Many millennials hate being called ‘millennial’
May 18, 2015 | By Jillian Berman
There is little that’s more cringe-inducing than hearing/reading/seeing the word millennial. Especially if you are a millennial.
As a 20-something who fits comfortably in the age demographic the triple “l” and double “n” word is used to describe, I pretty much always assume that anyone who is using the term un-ironically is definitely not my age and is either trying to sell me something or explain me to their customers — so they can sell me something.
Imagine my vindication when I learned that two-thirds of my peers agree the term doesn’t describe them accurately, according to a poll released last week by the Public Religion Research Institute. It’s not uncommon for generations to resist their labels; baby boomers and Generation-Xers have been known to scoff at being pigeonholed. But today’s 20-somethings have an added incentive not to identify with their generational label — millennials are often maligned as lazy, entitled, cocky and coddled.
“Initially I was pleased that people gravitated towards ‘millennials,’” said Neil Howe, the economist and demographer who coined the term “Millennial generation” with his co-author William Strauss in 1991. “But when I see some of the things said about them it makes me wonder. If I were in that age bracket I would myself not be terribly eager to belong to this group, given how much they’re criticized or held in contempt for all of their failings.”
It’s only natural for people to want to sort everyone and everything into categories, said Jennifer Deal, a senior research scientist at the Center for Creative Leadership, who studies generational demographics. Just like the word “tree” helps us make sense of palms, dogwoods and other species that are radically different, reporters writing trend pieces and analysts preparing market research decks use the word millennial to understand a large swath of diverse people whose common characteristic is their age.
“Someone comes up with a name to describe a generation because that’s just what people have done forever,” Deal said, noting the tradition dates as least as far back as the World War I era’s “Lost Generation.” “The problem is that whenever you group things that are different, the adjectives attached to the grouping are not going to be equally representative of everybody in the group.”
Indeed, some of us live with our parents and some of us own homes. Others work in finance while their similarly aged peers toil away as baristas. While many of us do share certain characteristics — a (sometimes overly) positive attitude, interest in being protected, a belief in meritocracy and yes, unusually high self-esteem, according to Howe — millennials’ only true commonality is age.
So whenever you feel the urge to refer to your area 20- or 30-somethings as millennials, consider opting for a term with less baggage: Young people.