Millennials — the generation fuzzily defined as those born between 1980 and 2000 — have gotten a lot a flak in the last few years, with trend piece after trend piece declaring Generation Y to be self-absorbed, lazy, immature, and entitled. Millennial bashing seems to have reached its peak in 2013, when Joel Stein declared us the “Me Me Me Generation” in Time. But although the knee-jerk criticism of Millennials has cooled in the last couple of years (even Time has called for a more nuanced view), Millennials are still often regarded with suspicion, and presumed to be tech-obsessed narcissists whose parents told them one too many times that they were special. Our reputation is bad enough that Millennials themselves often shy away from the label; a recent survey found that only 40 percent of people between the ages of 18 and 34 describe themselves as “Millennials.”
The thing is, however, that stereotypes about Millennials are about as accurate as most other stereotypes — that is, not really accurate at all. I find the idea of making generalizations about millions of people born across a 20 year span to be problematic in itself, but if we’re going to go there, then let’s look at what research has really shown us about Generation Y: Millennials may have a reputation for being The Worst, but studies show that we are actually hardworking, giving, generally awesome people. (OK, so surveys can’t test for “general awesomeness,” but that’s a label I’m willing to give us.) Nobody’s perfect, of course, but the idea that Millennials somehow represent a major negative turn for humanity silly. Here are just a few reasons that we should wear the “Millennial” badge with pride:
Millennials work hard.
Despite stereotypes of Millennials as lazy and entitled, this generation works a lot, and it works hard. Studies have shown that Millennial workers are willing to work long hours and expect to always be “on call.” This year, Millennials became the largest generation in the American workforce, surpassing Generation X. More than a third of all American workers are Gen Y; that’s 53.5 million of us in total, a number that is only expected to grow, according to the Pew Research center.
Millennials are changing the workplace — for the better.
Research has also shown that Millennials are changing workplace dynamics. A survey by the Bentley University Center for Women in Business found that, although Millennials are willing to and expect to work hard, they’re not willing to work in environments they hate (The stereotype that they hop from job to job is not true). The survey explains, "Millennials are much less willing to endure unpleasant conditions on the job, with only 30 percent of the respondents somewhat or very willing to work in an unpleasant work environment to achieve career success."
Forbes reports that almost half of Millennials are willing to choose flexibility over pay in the workplace, and that a “good cultural fit” with their companies is key to their staying in jobs for the long term. These demands are slowly changing how many companies work, leading many to adopt flexible work schedules and programs that encourage worker engagement and creativity — and that’s good for workers in general, regardless of generation.
Millennials care about the social good, and they take action to make things better.
A 2010 study by the Pew Research Center found that “helping others in need” was the Millennial generation’s third most important priority, after being a good parent and having a good marriage. A 2011 survey by Walden University found that Millennials are willing to act on their desire to help others; in the year leading up to the survey, 81 percent of respondents had “[d]onated money, goods, or services,” and 68 percent had worked as volunteers.
Millennials are more tolerant when it comes to sex, and better prepared for it.
According to the Washington Post, Millennials are more positive and accepting of sex than previous generations, with 62 percent believing that sex before marriage is OK and 56 percent saying they’re fine with same-sex relationships. Millennials are also more likely to use contraception, less likely to have sex before the age of 15, and have fewer partners throughout their lifetimes than Gen Xers and Baby Boomers.
We think the glass is half full.
A 2014 report from the Pew Research Center found that — despite the fact that Millennials experience “higher levels of student loan debt, poverty and unemployment” than Baby Boomers and Gen Xers — they are in fact more optimistic about the future that the two previous generations. Forty-nine percent of Millennials believe that “the country’s best years are ahead,” while only 42 percent of Gen X adults and 44 percent of Boomers would say the same.