Millennials are the largest and most diverse generation in American history.
Born roughly between the years of 1981 and 2004, some Millennials are old enough to remember the collapse of the Soviet Union, and a small portion might even recall the fall of the Berlin Wall.
Undoubtedly, a majority of this generation can vividly remember the tragic events of September 11, 2001, and many Millennials graduated from high school or college in the midst of the worst economic calamity since the Great Depression.
All under 40 years old, this generation's members have already lived through some of the greatest events in recent history.
With Millenials constituting such a large and dynamic group, it is not surprising that there have been many attempts to define the generation. Yet, they have all come up short.
Simply put, you can't define something that's still evolving, particularly when it has been subject to so many catastrophic events. Millennials have been forced to adapt to trauma; they grew up with it.
Still, there have been a number of futile attempts to label this generation as disengaged, lazy and entitled. Time and time again, Millennials have proved these stereotypes wrong. They have lived through 9/11, the War on Terror, and the Great Recession — and they are still thriving and optimistic.
They say that adversity breeds success, and it appears that this old adage still rings true.
In 2000, the first book on Millennials, "Millennials Rising: The Next Great Generation," was published by Neil Howe and William Strauss.
The title could possibly be true, but as noted in an article from Vox, the majority of predictions the book makes have proven to be decidedly false.
Howe and Strauss made eight primary predictions:
1. Millennials will be more religious.
2. School uniforms will influence Millennials profoundly (seriously?).
3. Millennials will be collectivists who embrace the military and national service.
4. Millennials will confront income inequality.
5. Millennials will want stable jobs, not entrepreneurship.
6. Millennials will create more modest forms of courtship that return to traditional gender roles.
7. Millennials will marry earlier and have more children.
8. If a crisis of historic proportions occurs, Millennials could create a form of 21st century fascism.
Now, perhaps we should be easy on Howe and Strauss. Neither of these individuals could have predicted the events of 9/11 or the Great Recession in 2008, nor the impact they would ultimately have on Millennials. With that said, some of their predictions were outright ludicrous.
Millennials have continuously proven to be less religious than their elders. Perhaps this is because Millennials are also more socially liberal, and feel that some of the values of religious conservatives are not conducive to their own convictions.
For example, as Peter Beinart notes,
Today, according to Pew, the religiously unaffiliated are disproportionately liberal, pro-gay-marriage, and critical of churches for meddling too much in politics. Not coincidentally, so are America's young.
It is also surprising that Howe and Strauss essentially predicted that Millennials would be conformists, embracing institutions and military service.
Perhaps what Howe and Strauss do capture is an evident discontent with the status quo amongst Millennials. Millennials are not fond of global economic inequality, evident in the Occupy Wall Street movement.
Millennials are also more frugal than some might have predicted, largely as a consequence of the Great Recession.
Furthermore, while it is true that Millennials desire stable jobs, largely as a product of the fact that they are so difficult to come by (40 percent of unemployed workers are Millennials), they are certainly not opposed to entrepreneurship. Mark Zuckerberg, a Millennial and now one of the richest individuals in the world, is a testament to that fact.
In terms of relationships and gender, Millennials are even more difficult to peg. The hookup culture that pervades this generation has made monogamy less of a value.
Millennials realize that they’re pushing the boundaries of the sexual revolution beyond what their parents might have expected and their grandparents could even conceive.
Finally, the idea that Millennials would embrace any form of fascism is absolutely absurd. This generation has continuously proven to be a proponent of unfettered democracy.
Perhaps it's no coincidence that one of the most infamous individuals in the world at present, Edward Snowden, is wanted for combatting what he saw as unwarranted government intrusion.
Born in 1983, Snowden is also a Millennial. If anything, the experiences of 9/11 and the War on Terror have made Millennials wary of aggressive police states.
Indeed, Millennials are too dynamic to define.
At the Democratic National Convention in 1936, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt stated,
There is a mysterious cycle in human events. To some generations much is given. Of other generations much is expected. This generation of Americans has a rendezvous with destiny.
He was speaking about the generation that lived through the Great Depression and eventually World War II, now known as the Greatest Generation. Yet, this quote is still strikingly relevant today.
Millennials have a date with destiny. The challenges they face are, by no means, easy -- but if they are up to the task, they might achieve a greatness beyond what anyone could have imagined.
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