Older generations have always bemoaned the life choices of their children, but few have exercised quite such passionate disdain for young people as the so-called Baby Boomers. In the decades following WWII, older generations resented young people for their social mobility, the likes of which they were never fortunate enough to experience themselves. But the young people of today, the group the media are eager to call “Millennials”, have fewer opportunities than their parents had at their age, not to mention considerably lower wages. Most will never own a property in their lifetime. Nor will they be able to retire in their early 60s and spend their final years travelling the world in luxury. They will not in forty years time be the subject of films in quite the same way the Baby Boomers are now: for them there will be no voyages of wishful fulfilment and self-discovery, no The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. Their films will instead be distinctly apocalyptic, depicting the realities of growing old in a world in which health care is a privilege rather than a right; a world forged by a generation that died long ago, but whose grip can still be firmly felt.
As you’ve likely already discerned from the bitterness I’ve just expressed, I am a Millennial, and I happen to possess several of the characteristics typically associated with this much-loathed group: these, I’m told, include a propensity for socially liberal politics, adeptness at computers, a distrust of religion and little desire to have children or to marry. Like many Millennials, I went to university and in the years following the Great Recession experienced unemployment followed by a period of stagnancy. I haven’t on the other hand lived with my parents since I was a teenager, which is apparently a trend among Millennials, or had to depend on them for financial support. Nor do feel particularly like a Millennial—that is to say, I don’t feel as if I share a stronger bond with people my own age than those who are older.
Nevertheless, when confronted with the usual criticisms of my generation, I feel obliged to offer a few words of defence. It is my view that, as generations go, Millennials are largely innocuous. They exercise minimal political influence over the way that the world is run, and despite being the most educated generation in history are confined to jobs well below their skill base. Some say this is because they’re feckless and afraid of hard work, which historically of course is the same argument that the powerful and affluent have used to bolster prejudices against burdensome groups. It’s also not true, since Millennials on the whole work more hours than their parents did at their age, and for considerably less money.
I can see why some would find this difficult to believe. The media depicts the Millennial as somebody who has little interest in anything beyond their smartphone; an insufferable whinger, who listens to abrasive music, is bereft of manners and who refuses to grow up; a “snowflake”, to use a term coined by the far-right, who, as you may know, are renowned for their ability to accept criticism. This in my experience is a view that some are only too happy to accept. And having worked in customer service (one of the few areas in which Millennials excel), I have heard it expressed many times, particularly by Baby Boomers who are generally eager to add for my benefit that, though I’m a Millennial, I’m not quite as bad as the rest. I appreciate their making this distinction, but by doing so they reveal the hollowness of their prejudice: they can agree that there are exceptions to their belief, but not to the extent where they feel it’s necessary to re-evaluate it at all.
Some might argue that the human brain is prone to generalisation—and I think there’s some truth to this. I made a generalisation in my opening statement by suggesting that Baby Boomers hate young people, ignoring that there are obviously plenty of Baby Boomers who do not. Yet I don’t believe it’s a generalisation to suggest that there are a fair few Baby Boomers out there who harbour contempt for Millennials. This is not to suggest that the opposite is not true also; simply that it’s important to acknowledge the distinction between the reasons for each other’s rancour.
As to Millennials, the reasons are, I think, easy enough to understand. The future inheritors of the world, they are largely dissatisfied with current events, and are unable to identify with the politics of the older generations. They are apprehensive about the future and believe that the older generations, particularly the Baby Boomers, the most politically dominant group in our society, care only for themselves. The Baby Boomers on the other hand see things differently: to their minds, it is the Millennials who care only for themselves, since the average Millennial wasn’t raised with the same upstanding moral and social values that they were, and so are, in their opinion, avaricious, rude and feckless. Millennials also have little affection for the 1950s and 60s, and for a great number of Baby Boomers this is akin to blasphemy. After all the period represents much of what they tend to support: less immigration, less health and safety, Britain out of the European Union, a thriving industrial sector.
No doubt there will come a day when Millennials look back on the 1990s in a similar way, blind to the problems that blighted that time. I don’t by any means want to suggest that Millennials are all extraordinarily gifted and blameless. Nor do I want to suggest that all Baby Boomers are contemptuous, closed-minded and irrationally piqued by the very existence of young people. In truth, Millennials are probably quite a boring generation whose accomplishments are as yet minimal. But they are also on the whole not especially obnoxious or deserving of scorn: statistics, for instance, show that they’re more concerned about social inequality than older generations, and, despite being the poorest generation in decades, they are peculiarly optimistic.
I don’t know why this is. Our future is not yet in our own hands, but those of the older generations who have already secured for themselves relative comfort and affluence. Either by design or by accident, they have created a system by which Millennials will have to depend on inheriting their parents’ wealth, while those without rich parents, myself included, will not be able retire or own a home or do much at all.
Sad as this is, we should perhaps not despair too readily. In years to come, long after the Baby Boomers have passed, and we Millennials are old, poor and inflicted with illnesses not covered by our health insurance, we can take solace in the thought that we no longer have to endure an endless slew of films celebrating the glorious legacy of the Baby Boomers, that most exceptional of generations.