“Millennials Don’t Care About Money”

The New York Times is out with its latest catch-all piece on how strange and different the millennial mindset is from the rest of the nation.

I straddle the fence between Gen X and the millennials; born in ’77, I have way more in common with the millennials than with the “slackers” and Gen Xers who were born in the early 1960’s and think Caddyshack is the pinnacle of comedy. From my vantage point, I can tell you that some of the insights shared in the piece are spot-on while others confuse a difference in ages for a difference in attitudes.

Take this howler, which you’ve probably seen repeated elsewhere in some version or another:

Consider the approach many take to the workplace. Thanks to the 2008 economic crash, millennials know how fleeting wealth can be. Their solution? For many, it is to acquire not more, but less.

“Almost two-thirds (64 percent) of millennials said they would rather make $40,000 a year at a job they love than $100,000 a year at a job they think is boring,” the Brookings Institution recently noted in a report by Morley Winograd and Michael Hais titled “How Millennials Could Upend Wall Street and Corporate America.”

This is clever but misleading. Those “almost two-thirds” of millennials also don’t have children of their own yet, nor do they have mortgages in most cases. In general, they are in their twenties and responsible to no one but themselves – for the moment. Call me when that changes and tell me if they’re any different from any other generation before them, in the aggregate.

They won’t be.

And once this generation hits its mid-30’s, we’ll finally see the all-important household formation process kick into high gear – perhaps the only thing that will truly rescue the economy from lullsville, the one ingredient that’s been missing so far.

I think this will happen, despite all the zeitgeist articles about how millennials don’t give a shit about money and just want to be able to pogo-stick their way to the open-plan, non-traditional office space so they can hack-a-thon all night on their wireless devices, fueled by energy drinks and dreams of a sequined hoodie. It’s largely nonsense.

Besides, this is a generation whose most notable cultural icon is the mega-billionaire uber-capitalist hustler Mark Zuckerberg, not Jack Kerouac or John Lennon or Kurt Cobain. Let’s stop pretending that people born between 1980 and 2000 have some kind of mythical, altruistic ethos that frees them from the shackles of need and want that the rest of us have been encumbered with since the dawn of time.

Give it a rest.

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