In Defence of Millennials

By Julia Atherley

Born between 1982 and 2004? You probably already know that you are a millennial. You are part of the jilted generation: a generation supposedly destined to never own a house, find a stable job, or earn disposable income. In addition to this, millennials often find their voices and opinions go unheard. Many still swear by the old mantra “with age comes wisdom”, but how much significance can this still hold?

We’re often known as the ‘Peter Pan’ generation because of our tendency to delay milestones in our lives. We cost our parents more and more each year with our desires to stay at home a little bit longer and maybe take a gap year before university studies. It is presumed that we are also more narcissistic and tend to have a greater sense of entitlement. In China, we are known as “ken lao zu”, or, “the generation that eats the old”.  In Japan we are “nagara-zoku”, or, “the people who are always doing two things at once”. How about “Generation Maybe”? That’s how we are known in Germany because of our inability to make definitive decisions as we have too many possibilities available to us. When using the term ‘millennial’, one generally does not mean it as a compliment.

It might come as a shock then to discover that our generation reads more than our predecessors. Pew Research Center’s survey (2013) of 6000 Americans over 16 showed that 88% of under 30s had read a book in the past year, compared to only 79% of over 30s. Perhaps most telling are our university statistics. According to UCAS, the number of students entering higher education in 2015 rose by 3.1% from 2014, reaching record numbers. More people than ever are achieving a degree-standard education. However does this increase in education in our generation have any effect on how our views are respected? We may read more than older generations, but does this make a difference as to whether our views are heard?

It is very easy to dismiss the millennials. We have been spoon fed from an early age, with the internet at our fingertips everywhere we go. It isn’t surprising, then, that we often find ourselves excluded from political spheres. Many millennials express a sentiment that none of the main political parties represent their views.  With rising tuition fees, an inaccessible housing market and an education system in need of radical reform, it is easy enough to see why many young people feel disillusioned by the politics. Only 36% (Sky Data, 2016) of us voted in the referendum despite its significant impact upon our futures.

We’ve been jilted by politics, but when our interest is turned to pressure groups and grassroots projects, we don’t tend to do that badly. Take the rise of Jeremy Corbyn for example. Groups such as ‘Momentum’ focus on democracy for everyone, at a grassroots level rather than the inaccessible arena of Westminster. Even on a global scale, the millennial generation is playing a huge role in the transformation of traditional politics. The employment of social media during the Arab Spring was fundamental to the delivery of change. The movement can be seen to have been driven by the millennial generation, with the harnessing of youth discontentment across countries such as Egypt and Tunisia for fundamental progress. The 2015 election in Greece, bringing the Syriza party to power, is another example of the potential of our generation. The youth movement took on the phrase “we start from Greece, we change Europe”. There was a real sense of hope as the anti-austerity party was propelled to power with the aid of the Greek millennials. Even with all of these monumental movements, our intellectual and political views are often dismissed by those who unfalteringly believe that with age comes wisdom. We have higher rates of higher education, at least in the UK, but our ideas are often still dismissed by the more traditional standpoint.

Our mediums of communication are changing. We generally prefer Facebook to radio, smartphones to broadsheets, and text message to a letter. We enjoy dismantling the idea that older is better. The ability to easily access a vast wide sea of information makes us one of the best educated generations to date. The millennials may be considered to be narcissistic but they are also credited with often being more tolerant than their elders. Open-mindedness, awareness and compassion are a few of the positive qualities to which much our generation can lay claim.

We are a few steps behind say, the baby boomers, in our access to employment and housing, but our access to education has never been better. Due to the clashes of medium and the changing political atmosphere, it might take a while for the voices of millennials to reach the national platform. It is likely that we will have to wait a few years before seeing a millennial rise to power, with the average age of a UK prime minister being 53, but when that time does arrive there is a good chance that we will know what we are talking about.

Photograph: John Loo via Flickr

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