Millennials versus baby boomers, are the stereotypes hiding something more sinister?
Griffith Review’s ‘Millennials Strike Back’ edition highlights some common millennial myths and challenges. (Supplied: Griffith Review)
Millennials are lazy, entitled narcissists who mooch off their parents — at least that’s the stereotype according to an academic in the field. But is it true? And are the stereotypes masking deeper issues?
Monash University Associate Professor Steven Roberts has been a researcher in the field of sociology for more than a decade and has voiced criticism of the way millennials are lumped into negative discourse.
“One of the most common discourses is that millennials are entitled and narcissistic and a bit self-absorbed and even lazy,” Dr Roberts said.
“There’s this idea that it’s like ‘the young people of today, they’re not like they were in my day’ and this is something that we see across history … going right the way back to Ancient Greece.
“The current baby boomers were largely the young people of the 1960s who were associated with free love and progressive ideas and protests.
“By the time they reach their 50s and 60s they forget that contemporary young people are kind of mirroring their own experience.”
Dr Roberts suggested the battle of ages — millennials versus baby boomers — masked an even bigger issue.
“In whose service, and what is the purpose, of generation war rhetoric? Because it serves to disguise inequality both among older people and younger people,” he said.
“When people mobilise those discourses the people that actually benefit are our policy makers.”
He suggested we begin to focus on discrimination within generations because of factors such as gender, class and race.
Through his research Dr Roberts has heard the repetitive notion that young people won’t take the full-time work available to them, which he said was a fabricated story.
“There’s this idea that young people won’t put in the hard yards in the way that the collective imaginary of the baby boomers did,” he said.
“There’s more part-time work, there’s more fixed-term work, there’s more casual work, there’s more gig economy work … the labour market has transformed completely.”
Thirty-year-old Jerath Head is assistant editor at the Griffith Review. He is also a research assistant at the Policy Innovation Hub at Griffith University. A typical millennial, he works two jobs.
He was co-editor of the “Millennials Strike Back” edition of the Griffith Review, which aimed to re-write the generation’s story in a society where “inequality is rife and traditional doors are closed” to young people.
He has rented since moving out of home at the age of 19 and has never really considered owning a home, as he doesn’t see it as a viable financial option.
Mr Head would tick many of the boxes in the millennial category but said he certainly would not consider himself a lazy narcissist.
“Anyone can find anecdotal evidence of any attribute being true for a person, but as a generalisation it’s pretty poor,” he said.
“I think particularly the lazy apathetic is not very true.”
A snapshot of Australia’s generation profile shows 34 per cent of millennials are in the workforce.
‘Discontentment and dissatisfaction’ levels high
Peter Hamilton has served as a medical professional for 34 years, and has noticed a level of discontentment among younger people.
Dr Hamilton said young people tended to expect a lot, perhaps too much, from the world around them.
“I wonder if there’s a wider trend towards higher expectations in all kinds of areas of life,” he said.
“So I think there are quite high levels of discontentment and dissatisfaction.”
Fifty-two-year-old Peter Ison, who runs technology information sessions at his local library in South Australia’s Riverland, said generational stereotypes were a double-edged sword.
“I tried to set up Google Pay from my watch and my phone and I got blocked so I phoned the bank,” Mr Ison said.
He said the reception on the other end of the line was patronising, which he assumed was because of his age.
“I did get the impression that she was talking down to me … I knew all the answers, but it was interesting.”
Mr Ison was critical of all stereotypes, which he said led to discrimination.
“I think all stereotyping is bad because we can stereotype based on a whole lot of things like age, sex, occupation,” he said.
“But how do you stop people doing it?”
Times have changed
Dr Roberts warned generational stereotypes were inaccurate and said it was almost impossible to compare today’s youth with youth 50 years ago, as the climate has completely changed.
“As sociologists we’re not only critical of the way that generational labels are used in terms of their time period, but in terms of the way they’re used to categorise whole groups of young people in very homogenous ways,” he said.
“They [baby boomers] say ‘contemporary young people are snowflakes and they complain about everything and they don’t put in the hard yards’, [but] there’s no empirical data to support that.”