Millennials, those born roughly from 1985 to 2000 who are now 18 to 33, have been identified as the source of all kinds of social maladies. Millennials are purported to be self-absorbed, lazy and irreverent. Millennials make terrible workers because they are demanding and immature.
Compare today’s young adults to George Bailey of the iconic Christmas movie “It’s a Wonderful Life.” George took an executive position in the family business after graduating from high school and continued to make sacrifices for his family and community. Unlike George, making sacrifices is supposedly alien to millennials. However, unlike George—who would at times, eat, drink and smoke with gusto—the millennials are a bunch of health nuts hell-bent on forcing the rest of the world to accommodate their idiosyncratic habits.
As college professors who regularly interact with millennials, we assure you the above-mentioned stereotypes are rather exaggerated. Most of us were self-absorbed and clueless in young adulthood. Yet there is a seed of truth in this characterization of today’s 20- to 30-year-olds—and it’s not because our culture or civilization has failed. Rather, it has to do with the simple fact of extended life expectancy.
When George Bailey was born around 1910, life expectancy was 51 years. The at-birth life expectancy of a millennial born in 1994 was 76 years. When Bailey was born, his chance of making it to 65 was just below 50 percent. Today, the chances are 88 percent. Today’s youngsters rationally expect a longer and healthier life than did their forbears. It isn’t surprising this influences their behavior.
If 60 is a venerable old age—then one had better get going early on. However, when 60 is more like midlife, it makes sense to waste around until age 30. Moreover, if one is likely to make it to 90, who wants to repeat Grandpa’s late-life lamentation: “Had I known I was going to live this long, I would have taken better care of myself.”? Throw out the cigarettes and red meat and bring on the tofu and gym membership.
All generations worry and irritate their elders. Ancient Roman poet Horace complained, “The beardless youth … does not foresee what is useful…” Old Horace was probably onto something, but the millennials’ longer time horizon is a game changer.•
Bohanon and Curott are professors of economics at Ball State University. Send comments to email@example.com.