3 Positive Cultural Shifts Triggered by Millennials

written by LUKE January 14, 2017
3 Positive Things about Millennials

Entitled, lazy, unreliable these are just a few of the common terms used to describe the millennial generation. Fair or not the generation born from 1980 to 2000 is viewed within a certain lens and often portrayed with a negative stereotype. There are elements of truth in these labels, however, it would be easy and short-sighted to focus on lazy stereotypes and ignore the progress that millennials are creating in society, business and culture. Arguably the most educated generation in history, millennials have quite a different perspective on environmental issues, institutional systems, and consumerism than previous generations. Millennials value experience over stuff and studies show that millennials value happiness over stuff. They tend to think of happiness as the new success as shown in this Forbes article:

“Happiness is the New Success: Why Millennials Are reprioritizing”

In the article, Lisa Curtis talks about the ladder to success.

The Ladder:

College → Good job → Marriage → House → Family → Cushy Retirement.

This was the well-established path to the American Dream, but this perspective is starting to change. Culture is shifting and climbing the success ladder is no longer the only path to a successful life. Millennials are breaking all the rules and helping to redefine the meaning of success.

I believe there are three main areas in which millennials are helping to shift and shape our modern culture.

1: Career/Life Balance

Millennials don’t want to spend their whole lives working, they believe in a balance between working and enjoying life. Hard working Gen Xers and baby boomers often scoff at this type of wishful thinking, believing that everyone should pay their dues and embark on the long hard treacherous climb of the success ladder. While there are exceptions to this generalization, as a whole these concepts define these generations. There are many things to learn from previous generations (work ethic and principle being a just a few), however just because one principle and definition of success was accepted at one point in time doesn’t mean it fully translates to the modern-day. Previous generations bought into the “American dream” and were willing to work that extra 10-20 hours a week to get that promotion or make that extra $300.

Millennials want their jobs to be more than just making money, getting a promotion or climbing the ladder and if their current job doesn’t fit their passions, they are more likely to pursue a “side hustle” than work extra hours at a job they aren’t passionate about. The “side hustle” is a business, hobby or passion that someone pursues on their own time developing it into an income producer with the hopes that it will make enough money that the person will be able to quit their main job and pursue the “side hustle” full-time.

Terms like solopreneur, digital nomad, freelancer and even ‘Instagram girl’ are among the many words used to describe these “side hustles”. Hours of hard work and time are invested in order to create a successful “side hustle.” Millennials, though, don’t mind working hard if it fits within their passions or if the project is working towards creating a better world. According to Iconoculture, 35% of millennials have started their own side hustle to pursue their dreams and according to the US Chamber of Commerce over 25% are self-employed. Millennials are changing the way we do work and are challenging the long-accepted 9-5, 40 hour work week mentality. It makes you wonder what will be the norm 40 years from now.

2: Consumerism

Millennials also have a different perspective on consumerism and are steering culture towards a post-consumerism era. There has been a growing movement of concepts such as: buying local, buying quality, owning less, promoting eco-friendly and fair trade products and making sustainable and ethical material choices. Post-consumerism is defined as a suggestion that well-being is more important and vital to life than material success. Consumerism focuses on stuff and follows the quote attributed to Malcolm Forbes: “he who dies with the most toys wins“. As the American dream evolved through the generations, American greed evolved and people bought bigger houses, bigger cars, more clothes and more and more stuff.

Millennials are breaking away from this approach, partially forced due to the economic downturn that this generation has had to deal with. There are a few different economic issues facing millennials such as rising housing costs, environmental limits, increased post-secondary costs and a population boom resulting in more competition for fewer jobs. Research from the 2012 National Financial Capability Study showed that 2 out of 3 millennials have at least one area of long-term debt. The 2008 global financial crash brought a mini depression and financial crisis that affected many especially millennials.

The crash came about largely because of the housing market. Thanks to increasing debt and the rise of housing costs the only way many could afford to buy a house was through subprime mortgages (mortgages targeted towards those with a poor credit rating and lack of savings). In the early 2000s the subprime mortgage market began to explode and as lending increased, the interest rates began increasing as well and a crash was inevitable. In late 2008 this crash occurred. Many people lost their homes, lost their jobs as the market harshly corrected itself. The world economy is still recovering and adjusting from this fallout.

Millennials, many in their 20s when this economic downturn occurred, had to adjust and adapt to a different world. Millennials were forced to adjust their expectations and aspirations and find different solutions. One concept that has really caught on is: ‘Borrowing instead of owning’. Companies like Uber and Zipcar have taken advantage of this and provide great services. Don’t own a car? Not a problem. You can find these companies in most major North American cities (Uber you can find all over the world). Simply arrange for a pickup with these guys and you can either get a ride to your destination or use a car when you need it. You’ll save on insurance, vehicle maintenance, and gas. Your children need some toys? Rent Lego, Barbie’s or dinosaurs at pley.com which is an online toy rental company. Don’t want to pay a monthly fee for an office space? Consider companies like Regus or PivotDesk which rent and provide office space for much cheaper and let you choose how often you need the space.

