The Wall Street Journal published an article last week, detailing the sickening discovery that millennials, with all the entitled indulgence of their intolerable generation, were forcing a decline in fabric conditioner sales due to their perception of its superfluous nature. I don't want to divide a community of fabric washers, although for the record, I don't think we can blame an entire generation on large-scale market trends. However, the media habit of blaming millennials is not one unfamiliar to the youth of today, I felt inclined research a little further.
After some 30 minutes of intrepid web surfing, combined with my 21 years of experience living within the bubble of millennial shame, it already becomes clearer that the notion of life in "Generation Y" falls into a hybrid category of both victim and perpetrator of societal problems. Trapped in a perpetual state of media-induced paranoia and frantically trying to find the right selfie lighting, there is a sense that millennials might be products of their circumstances.
A common theme amongst the outspoken conservative outlets often converge around recent economic decline, and the millennials' responsibility for its turmoil. This inaccuracy lacks subtlety; while millennials were waiting to be conceived, bankers were busy abusing subprime mortgages that lead to the financial collapse in the 80s. University fees are now helping to amend for the sins of our fathers (feel free to glare at your father now, if he is in sight). Living in an age of austerity has been one of few constants for many young people; the impending knowledge of living in a proverbial economic mess might be slightly hyperbolic, but the sentiment is there.
In 2012, the New York Times reported that half of college students were still unemployed a year after graduating. In Europe, Spanish and Italian millennials are sometimes referred to as the Milleurista (barely living off €1,000 per month). In France, some refer to them as "The Precarious Generation." In a 2016 study, the Resolution Foundation found that British millennials earned approximately £8,000 less than their predecessors, known as Generation X (roughly born between 1970-80), had at the same age. For the most part, we are a generation of financial survivalists.
The perception of a lazy, narcissistic subculture existing within the next wave of the working class has often struck me as, if anything, unfair and unsubstantiated. Western political turnouts suggest millennials are overwhelmingly liberal minded and generally mindful of both the environment and a sense of being "international citizens." 73% of 18-24 year olds voted to "remain" in the Brexit vote; a choice progressive liberal undertones, inspired by a desire to remain in the continental community. Across the Atlantic, Clinton won 55% of the 18-29-year old's votes, to Trump's 37% in this year's US election. In Austria, more recently, the far-right campaign of Norbert Hofer was derailed by the inclusion of voters aged 16 and upwards. Former Green Party leader, Van Der Bellen succeeded in his campaign over the nationalistic Hofer, with support of the very youngest of the electorate on his side.
It is important not to generalize too greatly. Millennials, as with all generations, are diverse and changeable. According to Strauss-Howe Generational theory, millennials resemble the G.I Generation of the early 20th century, with a global communal spirit. So, we're nothing special, apparently. Yet, even talking from personal experience, we are a generation who inherit a uniquely complicated and turbulent world. The western hemisphere is more connected, educated and tolerant than ever before, yet bizarrely has felt increasingly divided. Environmental crisis continues to linger in the backs of our young minds like an overdue phone bill, only the world ends if we don't pay it. The generation-in-waiting has seen declines in marriage rates and longer periods living in their parent's homes. Sociologist, Kathleen Shaputis, went as far to call us the "Peter Pan" Generation; younger people seeking modest modes of living in an exclusionary housing market, so at least we're pragmatic, right?
The stereotypical traits of the millennial are often derisive. Yet, there is a resilience to this generation that bodes well for the future. The Pew research centre found that 9 out of 10 American millennials were optimistic about both their current and future financial aims, and the most likely to identify as liberal and supportive of social agenda. A 2013 YouGov survey revealed that Generation Y subjects were generally "more open-minded than their parents on controversial topics".
Trying to translate these statistics and findings into our lives is a slippery slope of disengaging with the tangible feelings many millennials may have. There is no doubt that the future we are charged with captaining into peaceful prosperity, is to be one of complexity and sacrifice. The implicit need within society to try and normalize situations as a means of understanding has meant the realities of our challenging future situation feels underrepresented. No wonder we're so stressed out. And I'm still not buying fabric conditioner.