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Defining the millennial

Millennials in their stereotypical environment. (Photo/avisel.com)

Definitions of a millennial vary across the internet and fluctuate frequently. The Pew Research Center did not define a set of years until March of this year: 1981-1996. Forbes says 1981-1997.  The United States Chamber of Commerce uses 1980-1999. United States Census Bureau says 1982-2000. Until a generation fully becomes of age, we don’t know where history will decide to draw the line. These years can’t be accurately defined, so it’s up to the individuals to define them themselves.

Addressing millennial membership can be an identity crisis of its own. Being called a millennial means being associated with a class of stereotypes so much more meaningful than a date of birth.

A millennial is an archetype defined by traits, internet habits, workplace attitudes and financial attitudes. Adam Conover, star of his own comedy show, says these years are a lens that limits our judgments. He says,

talking about generations this way has always been reductive and condescending to the people who are being described.

I see the millennial label placed frequently in my social media feeds. Alleged millennials who are acquaintances of mine regularly post pictures of their Starbucks, restaurant meals, new shoes and other purchases. Some agree with the comments that say they have poor financial habits, which are suggested with comments like “I’m broke but I’ve always got money for Starbucks.”

People our age have mixed responses, some saying these poor financial habits are relatable and others calling the user entitled or spoiled. Many in the generation prior claim that they are spoiled millennials. Millennials have an image of being spoiled, which seems counterintuitive because many of us grew up during the recession of 2008.

Morley Winograd and Michael D. Hais, authors of “Millennial Momentum” say that,

The reasons for millennials' financial prudence are clear: Like the GI generation, millennials grew up in a time of relative prosperity, only to face a major economic downturn just as they were emerging into adulthood and the workforce.

Rather than saving or investing, the generation is often criticized for overspending on material things like clothing and eating out when we should be buying houses and saving for retirement. With the topic of rising student debt being so hot, it seems contradictory that college-aged adults allegedly don’t know how to save money. Many young adults, at least compared to our predecessors, seem to be putting whopping amounts of income toward loan payments.

Millennials are also criticized for relationship habits. We get married less and cohabitate more. This lifestyle seems financially advantageous and it’s criticism is rooted in the mere fact that it is nontraditional. Unsurprisingly, many of the stereotypes plaguing millennials are inaccurate. These often demeaning assumptions enforce unfair biases toward young people entering the workforce, college and adulthood. 

The common element among these criticisms is that they are written by the older generations with very little to no input from people our age. We seek to change the conversation. We would like to examine these discussion points and judge them based on our experiences. This article is the first in a series that will aim to show the reality of the millennial experience.