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Millennials are people, not clones

August 11th, 2017

The Washington Post has an article on millennial attitudes to Trump, broken down by race/ethnicity. The results won’t surprise anybody who’s been paying even minimal attention. Other things equal, millennials are even more hostile to Trump than Americans in general. Of course, other things aren’t equal; as with the population at large, African-Americans most unfavorable to Trump, and whites are least so, though no group is favorable on balance.

What’s surprising, or at least depressing, is the contrarian framing of this as a counter-intuitive finding, against a starting point assumption that millennials should have uniform views. I can’t blame the author of this piece for taking this as the starting point; it’s taken as axiomatic in the vast output of generationalist cliches against which I’ve been waging a losing battle since the first millennials came of age in the year 2000.

Just to push the point a little bit further, this study only disaggregates millennials by race. If, in addition, you took account of the fact that millennials (on average) have more education, lower income and less attachment to religion than older Americans, you would probably find it impossible to derive statistically significant differences based on birth cohort.

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  1. NEIL
    August 16th, 2017 at 16:34 | #1

    Exactly right, Prof Quiggin. Millenials are told they want flexibility at work. Perhaps that is true. On the other hand, they may just want stable lives.

  2. Adien
    August 17th, 2017 at 09:20 | #2

    I suspect that many attitudes towards the relationship between young people and work-life get the causality backwards. In one of Mark Blyth’s lectures, he was questioned whether young people are willing to work permanent full-time jobs; the questioner cited the extent to which younger people are increasingly in casualised workplaces. Blyth’s response was that this is an endogeneity problem: Young people tend to be working in these jobs precisely because that is the only work, by and large, available to them. Does this perhaps reflect the extent to which we are accustomed to assuming that people’s choices reflect where they are in life? Blyth’s response, with which I concur, is that the problem is far more systemic and outside of people’s control.

    Powerful people seem to have a vested interest in waging generational warfare between younger and older generations. I don’t find generalisations either way particularly helpful. I believe that many of our social problems are, at root, due to wide-ranging paradigm shifts. In the post-WW2 period, Australian Social Democracy provided enough people with jobs to have virtual full employment. Today, that is not the case.

    John Quiggin, your book Zombie Economics explains the influence of shifting paradigms on wider society. I’ve enjoyed the read very much and have used it for several of my assignments.

  3. Luke Elford
    August 19th, 2017 at 09:13 | #3

    This post generated very little discussion, although it turned out to be disturbingly prescient; its point being made in the most brutal of ways with the politically motivated ‘millennial-on-millennial’ murder of Heather Heyer in Charlottesville. I suspect there will be less willingness to crassly generalise about the political beliefs of young people in America, at least for a while.

    I have a question for those who’ve been around longer than I have—is the millennial versus baby boomer crap worse than the media-orchestrated generational conflict of decades past, or does it just seem that way?

    It seems to infest virtually everything. The latest example I saw was a Guardian op-ed entitled “By voting on marriage equality young people can give politicians a collective ‘stuff you’”, and sub-headed “I’m looking forward to under 30s, irritated by middle-age politicians and commentators, flexing their collective political muscle…”.

    https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/aug/18/by-voting-on-marriage-equality-young-people-can-give-politicians-a-collective-stuff-you

    Is it too much to ask that young people—and everyone else—support marriage equality because they think that same-sex relationships are just as valid as heterosexual relationships and deserve the same societal recognition, rather than as a ‘screw you’ to people they don’t like?

    Can’t the writer, herself identifying with the generation she wishes young people to stick it to, see how offensive it is when she tries to make marriage equality about generational conflict? Or how empty and meaningless support that’s based on the idea that it’s young people, rather than same-sex couples, who’ve been wronged would be?

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