Thoughts on Generalizations of the Millennial Generation

One of the most interesting articles I read last weekend was “When we talk about Millennials, We’re Usually Talking about White People” by Chris Martin.  In it he gives a very timely warning about making blanket statements about young adults of the millennial generation while really talking about one part of the group.

When we make rather off-the-cuff remarks like, “Millennials are liberal,” or “Millennials love adventure,” or “Millennials are spoiled brats,” we usually only have one subgroup of Millennials in mind: Upper-middle class, white millennials.

Martin does a very good job of pointing out there are millennials (especially those of other ethnicities) that don’t fit our view of what they are like.

You say, “Millennials love adventure,” because you see a bunch of white 20-something girls posting pictures on Instagram of their latest expedition into the woods behind their suburban home—You forget that the Latina sisters in Los Angeles caring for their little siblings while their parents work are Millennials, too, whose “adventure” is collecting laundry while feeding babies, not collecting pinecones while sipping on a Pumpkin Spice Latte.

You write something like, “Millennials are moochers who live with their parents,” because you hear stories about your college friends living at home, playing video games all day, and not getting a “real job.” But you don’t think about the 25-year-old African American brothers in Harlem working three jobs to care for their aging parents, who actually depend on them rather than the other way around.

As an illustration of the danger here he refers to an article written in 2013 by a prominent Protestant blogger bemoaning the fact that millennials no longer come to Church…however what she meant was white, middle-class millennials weren’t coming to Church.

The numbers for black Millennials [in the church] are, in fact, not dropping. That is, black adults age 18-29 are not leaving the Church. The 2007 report shows that black Millennials makeup 24 percent of Historically Black Churches , the same percentage as their Boomer Generation parents. Religious affiliation for young black adults going to historically black churches remains stable. If you look at trends between the 2007 and 2012 surveys, there’s not much difference in the numbers for black Millennials.

Mrs. Evans writes Millennials are leaving the church. Mr. Calvin writes, “Not among African Americans they’re not,” showing that no matter what the statistics say, every generalization merits a qualification or caveat.

Chris Martin ends with some advice on how to clarify we are referring to a subset (very small part) of the millennial generation

This is all I’m saying: when you want to make a generalization about Millennials, or any other generation, make sure you’re clear it is a generalization.

For instance, when you see a stat like this: “53% of Millennials say they lead the kind of life they want,” which is true, according to Pew, you do not write, “Millennials lead the kind of life they want.” That is not true, because only 53% of Millennials, barely half, do.

Instead, you write, “Just over half of Millennials lead the kind of life they want,” or even, “Most Millennials lead the kind of life they want,” if you insist.

For me personally this article was a challenge to look past my own subset of people, and understand that they don’t represent everyone.  And maybe, just maybe, things aren’t as dark as they seem for the millennials.

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