I've said it before and I'll say it again: no one sells books, lands lucrative speaking gigs, or gets hired as a consultant to point out people are all pretty much the same.
It's touting difference (and explaining what to do about it) that makes you money, which might go a long way towards explaining why gurus of all stripes are so keen to tell us how wildly different the so-called Millennial generation is from their predecessors. (I admit that I speak from experience.)
Read and believe everything out there on the supposed traits and preferences of young people, and you'd come away thinking those aged 18-35 are basically a separate species. And not a very nice one. Entitled, disloyal, incompetent, fragile, young people have been called a series of names that would probably provoke a fist fight in a different setting.
The only trouble with this cottage industry in proclaiming and explaining the difference between young and old? As author and entrepreneur Richie Norton points out on Medium recently, the vast majority of these claims have been thoroughly debunked by science.
While there certainly may be some subtle changes in outlook or life circumstances between young people and their parents and grandparents, they're nowhere near as large or as numerous as many "experts" would have you believe, and Norton has rounded up the evidence to prove it. He runs through a massive list of 14 unflattering myths about Millennials, offering links and quotes to disprove each. Here's a taste:
1. Millennials are way different than other generations.
To debunk this first and most fundamental myth Norton cites two sources. The first is an article in the The Economist, which explains that people all "want roughly the same things regardless of when they were born: to be given interesting work to do, to be rewarded on the basis of their contributions and to be given the chance to work hard and get ahead."
The second is Pew Research showing that, income-wise at least, Millennials are pretty similar to where previous generations were at the same age: Here's median household income (in 2013 dollars) for each group when they were 18-33:
- Boomers: $60,068
- Gen Xers: $63,365
- Millennials: $61,003
2. Millennials are unsatisfied at work.
Nope, this one isn't true either. "Compared to Boomers and Gen Xers, Millennials reported higher levels of overall company and job satisfaction, satisfaction with job security, recognition, and career development and advancement, but reported similar levels of satisfaction with pay and benefits and the work itself, and turnover intentions," claims research in the Journal of Business and Psychology cited by Norton.
3. Millennials are disloyal.
"Contrary to popular perceptions Millennials actually stay with their employers longer than Generation X workers did at the same ages... Millennials are less likely to have been with their employer for less than a year than Generation X workers were at the same age, and they are more likely to have been with their employer for a fairly long period like 3 to 6 years," points out The White House's 15 Economic Facts About Millennials (which is currently unavailable, presumably due to the transition to the new administration, but you'd think the facts remain the same.)
4. Millennials are lazy.
I've debunked this myth myself previously. But here's a quote from the latest researcher to disprove this unfortunate stereotype that really drives the point home: "The finding that generational differences in the Protestant work ethic do not exist suggests that organizational initiatives aimed at changing talent management strategies and targeting them for the 'very different' millennial generation may be unwarranted and not a value added activity."
Or, if you want more evidence, here's what The Economist says about this one: "CEB, a consulting firm, polls 90,000 American employees each quarter. It finds that the Millennials among them are in fact the most competitive: 59 percent of them, in the latest poll, said competition is 'what gets them up in the morning,' compared with 50 percent of baby-boomers."
In fact, some evidence points to the fact that, if Millennials differ from other generations at all, it might be that they're more workaholic (though whether that's by choice or economic necessity is another question).
5. Millennials are financially illiterate.
Well, this one might be half true. Young folks aren't awesome at financial planning, but then again, neither is any other generation on average.
A survey by the firm of respected financial advisor David Ramsey of more than 1,000 Americans found that Millennials "are not that far behind many of those who are closest to retirement. Nearly 60 percent of Millennials have less than $10,000 saved for retirement, but roughly half of Baby Boomers are in the same boat, despite the fact that this generation has had as much as half a century to save," reports Norton.