980s and 1990s during the formative years of Generation-Y. Good or bad, the changes in family units have had a definite impact on the attitudes and lifestyle choices of young people today. Many of us saw our parents work themselves to the bone at the detriment of their marriages and families. I think a large part of the reason many millennials want to rise up the corporate ladder so quickly is because they want to spend their single years working and amassing the kind of wealth that can support a family during their later years so they don’t have to work as hard and can pursue the happiness their parents never seemed to have.

4. The Internet
The impact the internet is obvious. Kids today don’t have to make a stop at the public library to conduct a research project. Phone books are more often used as booster seats than to look up the number to the local pizza joint. The great thing about Generation-Y is that they’ve grown up with this technology, they’ve embraced it and internalized it. Famous 20-somethings like Mark Zuckerberg, founder of Facebook, are circumventing coffee-fetching, copy-making entry-level jobs and earning millions before they turn 25. Generation-Y has the unnatural ability to harness this new technology and use it to their benefit in ways that older generations just can’t seem to grasp. With role-models like this, can you blame us for being impatient with the banality of office politics?

5. Helicopter Parents
If boomers want to know how members of Generation-Y ended up the way they are, maybe it’s time to take a look inward. Blame Dr. Spock for telling you to buffet our self-esteem. Blame MTV for cutting our attention spans in half. But the reality is: boomers raised us. Coddled we may be, but ultimately I think the underlying issue is not the difference in attitudes of each generation but the difficulty of transitioning from a parent-to-child relationship to a peer-to-peer one. Most boomers are managing employees who are the same age as their children. Perhaps they are stuck with the perception of these young faces as children who should fall in line when directed. But unfortunately for boomers, millennials have most likely spent the past 4 years or so rebelling against their parents and are not willing to submit in the same way that they used to. Hence, there is tension in the workplace.

While trying to understand where the other is coming from is a worthwhile exercise, as I’ve stated in a previous post, I really do think we are experiencing nothing but normal growing pains. Kids will always be kids. And grown-ups will always be baffled at “the way kids behave today.”

Can’t we all just try to get along?

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22 responses »

  1. Pingback: Bad Debt » Blog Archive » Understanding Generation-Y in 5 Easy Steps

  2. Pingback: Generation Y Explained by OfficeNewB: 5 Insights to Who They Are and Why. » article » What Would Dad Say

  3. What a bunch of crap. Boomers watched American triumph over foreign nations? Does Vietnam ring any bells? Carter’s malaise speech? Gen Yers are circumventing the entry-level office job for computer startups that bring in millions? Uh-huh, how many of them, exactly, do that, vs. take routine office jobs just as their parents did. And what about all the late 70s-early 80s startups–Atari, Apple, Commodore, etc? Rocketing divorce rates??? Yeah, that’s a new one. I recall my parents, who predate the boomers, talking about that when I was growing up.

  4. Saw this post on Brazen Careerist and I’m glad I clicked through. I kind of rolled my eyes thinking this was just another post talking about same things I’ve seen over and over again. You took an interesting twist by comparing it to the different things that have happened as we’ve grown and entered the workplace.

    While Jgrab1 is right, the majority of us aren’t starting up businesses but there still is that desire to. We see that and set it as a standard or goal.

    I do like his point about Apple and Atari. They were started by young college students. So that is an interesting point.

    Good discussion! Glad I stopped by.

  5. “Kids today don’t have to make a stop at the public library to conduct a research project”

    just wish when indonesian kids can do the same 🙂

    BTW it’s Cool posting..


    just another indonesian blogger

  6. Thanks! Which compliment should go first? Well structured – easy to scan. Well written – easy to read. And the first post on Gen Y for a long time to summarize commonly expressed opinions and add more information!

    As an X’er I’ll add this. When I first had an assignment that required me to think in Gen Y style, it was a bit of a challenge but I devoted time to my learning curve, and I was glad I did. I find myself in the 21st century and having fun, because Gen Y are fun. They are like a fresh breeze. Open the windows and let them in. Spring is here!

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  8. Interesting, well-done piece. I don’t dispute that these perceptions definitely shape the GenY view of the world. However, I’m not sure the numbers support your statement about divorce. It looks like divorce rates peaked in the late 70s (last years of GenX, by my reckoning) and have been more or less on a decline through the 1990s to the present day. The most dramatic increase in the divorce rates were the 9 years between 1965 and 1976, prime GenX birth years.

    I also don’t dispute that there’s been a steady stream of anti-Social Security rhetoric since at least 2001, but again, this has been around for a long time (the SS reform group “Lead or Leave” was founded in the 1990s by Xers), and the facts on the ground say the finances of Social Security are actually getting better, and that efforts to save the system would not be terribly painful. Efforts are underway to educate younger people about the real story.

  9. Every generation seems to think they’re the greatest, hottest, etc…. no one could be as cool as they are! No one could embrace whatever the latest life-changing communication tool of the day is (electricity, radio, tv, technology, social media, etc.) better than they!

    But really, we’re all standing on the shoulders of great, amazing men and women who founded this country, who sailed across the sea to explore a new world, whose ideas helped shape Western civilization and Eastern civilization, who pushed the envelope of their day…

    Who cares what any one single generation — whether Boomer or Gen-anything — perceives and values if their perspective starts with the moon landing or 9-11, and not WAY before that.

    No man, no generation, is an island. We stand on the shoulders of others. Keeping the bigger perspective, and cultivating a spirit of gratitude for life, for so much, THAT yields men and women — of all ages and all generations — capable of giving to others and serving all. It fosters working together rather than isolating and perceiving the world in a miopic “us vs. them” way.

  10. I think our generation was raised with anxiety being the primary influence. Our parents coddled us, paid for us, all that and it’s left us feeling fearful, vulnerable and in need of praise. There seems to be a cultural shift going on now though and it’ll be interesting to see how the next generation turns out given all the neuroses we have now. 🙂

    Insightful article and thanks for posting!

  11. Pingback: The Monday Mix - April 7, 2008 «

  12. It’s good to bring these issues out into the open and take the time to really understand that perception is one-sided and not necessarily the whole truth. Yes there are differences between generations, as there has always been. These differences need to be understood between both generations and seen as strengths that each generation brings to the interaction. With talent being at a premium, both boomers and gen y’ers need to bridge the differences by mutual understanding and respect. As a boomer, I like to surround myself with the younger generation because of their energy, technology know how and drive. Boomers bring business know how and other strengths to the relationship. So let’s focus on what each generation brings taking into consideration the different life experiences.

  13. Pingback: Why is the divorce rate so high in America? - Politics and Other Controversies -Democrats, Republicans, Libertarians, Conservatives, Liberals, Third Parties, Left-Wing, Right-Wing, Congress, President - Page 12 - City-Data Forum

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