Can We Finally Admit it? “Millennials” Do Not Exist


Who is a millennial?
Can we all agree that a junior in HS and a 35-year old mother of 4 belong to different generations?
The definition of the millennial seems to shift regularly.  When I first heard the term, it included people born between 1979 and 1990; today, it has drifted to describe people born some time in the early 80s up until 2000.  This broad definition lumps together people whose first internet experience was on Prodigy and kids that don’t know what Y2k was.

Generations are defined by events, not dates

The baby boom generation can be defined by historical events: the end of WWII, Vietnam, the 70s oil crisis.  No one has considered this when discussing people born in the 80s or 90s; if we did, we would realize that the biggest events of the last 15 years have impacted “millennials” in different ways, creating groups with significant differences.
Please consider:
  • A 20-year old experienced 9/11 much differently than a 2-yr old did.
  • A 10-year old did not have to pay crushing student loans and while trying to find a job in 2009.
  • A person born in 1995 did not see her home’s value cut in half in a matter of months.
Many of the watershed moments of the last 30 years have shaped the behavior of people of certain ages—it is time to start recognizing these moments and how they have collectively impacted our psyches and spending habits.

“Millennials” are actually several different generations.

Millennials  born in the early 80s

Let’s talk about the experiences of the older “millennials.”
Those of us that entered the workplace before the Great Recession developed spending patterns that are vastly different than those that entered after 2008.  We graduated college between 2001-2006 with manageable student debt and entered a robust workforce; students that graduated 2007-2010 dealt with almost double our debt and no jobs to be found.  Pre-Great Recession grads vacationed, bought overpriced homes, and were burned by credit cards.  Post-Great Recession grads couldn’t find jobs, moved home with their parents, and are currently getting crushed with student loans payments.
A brand that tries to reach these two groups will be targeting people that have had vastly different experiences and have developed vastly different spending habits. It would make much more sense to segment us by our experience with this major economic crisis, as was the “Depression Generation” before Tom Brokaw christened them “The Greatest Generation.”

Millennials born in the 90s

The dot-com bust. 9/11. The Great Recession—these are topics that are largely foreign to the younger half of “millennials.”  Half of them were in diapers and the other half were getting ready for the prom while older “millennials” were struggling with the aftermaths of these era-defining events.  It would be foolish to think that both groups were impacted by them in the same way.  Bunching this generation with those that were out in the workforce when they occurred is nonsense.

Recognizing these differences can help us

When we talk about millennials, we’re talking about groups of people that have had vastly different experiences.  We would be better served by exploring how these different groups think, interact, and spend their money.  While doing so, we should also be conscious to avoid mislabeling typical characteristics of youth as being characteristics of a generation, but that’s another discussion.

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