Why are we still banging on about millennials?

Don’t get me wrong, I like millennials.

I like that they are able to have a social life without drinking until they forget their own name. I like that they talk about mental health so openly I’ve stopped being surprised by it. I like that they can be demanding. I’m not a millennial, but I can be demanding too, so I get it.

And in many ways, millennials have got the hard end of the stick. Not least, they will be paying for their education until they are about 85, which is coincidentally the same age they’ll be when they’ve saved up enough money for a deposit on a house. They will be eligible for their state pension the following year.

Millennials were also social media’s real-time, live guinea pigs. Well, I guess we all were, but I hate to imagine being a teenager during the social media explosion, as the rules were being made, and broken – I’m remembering ‘happy slapping’ here as a particular low point.

Anyway, I digress, my issue is this: millennials have been young people for so long that the term seems to have become inextricably bound in the public consciousness with youthfulness. And while there seems to be little but a very general consensus for when the millennial cohort starts and ends, whatever your definition, they have become, well, not as young as they were.

Generation Z

According to an article about social media in this month’s Catalyst magazine for example, ‘generation z’ applies to anyone 24 or younger, millennials 25 plus. This puts even the very youngest of the millennials at a reasonable age to get married and have children. The oldest of the millennials by most definitions are on the road downhill to 40. Some will have grey hair by now. Some will be balding. Some will have even paid off a fair chunk of their student loan.

In an interview I saw on TV not so long ago, the (brilliant and wonderful) politician Mhairi Black was described by a reporter as being a millennial. She responded with a correction, explaining that she was, in fact, from generation z. You see? Young equals millennial, but whatever your boundaries it can’t be for much longer.

I’ll tell you why it’s bothering me. A few weeks ago I made a presentation at a CIM event about social value. Taking place at the University of Liverpool, it was to a group of people including students. I made a claim that millennials have an expectation that organisations will behave in an ethical way. But when I looked out and saw how young some of them were, what I actually said was ‘millennials…and the younger generation still’. What I was thinking while I was saying this and looking out at those young faces, was that they were in fact NOT millennials, and I didn’t know that much about them at all. That was until today. Today I feel hopeful.

Young People are Angry

In this Sunday’s Observer there’s not a only decent coverage of students campaigning to have more say on Brexit (if I wasn’t so jaded, I might have felt a wave of excitement) but also an article in the magazine called ‘Young People are Angry’ (so they should be) in which six teenage activists take centre stage.

One young woman, Amika George,18, explains why she is campaigning against period poverty in the UK (a topic which I’m ashamed to say I’ve never considered); Shiden Tekle, 18, describes how racial abuse led him to campaign for diversity in the media; and Emma Gonzalez, the gun control activist from Florida explains, ‘we are going to be the kids you read about in text books…because we are going to be the last mass shooting’. You see? It’s not just Mhairi Black that’s brilliant and wonderful.

So all things considered, I’d like to make a proposal. Let’s leave millennials with the (in many cases) repulsively fortunate yet simultaneously strangely difficult hand history has dealt them, and instead gaze towards the horizon with expectation.

It’s about time we started banging on about generation z. After all, they’re our only hope.

Jude, generation x, former hedonist, mother of generation z.

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