It’s not all doom and gloom: positive characteristics of Generation Y

Generation-Y - image courtesy of  MATT CHEUVRONTMedia coverage about Generation Y tends to be negative. Young people are made out to be feckless, workshy; their heads full of pipe dreams and their mouths full of double-negatives. This is not reflective of the young people I come into contact with.

Tamara Erickson’s article on the characteristics of Generation Y in a recent RSA quarterly magazine provides a more balanced view.

Erickson defines Gen Y as those born between 1980 – 1995; the eldest were the first digital natives, who grew up with computers, the youngest had moved out of their formative years by the time the financial crisis hit in 2008.

Generational characteristics are shaped by their members’ shared experiences. At a global level she argues terrorism and technology have heavily influenced their worldview. She writes:

“Rather than the institutionally driven, government-controlled hardship of war faced by previous generations, Ys have been subject to random, unpredictable, individually executed acts of terror and, particularly in the US, school violence.”

A sense of immediacy is the rational response to this. Why not make the most of today when random, unpredictable events can prevail?

Growing up in society where authority figures are increasingly diverse in respect of race and gender has shifted norms. As a consequence they are “much less likely than older generations to imagine that there is one correct answer or single authority” – they are willing to listen and understand multiple viewpoints.

The impact of technology is everywhere, at a general level allowing Y’s to multitask and find shortcuts to problems. This can lead to a sense of possibility (e.g. “I can fix that”), rejecting boundaries (e.g timeshifting work/leisure to when suits you), and working collaboratively (e.g. being used to “sharing information openly and solving problems through communal wisdom”).

Indeed there is indicative evidence younger people are enterprising. A YouGov poll by the Adam Smith Institute in August 2012 showed that half of 18-24 year olds (49%) agree that they would like to run their own business at some stage. This intention drops with age.

These macro trends provide a useful counterpoint to all the negative commentary out there.


Some more useful Generation Y commentary:

1)    Generation Y needs to earn twice the salary to match their parents lifestyle according to a First Direct survey from 2011.

It is financial pressure not fecklessness that leads to young people delaying key life stages.

2)    Is business the new rock and roll? Luke Johnson in the FT argues that young people increasingly want to create their identity through enterprise:

“In previous eras, youth found music, sex and drugs as ways to revolt against their parents,find their identities and break away from the past. However, my generation, the baby boomers, have already captured those pursuits. They aren’t shocking any more… Now entrepreneurship is seen as the much better route to deliver change and make a mark in the world.”

3)    The rise of subscription ownership: financial necessity and/or different priorities?

Anecdotal evidence suggests that younger people are embracing subscription ownership not just for music and entertainment but in categories like cars too. Scott Griffith, CEO of Zipcar, promoting his service in the LA Times:

“Millennials really live a different way. Car ownership isn’t as important to them. If you asked people to name their top brands, it used to be that a car brand would show up quickly, but that is lower down for millennials, maybe into the second 10. If they had to pick between a smartphone or a car, they would pick the phone.”

4)     The end of ownership: financial necessity and/or different priorities?

Derek Thompson in the Atlantic magazine

When older generations wonder what’s the matter with Millennials, they often judge their younger cohorts against such financial and social benchmarks as finding a job, getting married, and buying a home. These observations often come wrapped in weak science — “blame Facebook for their indolence” — or dripping with judgment — “blame their parents for making them weak.” The science is weak, but the observations are true. Fewer young people are finding jobs. Fewer young people are getting married. Fewer young people are buying homes.

5)    The smartphone replaces the car as the must have purchase?

Derek Thompson and Jordan Weissmann in the Atlantic magazine

Subaru’s publicist Doug O’Reilly told us, “The Millennial wants to tell people not just ‘I’ve made it,’ but also ‘I’m a tech person.’” Smartphones compete against cars for young people’s big-ticket dollars, since the cost of a good phone and data plan can exceed $1,000 a year. But they also provide some of the same psychic benefits—opening new vistas and carrying us far from the physical space in which we reside. “You no longer need to feel connected to your friends with a car when you have this technology that’s so ubiquitous, it transcends time and space,” Connelly said.

About Simon Shaw

I'm a Director at an insight consultancy. I'm interested in marketing, market research & consumer psychology. The views expressed are not necessarily those of my employer.
This entry was posted in Demographic change and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to It’s not all doom and gloom: positive characteristics of Generation Y

  1. nobleairlift says:

    Reblogged this on Noble AIrlift and commented:
    Another blogger’s perspective of Generation Y.

  2. Pingback: “Not all doom” about the millenials | Transitions At Work

Leave a Reply to nobleairlift Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s