Millennials are group-oriented pragmatists, not lazy freeloaders

Michael Jensen

The class of 2016 might have just finished celebrating graduation, but for many of them, a lackluster job market and an uncertain future are just around the corner. A certain degree of pessimism is appropriate given the harsh economic realities millennials face. We earn less (despite being more educated than previous generations), as college debt continues to soar and perhaps worst of all, we’re more likely to live with our parents than with a romantic partner for the first time since 1880.

But it’s not all gloom and doom. Despite depressing tales of our failure to launch, we are not the lazy shut-ins that we’re often portrayed as. Our willingness to challenge cultural norms and adopt new technology has helped us adapt to economic obstacles now and, will likely create a better economy in the future.

While our current financial position might be precarious, our response to this economic insecurity proves we’re far from hopeless. Yes, you heard that right. I’m saying it’s a good thing that so many of us are becoming basement dwellers. Why? Because pooling family resources is a frugal and common-sense strategy that has been and continues to be employed by many cultures across the world. In fact, even now less than half of American children live in “traditional” nuclear families.

While it might be worrying that fewer young Americans have the option of moving out, our willingness to move back in is actually a sign that millennials are adapting to economic obstacles by moving away from outdated social norms. Renting the family basement might not be glamorous but it’s better than going into debt for a lifestyle that we can’t afford.

The rise of ridesharing services and music streaming services also signal changing ideas about ownership and access, and represent a larger cultural shift. This emerging trend of pooling resources is particularly striking because it conflicts with culturally entrenched expectations of ownership and individualism. Indeed many of the criticisms thrown at our generation involve charges of poor work ethic, selfishness, or moral failure because, unfortunately, economic realities can change faster than social norms.

On the other hand, the rise of the internet and social media technologies have only accelerated these cultural and economic shifts. It’s not exactly news that the ability to connect and share information with virtually anyone on the planet has had a powerful impact on American society. We can easily stay in touch with distant friends and family, communicate with complete strangers on the other side of the world or freely access a virtually unlimited amount of information. The internet is arguably the greatest technological phenomenon of our generation, and it’s definitely been a deeply social one. Perhaps that’s why we’re more group-oriented and open to change than previous generations. The internet’s efficiency is a direct result of the shared efforts of millions of people, a reality which hasn’t been lost on those who grew up with it. In fact, most of the so-called “sharing economy” I mentioned above wouldn’t even be possible without the internet.  

Every generation faces a unique set of challenges and the inevitable criticisms of laziness and degeneracy. After all, people have always been complaining that the youth are slovenly failures, corrupted by new technologies and changing times. Just like all the past generations who have been put down, millennials shouldn’t be discouraged by these ancient criticisms. Our response to terrible circumstances has been remarkable, and we’re already in the process of creating a better, more efficient world for future generations.

Jensen is a neuroscience senior from The Woodlands. Follow him on Twitter @michaeltangible.