I often talk about “negating stereotypes”…..even devoted a category on my web site to it. Recently, I realized there are just as much stereotyping with Gen Y as there are with women and multiculturalism. There are obvious dangers with stereotyping millions and billions of people in to a few headlines. The opportunity here is to take research directionally, instead of replacing our insights—meaningful insights that only happen through relating, understanding and experiencing “people.”
Gen Y is often referred to as the lost generation battered by economy. One of the great articles, America’s screwed generation, shared great, shocking stats …. but just as the title suggests, painted a dark picture. Yes, the wealth gap between younger and older Americans is now the widest on the record. According to US Census, median net worth of young people under 35 fell 35% from 2005-2010, versus 13% for adults over 65. The older generation not only benefited from good economic timing, but they also are not retiring as early. Entry level positions are filled with experienced talent pool, making unemployment rates among Gen Y 50% above national average. Then there is their debt—from student loans to credit cards. Many stay in school just so they are not forced to start paying their student loans without a good job—or any job—so they incur more debt. It’s a doom loop, you see?
Inevitably, Gen Y has delayed adulthood in many milestones. According to a Pew study, one third have put off marriage and kids and a quarter moved back with their parents. There are other personal and cultural factors at play with this delay in adulthood (see my blog do you really know 20-somethings), but regardless, this can have major demographic implications in the decades to come. Twentysomething Inc report that 85% of new grads move back with parents to save on living costs while they job hunt. And when they are finally ready to move out, the prospects of “owning” a home is out of reach for so many. But home ownership, starting a family and other traditional milestones for adulthood are not life’s starting points for Gen Y.
Sure, no generation has suffered more from the recession than Gen Y. This has led into assumptions that are now backed by research data. But the world economy has been tough for a while now. Many members of Gen Y haven’t personally experienced the economic boom most of us have, or bitter about pay cuts, downsizing or outsourcing. They are experiencing the new normal in The New World Marketplace.
I see more positive signs amid all these negative statistics. I wonder how much of our own economic fears we project on to this generation. This is the unafraid, optimistic, tech savvy, educated, resourceful, and diverse generation who will know what works and what doesn’t…. greatly decreasing the collective learning curve. Culturally liberal, one third were raised by a single mother … so gender roles are blurred and multiculturalism is the norm. Gen Y men prove to be hopeless romantics .… young women earn more than men in big US cities ….. young women now top young men in valuing a high-paying career….these are just a few research examples of negative stereotypes when it comes to Gen Y.
Financial success, beyond necessities, is just one part of happiness….probably a small part. They are committed to find “meaningful” work and pay out student loans versus getting rich. Unlike previous generations, there is no shame in getting help from parents, but a luxury worth bragging about. Parental support, technology and rise of entrepreneurism provide this generation the freedom to pursue their hearts’ desires. And they will.
Despite all the labels and stereotypes (including my own), majority of work force will be filled by Gen Y by 2025—so, the current sluggish job market and steep student loans will not hold them back. It’s just the timing. More importantly, it will be about when, where and how work gets done that will bring forth the big cultural change. And the new values and ideological power of Gen Y will shape our future work force.