The contract between the generations is disintegrating. According to a report from the Resolution Foundation, millennials in the UK earn £8,000 per year less than the previous generation, highlighting a growing intergenerational divide.
Economic realities for young people today would be unrecognizable to the Boomer generation, who rarely bother to consider such situations in detail. In the media, millennials are accused of being self-involved, incapable of commitment, politically apathetic narcissists, who aren't able to snap out of their state of perpetual adolescence.
The Huffington Post recently reported more people between 20 and 24 years old with no sexual partners compared with the same demographic of people born in the 1960s. If you're wondering why young people are less sexually active, don't bother with social theorizing. The harsh truth lies in their empty wallets and dodgy economic prospects. Exploitative unpaid internships sending 22-year-olds back to live in their parents' basement after college doesn't necessarily make a good setup for a thriving sex life.
I could go on, but by now you should be getting the picture.
Meanwhile, the global conditions that have traditionally enabled a middle-class existence are evaporating and are being replaced by an economic system whose inherent function is the transfer of wealth to the lucky few.
The truth is that the stagnant job market, lingering recession, and mountains of student debt can account for so many of the things Baby Boomers and their pundits find so baffling about Western millennials.
Take, for instance, the recent data in The New York Times that suggested millennials are using credit cards less -- and that they are taking on fewer mortgage loans -- than people of a similar age did before the financial crisis. No vast mystery here, goods and homes cost money and millennials have less of it.
Precarious economic prospects also help torpedo old financial responsibility rituals. Vice last year declared that "Millennials Are Spending an Embarrassing Amount on Brunch and Takeaway Pizza" (instead of, say, saving for their retirement).
Dr. Craig Berry author of the report Resuscitating Retirement Saving, thinks "[t]his may be partly because of spending longer in education, but also because young people tend to spend several years in temporary jobs before starting more permanent employment, while the industries that used to be the route into occupational pensions have either closed down or no longer offer such attractive pension schemes."
According to a recent Wells Fargo Survey, 64 per cent of millennials say "they are not making enough money" to save for retirement. The situation is even more dire in the UK as pension fund liabilities rose above a record £1 trillion. The younger generation are becoming the collateral damage of the economic blunders of the past.
It's bad enough that young are people saddled with student loan repayments, high youth unemployment, and broken mainstream politics. When you pile on the rise of the unpaid internship system, which is unfair to students and exploitative to young women in particular, it's not surprising the distant spectre of retirement is a low priority.
Conversely, we are seeing more millennial trends, which has sent the commentators spinning.
In a January YouGov survey, respondents were asked whether they had a "favourable or unfavourable opinion" of socialism and capitalism. Among respondents under 30, 43 per cent found socialism more favourable than capitalism. It's easy to reflexively dismiss this as idealistic youth being idealistic children. But the young voter's fondness for socialism isn't there to make a point to their parents, who have had very different life experiences and always took social mobility for granted.
The simplest explanation for this tectonic ideological shift is that the generation raised under the neoliberalism version of capitalism doesn't think it's a sustainable way to run a country or a planet. There's common sense behind this logic -- austerity until death, the Vietnamization of the Middle East, global warming, the steady erosion of trade protections, and the dismantling of the New Deal, have given young people an unambiguous lens into the abject failure of the system's mechanics.
The only people promising any concrete action are those who were previously on the fringes. Sanders and Corbyn are both veteran activists and open socialists. In his 2015 election as Labour Party leader, Corbyn's support was higher among younger voters, and he, like Sanders, represents a hard-left shift for parties that long ago embraced the neoliberal consensus, today commonly known as the "moderate centre."
Any potential challenger to this new surge in socialist thinking needs to have a concrete and workable proposal with a clear break with the current system to win over this disillusioned demographic. Eighteen-year-olds with no economic prospects don't want or need a dose of centrist reality from the likes of Owen Smith or Hillary Clinton; they want and need to be able to afford to live somewhere decent in a community worth living in and to have secure jobs after they finish their expensive education.
Whether it's political ideology, priorities, or social behaviour, establishment pundits consistently misunderstand the trends and dissatisfaction among young people, but that's been the story for a long time.
Rather than asking why millennials are having less sex, we should ask why there is a high degree of emotional insecurity among young adults, or why anxiety might be the condition that defines this generation.