Nature v. Nurture and the Millennial Generation

The millennial generation is labeled as lazy and entitled. We forego the American dream of marriage, two-story home with garage, and well paying nine to five jobs, to still live with our parents and pursue alternative career options.

I believe the generation that raised us, mostly baby boomers, taught us a solid work ethic and instilled core values into our fabric of being. The truth is we are not lazy or entitled; we are just different. The classic debate of nature vs. nurture undertones our generational experience as we were raised with the American values of hard work and perseverance, but the world has become less stable and full scale revolutions in the workplace from technology to manufacturing have taken place.

The financial crisis of 2008 left my generation with PTSD and a host of trust issues. The first wave of millennials were graduating college and prepping to enter the work force just as the economic infrastructure of the United States was failing. The housing market, which could be relied upon with the same certainty that the sun sets in the west, collapsed.

The waves of millennials graduating from college after the recession find that jobs paying a wage that justify the tens of thousands of dollars in student loan debt are scarce. Slave labor has been repackaged as “unpaid internships”, promising to give college graduates who don’t know better a foot in the door. For entry level jobs, and jobs requiring a few years of experience, wages have remained stagnant; while rent and cost of living increases are swift.

The combining economic factors of cheap foreign labor and automation has shrunk the availability of work for millennials who decided not to go to college. This disproportionately affects millennial males. Women outnumber men in college enrollments, in 2012 by 10% with 71% of women enrolled in college compared to 61% of males.

Manufacturing, construction, and transportation were once reliable industries that non-college educated men could make a good living in. Humans have almost entirely been removed from manufacturing products, and automation is set to do the same in construction and transportation.

We were nurtured to play by rules that governed a different era, and nature has turned all of those ideas on their head. Staying true to biology, we have adapted as a generation – by becoming mobile, less committed, and more entrepreneurial than previous generations.

According to a new survey 43% of millennials moved away from their hometown and 44% said they moved to a more densely populated city than where they grew up. The most common response for moving was jobs, concentrated in big cities where tech industries have blossomed. Nearly half the respondents said they were likely to move in the next year.

As a generation of transients, commitment to a geographic area or city is not an ideal that has been successfully passed down. Millennials have a lower rate of home ownership than other generations did at the same age. The shift in our economy away from manufacturing towards technology has created a pivot in the geographic locale of labor demand; cities like Detroit and others of the rust belt have been traded for tech boomers like San Francisco and Atlanta.

Seventeen years into the twenty first century and it feels like we are closer to a world of the Jetsons than we are to the pre-internet era. The millennial generation is the great guinea pig of history bridging the gap between two periods of time that are as different as the dark ages and the renaissance, and will be studied by future historians as so. We struggle to stay true to the ideals of our forefathers while living in a world our forefathers couldn’t have imagined.

I’m Optimistic and You Should Be Too.

Emotions can only be observed by being a participant in the process, by looking into the eyes of others, and talking with them about their happiness, sadness, joys and fears. The feelings and experiences I have as a millennial man and those I observe in others around me are the wild card factors that can’t exactly be quantified. They can’t be measured, put on a line graph or pie chart.

What I took away from this past election was that those factors were significantly more important than the numbers. The numbers showed a Clinton victory, some by a significant margin. The Moody Analytics model, which had correctly predicted every presidential race since 1980, had Clinton winning by 126 electoral votes over Donald Trump.

But what the data always fails to show are the faces behind those numbers; the men and women who are more than just a point on a graph. In this time of modern technology, with analytics and algorithms relied upon to predict unpredictable human behavior, we lost sight of the human element that was at play in the grand scheme.

For my fellow millennials, whether the election went your way or not, I encourage you to continue to be optimistic for the future.

The Pew Research Center in April of 2016 showed our generation matching the baby boomers as the largest generation demographic able to vote. According to exit polls 18-29 year olds voted for Clinton 55% to 37%, with a five point Republican gain over the last election.[1]

We are the largest, most diverse, highest educated generation in the history of the country. In the next presidential election we will surpass the baby boomers as the largest generation able to vote. We are also the most technologically savvy generation. Given these demographic advantages and the amount of information we have the ability to access, one could make the argument that we will be better informed and critical of the candidates that are put forth to us, keeping them more accountable and more honest than they have been in the past.

However, as the largest generation, it is our responsibility to begin the healing process that the country so desperately needs right now.

This election was a testament to what we all knew. We are living during a time in which our country is more divided than we have ever been. It brought to the surface all of the wild card factors, and revealed just how deep the divisions really are.

This election drew lines along, race, sex, socioeconomic class, and geography. It is now clearer than ever that we truly live in two, maybe more, Americas. Emotions are high on all fronts and to the degree we can come together and work together, is to the degree we will heal.

I woke up Wednesday morning and saw protests all over the country. Many of them were on high school and college campuses, in large cities from coast to coast.

As a student of history, and as one who holds in the highest regards the processes that make our democracy great, I believe that protest is a healthy and necessary function of a thriving democracy.

But what I saw was much of the angry, hateful, intolerant sentiments we saw on the campaign trail repackaged and delivered. Many times by the same people who were preaching tolerance and unity barely a month ago. My Facebook feed was littered with knockdown, drag out arguments between friends, neighbors, and colleagues. I saw #Notourpresident on social media, television, and on signs held by students in the streets. The “They go low, we go high” rhetoric went out the window before all of the votes were even counted.

While the future looks bright, this looks like the same old infighting we really need to get past.

Although I have no more insight than the next guy on what the Trump administration will do, I have a few suspicions and hopes. The rhetoric and image Trump used to get votes was successful in getting him elected, but won’t suffice in running the country. I think Donald Trump the president will be much different than Donald Trump the candidate, much to the disappointment of his supporters; and if worse comes to worst, the Republicans don’t have the super majority necessary to block a filibuster in the Senate.

I did not vote for Donald Trump (I didn’t vote for Hillary Clinton either for the record). Living in California, my state was going blue regardless of who I voted for. But the fact of the matter is he’s the president elect. That’s it, case closed. Contrary to the hash tags, he is our president. When he is sworn in he will be sworn to protect, preserve, and defend the Constitution of the United States. It’s time to move on and begin to heal.

As millennials it’s important that we don’t lose sight of the big picture here. The future is bright not just for us, but also for the country as a whole. The world is changing, which creates fear, but I think our generation is one that embraces change. However, the great responsibilities we have, start now. They start with how we treat one another in these coming months and years. They rest on how well we begin our healing process, and most importantly, how we learn to love each other again.

[1] http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2016/11/08/us/politics/election-exit-polls.html?_r=0

Also published  on Good Men Project