I have found over the last couple of years that I have been classed as a variety of things for different research projects and for different clients. The basis for these have been age, income, interests, holiday habits and food preferences to name a few. I have been called a Premium Professional and a Footloose Socialiser. Things seem to have simplified now. I’m just a Millennial, apparently. What’s a Millennial? According to Wikipedia ‘Millennials are the generation cohort that follow generation X. There are no precise dates when the generation starts and ends. Researchers and commentators use birth years ranging from the early 1980s to the early 2000s’.
Let’s just say I fall into the former rather than the latter time period described above and leave it at that, shall we… but why are we considered so relevant? Why do people care about what we think and what we do? It is because we are the future policy makers, the future entrepreneurs, the future innovators and most importantly, the future consumers. Over the last number of weeks, the planning department have been carrying out a project to try and map out the New Family in 2015 Ireland and have asked me to comment on the results that are specific to my ‘generation cohort’.
One of the striking aspects of the research is the gaping disparity between the Millennial male and female attitudes towards marriage; 32% of women feel that it is an antiquated institution that figure rises to 53% for men. Let me give you another one; just 14% of women feel that getting married prevents people from living the life they want to live, whereas 46% of men agree with this statement. These are both pretty startling statistics. Can I shed any light on these? I’m not sure, but what I can do is point out a few influential factors that may shape my generation’s perspective.
Us Millennials are possibly the last generation of old Ireland, or the first generation of New Ireland if you like. Think about it, I’m 31 and I was born in 1983 – in the first 8-10 years of my life I grew up in rural Ireland where the grip of the Catholic Church was still at its height. It was the Eamonn Casey affair in 1992 that opened the floodgates for the crumbling of the Church’s all-encompassing control over the shape and behaviour of Irish society. For me, the importance of this and what followed cannot be overstated. What came to light from that point on was almost like our Berlin Wall. It broke a chokehold that had been on society and governed almost all social behaviour, including marriage. Up to that point, if you were a man and you were unmarried in your mid thirties, it would never have taken long for the whispers about you to start. You got married. In a church. That was it. Things have changed very quickly on this front though, which I will come back to a little later.
My generation have often been described as Tiger Cubs but we grew up in a rapidly changing Ireland where societal norms were disappearing very quickly. The divorce referendum took place in 1995, and it may only have passed by 0.28% but it passed, and suddenly another old Catholic ideal disappeared. In 1998 the Good Friday Agreement was signed. Vast economic growth soon followed. In 2001 we changed currency. In 2004, we opened our borders to ten new Eastern European accession states, which at one point led to about 350,000 new European brothers and sisters coming to live and work here. The financial collapse and recession led to a lot of our closest friends leaving and not coming back. All of these things happened during our most formative and impressionable years. Cumulatively, these events and our rapidly evolving society have affected how we think about things. Personally, I’m not a great fan of tradition. It is something that I constantly question. And I know my friends have a very similar mind-set. It is easy to see why – all we have known is change since we were about 10.
I would like to come back to one of the statistics I quoted earlier; when asked if getting married prevents people from living the life that they want to live, just 14% of women said yes whereas a huge 46% of men agreed in the affirmative. So our attitudes to the institution of marriage may seem negative from a male point of view but if I had to guess, I would speculate that this attitude may be towards the traditional view of marriage that we see in our parent’s generation. I would like to think that given the way my generation have adapted to so much over the past 15 years, we would continue to adapt to whatever comes our way when it comes to marriage. I go to a lot of weddings, I mean a lot, and 4 of the last 6 weddings I have been to have been humanist celebrations. So we are shaping our own, new version of marriage and it is happening right now.
Surely marriage is what you make of it? Speaking as someone who is not married, I don’t picture anything specific when I think of marriage. I like to think that it is what you want it to be. That may seem naive, and it probably is, but I imagine married life to be an occasionally rocky road but full of love and laughter too. I think that if we have learned anything over the last 15 years, we know that Millennials will continue to define what they want their professional and personal lives to be. We’re nothing if not resourceful and adaptable.
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