The older generation gnashing its teeth in exasperation at what’s coming up behind them is a theme as old as time. But Millennials probably have more in common with other Millennials around the world than they do with the older generations in this country, and it creates a sort of inter-generational conflict.
So, who are they? Millennials are known as Generation Y or the Trophy Generation, because of their many participation trophies! They are the demographic cohort that follows Generation X and were born between the years of 1980 up to 2000. They have a reputation for being self-absorbed and lazy, they prioritise themselves over others and it would appear that they are driven by a clear-cut self-interest. In other words, they are not very “Irish”.
On reading about them, my initial response was that they should be exiled to Skellig as part of a great big reality TV show, but then I thought I should get over my prejudice and try to understand how they came to be and who they really are.
In analysing the data on Millennials in Ireland there are marked differences from older generations. But they are a generation still in the process of becoming, and their high expectations have not yet been tempered by life experience.
I think it is important to separate the distinctive Millennial traits we are observing from the traits of the young. When you hear Millennials described as self-obsessed, overly optimistic me-feiners, you have to think, was there not a little bit of that in all of us at a similar life stage?
The negative press they get is basically because they are displaying the traits of the young, but it is the responsibility of the generations to understand each other and we have a duty as marketers to get beneath the headlines and the stereotypes and understand the unique set of circumstances which has shaped their distinctive attitudes.
So, what factors have influenced the development of those distinctive Millennial traits?
Are Millennials a product of more liberated parents who built their self-esteem and told them they were special, or a rapidly changing environment, or both?
Millennials are the product of an evolving technological environment.
They have grown up in a time where revolutionary technology has changed how we live, work and connect.
This new technology exposes Millennials to more peer-to-peer interaction than any previous generation and this shapes their point of view. Constant interaction through a screen means there is lower face-to-face feedback and it can make it difficult for Millennials to pick up on non-verbal communications. They love their phone but hate talking on it.
Advances in technology have also opened borders, increased opportunities, but also intensified competition and as a result Millennials are a truly global generation who understand their relationship with the rest of the world and they are not afraid of it; they embrace it. They don’t just want to travel they need to travel and explore.
They have also grown up in a world characterised by great uncertainty, the institutions that safely caged previous generations providing boundaries and rules were all but dissolved for this generation.
Add to this the serious recession they grew up with and the job market they encountered and you can understand why they are cautious and more financially responsible. For Millennials in Ireland, financial independence is the number one priority for both men and women.
Millennials want a freer more fluid life. They want to travel and change their job or their direction. Gone is the idea of a career for life, it’s just not desirable. Millennials are willing to work hard but are more committed to working smart. They are not lazy. They are the most inclined to agree with the statement that work is linked to their sense of who they are and this is higher for female Millennials (80%). The belief that women should prioritise children over careers is lowest amongst female Millennials at 35% vs. 42% of Xers. Nor do they agree that women should stay home to raise the kids, at just 18% vs. 30% for Xers. There is an assumption nowadays that both parents will need to work and they are in favour of shared parenting responsibilities.
I left a full-time job when I was 25 to go travelling and my family was like, ‘you’ve got a job for life, what are you doing?’ and I was like ‘I don’t want a job for life!’
Millennials are more open-minded than their older counterparts when it comes to relationships including homosexuality, gay marriage, gay couples having children and co-habiting out of wedlock. While 75% agree that marriage is an important institution, Millennials are in no rush to settle down. They have more time to enjoy life on their own, without family or dependents, and they like it that way. Millennial men and women do differ in their attitude to marriage, with men more inclined to find marriage to be antiquated - 50% vs. 30% of females. Millennial men also prefer the idea of long-term commitment and see no real difference between a long-term committed relationship and marriage; in fact 80% of Millennial men would prefer it, finding the prospect of marriage to be more stifling and confining, preventinmg them from living the life they want to live (50%). I think we need to remember that Millennials are still very young, the average age for marriage in Ireland has increased again and some of this attitude to getting married themselves could be attributed to their life stage and not their millennial-ness.
People think that everyone needs somebody, everyone likes to see people boxed off whereas lots of people want to be alone for a while, doing the things they’re doing.
We’re about ten years behind where our parents were in life… they’d all have been married and had about 2 kids by the time they were 25/26.
Millennials are more likely to have grown up in a non-traditional/single parent family and yet the traditional family is still aspirational. The nature of the relationship Millennials have with their parents is more as friendships than traditional parent-child relationships. This means they are more inclined to turn to their parents for support over their friends, especially for the bigger stuff like life-changing news, promotions, significant purchases or big problems. The sentiment around the evolving family structure is most positive amongst Millennials, with 80% of males and 70% of females excited or positive about it. Support for same-sex families is driven by the millennial generation at 60%. Millennials are the most inclined to believe the following are socially acceptable: sex before marriage, co-habiting, gay marriage and gay couples having children. They are the most inclined to want to see non-traditional families in advertising, but - handle with care.
Religion continues to lose relevance with this generation. While many of them identify with a particular religion almost 70% of Millennial men and 52% of Millennial women agree they do not practice their religion. What does it mean? Is it that they have lost something important, even at the level of tradition or community? Or are they demonstrating real moral backbone in questioning their traditional religion and making up their mind about whether to continue to accept organised religion in their lives today?
Millennials have been dealt a tough hand, but it has forced them to reconsider what success looks like for them and reframe what is important to them. They have been reared in changing times and change has been a constant in their lives, and yet they are not afraid of it and they don’t resist it; they look for its opportunity and they take that and turn it into something. They are extremely flexible and adaptable. The increasing penetration of technology and the information revolution has empowered them to become more independent and self-directed. They are publishing themselves everyday, responding to and taking on anyone and everyone, sharing their opinions, starting movements, taking down corporations and changing the world we live in along the way. Look at what they have already achieved - they invented Facebook and Twitter, even our own Collison brothers have invented a 5 billion euro tech firm in Stripe and this generation are only starting. This is an exciting generation that will challenge our more traditional views and behaviours and take us forward. They will lead the older generations into the future, making sense of it for us, not the other way around. They are optimistic, and smart, they are free and open-minded and they turned out in record numbers to vote in the recent referendum. They were a big part of the majority looking after the minority and, as such, they seem like a very modern expression of our traditional Irish values.
Amy Mitchell is Head of Planning
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