By Ann Arnof Fishman, President, Generational Targeted Marketing
There are two waves of millennials, resulting in a great deal of confusion for marketers, politicians, and everyday people trying to understand this generation.
It is important to understand millennials because there are 80 million of them! They are Americans born between 1982 and 2000. They make up one-fourth of the U.S. population. There are more millennials than there are French people, Brits, or Spaniards.
Millennials grew up with strong support in the three areas society offers its young—family, religion, and government programs. A societal support system this strong during the formative years has given millennials a desire for empowerment and a feeling of entitlement. First wave millennials were told to reach for the moon, that they were “special,” that they deserved trophies for just showing up for team sports. Millennials became the “Can-Do” kids.
Then, there are the second-wave millennials. They, too, feel empowered and entitled for the same reasons. However, they have a need to be protected from all things potentially traumatizing. A New York Times article by Judith Shulevitz noted Brown University [Fall 2014] created a safe space for students who found a debate on rape culture troubling. To create a place to recuperate, a “room was equipped with cookies, coloring books, bubbles, Play-Doh, calming music, pillows, blankets and a video of frolicking puppies,” plus counselors trained in dealing with this kind of trauma. Today, safe spaces on college campuses abound.
There is also triggering. A reader of a blog entry may expect a warning called a trigger if the article might cause a negative emotion. As Jill Filipovic wrote in The Guardian, “Trigger warnings [may include]: the death penalty, gun violence, misogyny, calories in a food item, terrorism, descriptions of medical procedures, racism, dental trauma, snakes and vomit.”
Hold on, there’s more. In a 2015 article in The Atlantic, the “president [of Brandeis University] wrote an email to the entire student body apologizing to anyone who was ‘triggered or hurt by the content of the microaggressions.’” The email was in response to hurt feelings caused by an installation placed on the steps of an academic hall by the Asian-American Student Association to promote sensitivity.
Anna Rhodes for Heatstreet wrote, “The [Yale] faculty’s chair appeared to make concessions after calls for the compulsory course [Major English Poets] be ‘decolonized’ because it features too many white male authors. Students claimed they were ‘so alienated that they have to walk out of the room’ because of a preponderance of authors like Shakespeare and Chaucer, who ‘actively harm’ them.’”
Finally, according to a Pew Research Center study, “Four-in-ten Millennials say the government should be able to prevent people [from] publicly making statements that are offensive to minority groups.” What caused this difference between the second wave of millennials who needs to be protected from words that may hurt and the first wave of millennials who were encouraged to climb to the top of the jungle gym at every stage? Here’s what happened. America is morphing into a new generation, Generation Z, Americans born between 2001 to an unknown date in the future.
Gen Z is a highly-protected generation, for all the right reasons. They are protected at home due to kidnappings and Amber Alerts; at school, due to Columbine-type incidences; and, in society, due to threats of terrorism. They never will know what it’s like to go through an airport without security checks. Children who are protected to this extent during their formative years tend to avoid risks. Thus, as adults, they will become a generation of conformists, the “Just-Wanna-Fit-In” kids. Some of their generational characteristics will be a desire to please, a need to be conscientious, and a tendency to worry, all so Gen Zs can protect themselves.
What you’re seeing now in second-wave millennials are young people on the cusp between two generations. Second-wave millennials have the sense of empowerment of the millennial generation and the need to be protected of Generation Z. They are picking up some characteristics from both generations. History doesn’t turn on a dime, so that’s not unusual, but it is noticeable when the generations are so different. Empowerment plus protection are a powerful combination that’s confusing unless you understand what’s happening.
When two generations collide, it’s as if those trying to understand what’s going on are sailing through the rough seas of the Straits of Magellan where the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans meet, each at a different level, and cause churning currents, turbulence, and a bit of seasickness. No need to be confused. Just build a better boat where there are more life preservers filled with increased knowledge of generational characteristics and the history that created them.