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Culture

Do millennials really have it worse than the baby boomer generation?

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Popular opinion among young people states that we have a much bleaker future than our parents did - but is this the whole story?

Anna Freeman

25 Abril 2018 18:09

Photo credit: Clem Onojeghuo

‘We’re all fucked!’ the popular narrative goes.

We millennials seemingly can’t afford to buy houses, will probably be working till we die (if we even get a job), the impending climate crisis will be our cross to bear, and our brains are mush from constant scrolling, swiping, hashtagging. The preceding generation - the so-called ‘baby boomers’ - had it easy, so goes the theory, filled with the riches we can no longer obtain thanks to that damn pesky avocado addiction.

Is this the whole story? No. Of course not. Fetishising the generations that came before us, and the opportunity and moral fibre it yielded, is a signature trend of all cultural changes since the dawn of time. I don’t know about you, but I find Generation Z (people born from the mid-1990s to the early 2000s) absolutely infuriating - there’s more to life than YouTubers, the gym and Kylie Jenner, OK? I am being somewhat facetious, but it proves an important point about moments of social reckoning: we all think our generation is better than the next, and we all think the one that came before us had a superior sense of being.

The baby boomer cohort - those born roughly between the 1940s and mid 60s - was basically the ultimate emblem of capitalism and the American dream. House prices were low, wages were rising, and prosperity among the middle and upper classes spurred a world of excessive consumerism. Population increase afforded more opportunity, not less, as is argued to be the case now, and it was a glorious moment in the sun where life was just fucking peachy. Except, that just isn’t true.

If you were a woman, black, hispanic, Native American, gay, trans, poor, childless - or anything other than white heteronormative - life could be, to put it bluntly, a nightmare. When we talk about ‘who had it better’ it has an uncomfortable bourjois and privileged tinge. Life was only the great American dream, or the equivalent in other western countries, if you had money - and if you were the white, straight ideal.

Nostalgia is a powerful and deceptive sentiment. But it can also bore resentment. Inter-generational bashing has now become a cultural given in 2018. Common thought says baby boomers are the fat cats who ravaged the world for economic gain, destroyed the planet, and now sit back in early retirement counting their massive state-sponsored pensions. Millennials are spoiled, entitled, lazy, mollycoddled, over-stressed, but who can blame them after being handed such a bad deal after their parents’ generation?

I find this polarised thinking absolutely infuriating. And the victim label us young people wear like a badge of honour isn’t actually going to help affect change. Sure, there is a sense of debilitating powerlessness among millennials in the face of great challenges (youth homelessless and unemployment, climate change, mental health and technology, to name a few) and yes, they have largely been caused by the unsustainable greed of our predecessors, but in many ways we have never had it so good.

We will probably never be as rich as our parents, but who gives a fuck? Thinking that maximum profit equals maximum quality of life is what got us into this mess in the first place. Is extravagant wealth and getting on the property ladder the only barometer for wellbeing and cultural success? I hardly think so.

If we’re over capitalism, like this Harvard Institute of Politics poll suggests, and from basically every conversation I have with my peers, we need to stop equating life’s successes with monetary gain and look at wealth as a means to social equality. Cue all the articles proclaiming millennials have never had it so bad because we’re earning less, because we’re ‘generation rent’ and ‘generation child-free’, that fail to take into consideration the momentous shift in liberties we have gained along the way.

Although the trade-off can be crippling at times, and it has created a spate of economic and social problems, I would personally still choose less financial freedom and an uncertain future to live in a time where I can fuck who I want, choose a career path, decide whether to have a child and get married, travel the world, speak up against sexual harassment, engage in greater understandings about mental health, see my LGBTQIA friends and family live in less fear, and dream of a world where white is no longer the default. But that is just my opinion.

There is a long way to go, but I wouldn’t give up my place in time for anything. Tying ourselves to the coattails of generations that came before us takes away our power as a separate entity. Blaming the baby boomers for our future misfortune is, in the immortal words of Baz Luhrmann, ‘as effective as trying to solve an algebra equation by chewing bubblegum’.

What we need is collectivism, activism, strength of conviction, and perhaps most importantly, optimism, if we’re going to tackle huge problems that undeniably exist. If the baby boomer generation created the cult of individualism and greed, let’s put less emphasis on wealth and more on pleasure, fun, education, equality, protest; whatever gets you excited.

Anyways brb, I’m off to binge-watch cooking shows on Netflix in my rented apartment. Because ain’t life fucking grand?

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