Talk of Millennials conjures twenty-somethings frittering away their gig-economy wages on avocados and craft beer. But in reality, some of those we call Millennials are now closing in on 40.
Perhaps more alarmingly, many of the next generation (Post-Millennials? Gen Z’s? - the verdict’s still out on an official name) are now old enough to drink, vote and go to university.
These classifications, along with Gen-X and Baby Boomers, are bandied around a lot. But how were they determined? What are the exact cut-off points for each one? And why were these points in time chosen?
The Pew Research Centre in the United States has recently decreed that Millenials are those born in the period 1981-1996 – the 1996 cutoff being important as it recognised a generation “old enough to have experienced and comprehend 9/11, while also finding their way through the 2008 recession as young adults”.
“As we enter 2018, it’s become clear to us that it’s time to determine a cut-off point between Millennials and the next generation,” wrote Michael Dimock, President of Pew Research Centre.
“Most Millennials were between the ages of 5 and 20 when the (September 11) terrorist attacks shook the (United States), and many were old enough to comprehend the historical significance of that moment, while most post-Millennials have little or no memory of the event.”
Dimock also lists the GFC, the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars, the election of Barack Obama, and increasing racial and ethnic diversity of the generation as helping shape the world view of the Millennial.
One of the other major shapers, Dimock argues, is technology, saying “the rapid evolution of how people communicate and interact is another generation-shaping consideration.”
The Boomers had television, for Gen-X it was computers, and Millennials the internet.
“In this progression,” Dimock says, “what is unique for post-Millennials is that all of the above have been part of their lives from the start.
“The iPhone launched in 2007, when the oldest post-Millennials were 10.
“Social media, constant connectivity and on-demand entertainment and communication are innovations Millennials adapted to as they came of age.
“For those born after 1996, these are largely assumed.”
So these are pretty American definitions. Do they apply to New Zealand?
“Yes and no,” says Distinguished Professor Paul Spoonley, Pro Vice-Chancellor at Massey University in Auckland.
“My own preference would be to cut off at either 1998 or 2000, but the actual year is neither here nor there. The point is that there are shifts in how a generation both experiences and shapes the world that is real and important – and quite different from previous generations.
“The Pew view is formed by American experiences. There are some experiences which are common throughout the world – 9/11, technology – but there are also others which are particular to the US – Trump as their first President when they come of voting age.
“For example, in New Zealand, ethnic diversity began to change in the mid-1990s (after changes to immigration policy in 1986-87), but it has been since the end of the GFC in 2012 that ethnic and immigrant diversity really changed even more significantly.
“The Millennials have experienced much more diversity than previous generations in New Zealand, but those born after 2000, even more so by quite a factor.
“There are also some quite distinct patterns emerging. For example, Millennial women in New Zealand, especially those that are degree qualified and who are employed, are really changing the pattern of fertility in New Zealand.
“Of course, it is too early to see what will occur by subsequent generations.”