Were you born after 1980? Are you an adult? Then congratulations, you’re probably a Millennial.
I am so tired of having this same conversation:
Some Douche: “Goddamned Millennials and their YouTubes!”
Me: “What year were you born?”
Millennial Douche: “[A year between 1981 and 1996].”
Me: “You’re a Millennial, dude.”
Outraged Millennial Douche: “No, I’m not!”
Me: “You’re part of a well-defined demographic cohort based on what year you were born, you don’t get to choose whether you’re a Millennial or not.”
Sigh. This conversation never really convinces them, but it does deter people from coming into my office, so it’s not a total loss.
Let’s clear this up right now. “Millennials” is not a synonym for “young people these days.” It’s not an adjective that you can throw into any sentence about people doing something that annoys you. “Millennial” means anyone — yes, anyone — born between 1981 and 1996.
To be fair, the birth years which define the Millennial generation do vary slightly depending upon which source you consult. Some peg you as a Millennial if you were born any time at all during the 80s or 90s. But the Pew Research Center is pretty much the most authoritative source out there on demographics, and they define the Millennial generation as “those born after 1980 and the first generation to come of age in the new millennium.”
According to Pew at least, if you were born between 1981 and 1996, you are a Millennial. The Millennial Generation is the same thing as “Generation Y,” which is another thing a lot of people seem to be confused about. Let me repeat that: Millennial Generation = Generation Y. Those are not two different things, those are different terms for the same thing. This makes a lot of sense if you know that the people born after the Millennials are known as “Generation Z.” It also makes a lot of sense if you remember that the generation that preceded Millennials is called “Generation X.” Gen Xers were born from 1965 to 1980.
So, if your gripe is with folks who are age 22 or younger right now, don’t leave that shit at the doorstep of we Millennials. If you have a complaint about teenagers (and let’s face it, who doesn’t?), talk to Generation Z about it. If you have a problem with Kylie Jenner, birth year 1997, again, not Millennials’ problem.
What comes after Gen Z? We don’t know yet, because a clear cutoff point hasn’t been established yet for Generation Z and we haven’t yet agreed on a name for whatever generation is just starting to be born right now.
To get back to how this article started, if you have just now learned that you are a Millennial, great job on having read something that isn’t a derogatory Millennial meme on Facebook shared by one of your friends who is also ignorant of being a Millennial. If you don’t feel culturally like you’re a Millennial, well, there’s no such thing. It’s just the generation you were born into. There are estimated to be more than 80 million Millennials in the U.S. alone. We’re all into a lot of different things. There’s not some shared Millennial culture that we’ve all equally bought into. This is a quarter of the U.S. population we’re talking about.
If you were born between 1981 and 1996, but despite my explanation you still don’t feel like a Millennial, don’t worry. It probably just means you’re going to spend the next several decades alienated from most of your peers until you eventually gravitate into far-right extremism as you pine for a return to a golden pre-Millennial age that never really existed.
Well there, now that’s straightened up. Does any of this really matter? Sort of. People who have no idea at all of where the generational cutoffs fall are flagging themselves as pretty uninformed to those of us who do, and in addition to not making yourself look ignorant, this information helps us all maintain a shared language to talk about things that do matter and that should be discussed more broadly. For instance, we can only talk about the fact that collectively Millennials are actually more financially responsible than Baby Boomers (and what that means as more Millennials are rising in the workplace and more Baby Boomers are approaching the traditional retirement age) if we actually know how those generations are defined.
So, if you’re a Millennial, wear that label like a badge of honor. Don’t let yourself be pilloried simply by the birthyear that placed you into the most memeable generation the world has ever known. Sure, we’re no Greatest Generation, but hey, at least we’re not the Baby Boomers.
Jonathan Wolf is a litigation associate at a midsize, full-service Minnesota firm. He also teaches as an adjunct writing professor at Mitchell Hamline School of Law, has written for a wide variety of publications, and makes it both his business and his pleasure to be financially and scientifically literate. Any views he expresses are probably pure gold, but are nonetheless solely his own and should not be attributed to any organization with which he is affiliated. He wouldn’t want to share the credit anyway. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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