Growing up, you may have heard the phrase "generation gap" being used to explain why the adults around you had opinions so different from yours. Dividing people into generations, is of course a human construct, used largely to facilitate research, to gauge the attitudes and opinions and the cultural impact of an age.
In the recent Brexit referendum, for example, the generation divide in voting patterns was prominent. The BBC reported that 75 per cent of young people aged 18-24 voted to remain in the European Union, but only 39 per cent of those over 65 did the same.
This tendency to separate generations, however, also leads to sweeping generalisations. Take the world"millennial" often used to describe the current generation of youngish adults in the work force – the name coming because they were born around the end of the millennium. But the word also has several negative connotations – of being spoilt, lazy, narcissistic and entitled.
Those born between 1980 and 2000 (these dates differ) have a claim to being millennials. The oldest members of this generation are in their mid thirties, and the youngest, still in their teens. There may not be much similarity between a 17-year-old and a 35-year-old today (or ever), but every generation is said to span between 15 and 20 years, according to the Pew research centre.
In the video above, educational comedian Adam Conover, after his lengthy introduction, gets down to debunking the myth of narcissistic, entitled millennials. He says “the entire idea of 'generations' is unscientific, condescending, and stupid.” And that the old will always criticise the young, as has been going on for centuries.
To back this, Conover cites the ancient Greek economist Hesiod's description of younger generations: “They only care about frivolous things. When I was a boy, we were taught to be discreet and respectful of elders, but the present youth are exceedingly… impatient of restraint.”
The idea of millennials as a spoilt, entitled generation is bandied about quite often in the media. Most of the bias and defence is centred around American millennials, and those from developed western countries. In India too, however, companies are changing their work culture to accommodate this new type of worker.
Millennials are the first generation of digital natives, and their work ethos and values apparently demand a change in the work environment, inspiring parodies like the one below. An instructional manual to older bosses on how to deal with the 20-somethings, it ends with the observation: "They're like pets that do work sometimes!"
A video countering the one above shows the opposite perspective. Here, a millennial speaks out against didactic, older authority figures, aka the Baby Boomer generation in the US, who have left the world a mess.
In the video below Paul Taylor, vice president of the American Pew Research Centre, explains some of the key characteristics of "millennials". He lists what the generation has inherited – recession, fewer job opportunities, global warming, etc., and also a reputation for being narcissistic and entitled. But, he argues, contrary to this idea of being entitled and lazy, millennials actually have to work a lot harder than their parents, and despite this are doing less well economically.
Taylor also highlights the positive aspects of the millennials, "They're very liberal in their social and cultural values so some of the changes that are going on in the country on issues like same sex marriage, marijuana legalisation – we see pretty dramatic changes in a fairly short period of time in terms of public attitudes... Despite their distinctive political and social views and voting behaviour, however, they're not terribly attached to the Democratic Party even though they gave big votes to democratic presidential candidates. When we asked adults of all ages are you a Democrat or Republican or an independent, millennials – 50 percent of millennials – say I'm independent. We've never seen that high a share from any age cohort. We see a similar thing when we ask about their religion. I mean, what are you? Protestant, Catholic, Muslim, Hindu, Jewish? A record share of millennials say I'm nothing in particular."
Oh, and one more thing. "And there's a third anchor institution of society, if you will, that millennials are not attached to, and that's a little old 5,000 year old institution called marriage."
Jamie Notter, co-author of When Millennials Take Over, in the video below explains the work ethos of millennials. According to him millennials want more transparency, autonomy and sense of purpose from their jobs. Those demands, though, sound like what most reasonable people, irrespective of age, would want from work.