HANNAN: Negative perception of millennials happens with every young generation

If you’re at all like me, you’re sick of constantly hearing what everyone thinks about millennials. This feeling is completely warranted due to the never ending stream of publications detailing the negative stereotypes attributed to our generation. But if you’re willing to read one more article, I promise to explain where these stereotypes are really coming from, and why many of them are simply untrue.

The millennial generational cohort, also known as Generation Y, is comprised of those born between 1980 and 1999. According to the U.S. Chamber Foundation, there are more than 80 million 17-32 year olds in the U.S. – making us the largest single cohort in U.S. history. This helps explain why our generation has attracted so much media attention.

Millennials are replacing previous generations like Generation X (ages 37-51) and baby boomers (ages 52-69) within the working world. Today’s young professionals will become responsible for our nation’s infrastructure, from politics and economics to business and medicine. It should come as no surprise that our predecessors are uneasy about such a momentous passing of the torch.

However, many people seem to forget that this massive generational shift is nothing new. In fact, it’s been happening for centuries. Yes, our cohort is extremely large, but so is the entire U.S. population. Relative to the population, generational shifts of comparable magnitude have occurred since our country’s inception. Why then, has there never been such widespread concern within the incumbent generation? The short answer: there has.

It makes perfect sense for older people to look down on younger people because they have done so throughout history. After all, it wasn’t that long ago that our parents were changing our diapers. Raising millennials has given them a deep-rooted perception of us as babies that will surely linger on well after we have entered adulthood.

This is why many of the negative characteristics attributed to millennials reflect immaturity. Do older people really think young professionals are lazy, impatient and ill-focused? Or are they simply describing adolescence as they experience it as adults and our parents? There is no second chance at a first impression, so obviously our parents’ generations are quite uncomfortable letting whiny, angst-filled teenagers run the country, even though that’s not who we are anymore.

Laziness in particular seems to be one of the most publicized millennial traits. Preceding generations think they have worked harder for what they have than the current young generation. While this is somewhat subjective, the nature of work changes over time, so isn’t the goal of progress to make things easier for the next generation? Increased quality of life is often a byproduct of societal progress, and we are not the first ones to experience its benefits. Even if our parents are right in saying we don’t work as hard as they do, just imagine what their “hard work” would like look to the frontiersman of the Civil War era.

This still doesn’t explain why the current generational shift seems more pronounced than in years past. It is possible that Generations X and Y have conflicting cohort personalities. Each generation is impacted by different cultural and societal events and as a result forms its own identity, respectively. The U.S. Chamber Foundation describes baby boomers as “idealists,” Gen Xers as “skeptical independents” and millennials as “diverse collaborators.” Some believe clashing personalities are to blame for the disconnect between older and younger generations.

While this does make sense, it seems that past generations would have had similar personality differences with each other as well. Instead, I think it is more likely that the older generation’s lack of trust in the younger is a perennial sentiment that has finally had the means to be widely broadcasted via new technology. People in power have always felt this way about the incoming generation but have only recently be able to tweet about it to millions of followers.

However, no media frenzy can stop the passing of time. Whether they like it or not, members of the older generation will eventually have to surrender responsibilities to their children. Their fear is understandable and even reciprocated by many of us, as we are often equally unsure of our own abilities. But rather than slander our generation with negative stereotypes, older generations should focus on teaching us as much as they can about their roles in the world before the responsibility inevitably falls into our hands.