It isn’t just the economic downturn that is causing millennials to look beyond consumerism. Growing movements like minimalism, environmentalism, and the fair trade movement are taking root in our world.

Minimalism can be defined as living with fewer possessions and choosing the possessions that you have carefully and mindfully. Every purchase or possession that you own should bring value and enjoyment to your world. There is an interesting documentary on minimalism by “the minimalists” and these guys define minimalism as this:

“Minimalism is a tool to rid yourself of life’s excess in favor of focusing on what’s important—so you can find happiness, fulfillment, and freedom.”

Environmentalism at its best shows care and concern for our planet. Eco-friendly products, brands, and regulations are rising up creating mindful products that don’t hurt the environment and implementing standards on businesses in order to protect the environment.

Fair trade as defined by the World Fair Trade Organization is:

“A trading partnership, based on dialogue, transparency, and respect, that seeks greater equity in international trade. It contributes to sustainable development by offering better trading conditions to, and securing the rights of, marginalized producers and workers – especially in the South.

Fair Trade organizations have a clear commitment to Fair Trade as the principal core of their mission. They, backed by consumers, are engaged actively in supporting producers, awareness raising and in campaigning for changes in the rules and practice of conventional international trade.”

A recent global online study done by Nielson found that millennials are the most likely to pay extra for sustainable products with almost 3 in 4 willing to pay more. According to this study, this sustainable awareness is trickling into other generations as baby boomers are more willing than every before to pay more for eco-friendly and sustainable products. There is no doubt that society is moving towards a post-consumerist era and the businesses and entrepreneurs that get on board with this movement will be the ones that find success going forward. Millennials are running with all these concepts and will be the ones that push for a greener, fairer and more ethical world. Let’s hope that they succeed and other generations continue to get on board as well!

3: Millennials love to Give Back

Millennials are changing the landscape of charity and are more likely to volunteer for a non-profit organization than the previous 2 generations. According to a recent Millennial Impact Report, 75% of young people donated to causes and up to 63% gave their time to volunteer. Millennials give less money than previous generations however they give more of their time and are more invested in charities.

While a picture of a sick child or barren lands with empty wells may have worked as a guilt tactic to make previous generations give, millennials have a more diplomatic and investigative method on deciding which organization to support and give time or money to. 90% of polled millennials responded by saying that they will investigate an organization’s mission statement before giving to their cause. Millennials are the google generation with tons of information just a click away, which makes it easy to research anyone or any business at any time. Millennials want information but also want accountability and transparency. They are the first generation to grow up with their lives on the internet, exposing who they are and what they are all about to people across the globe.

Millennials expect transparency from businesses and non-profits. A charity should prove that their money goes directly to the cause and not just hidden costs or a majority of funds going towards administration such as employee salaries and other expenses. Without this transparency, millennials are more hesitant to buy into the cause.

One great example of a thriving modern-day non-profit is Charity Water founded by Scott Harrison. Harrison was a former nightclub promoter in NYC who admits that he used to get people drunk to make a living. However, his life was changed during a two-year move to Liberia in which he worked as a photojournalist. He was exposed to suffering and specifically suffering due to a lack of clean water. It wasn’t an ad on TV that changed Harrison, it was experiencing the suffering for himself. This experience caused him to launch Charity Water and he has used his background as a nightclub promoter to promote his non-profit in a new fresh way.

Harrison recognized the jaded view towards charities by millennials and sought out to change the model in which non-profits operate. Baby boomers have long been the biggest funders of charities and non-profits and current charities face the task of how to engage with millennials and spark an interest in giving. Harrison has worked towards creating an interactive and transparent model trying to establish trust with potential donors and volunteers. Instead of asking people for their money, Charity Water asks people for their voice. He created a platform called mycharity:water, which encourages people to raise their own funds in creative ways. The average age of mycharity users is 33 and most donations come in under $100. Millennials may not give in large amounts like baby boomers do however what you do get with millennials is quantity. There is a large percentage of millennials that believe in giving back and carrying their individual social responsibility. Millennials may be giving less money per donation, but there are more millennials giving.

Charity Water also boasts that it gives 100% of donations directly towards their projects. All employee salary and business expenses are paid for by private donors of Charity Water. For millennials, it is a big deal knowing that your money goes directly to helping and this kind of transparency will hopefully become the norm for charities moving forward.

I hope you enjoyed my thoughts on millennials and how they are shaping our society and helping culture move forward. If you have any thoughts, corrections or insights feel free to leave a comment and express your opinions on millennials and the effect they are having on this world!

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  • Shelbi Samuelson

    I love this. I definitely think every generation has their strengths and weaknesses. 🙂

    Shelbi | Urban Girl’s Closet

  • Isaac Knuuttila

    Nice post…. So many millennials are ridiculously hard workers, but previous generations are incapable of comprehending the shift in economics that has completely flopped the work opportunities and the types of jobs available to make a living for one’s self, and are there for incapable of recognizing when someone is actually working very hard.

    Also yes such a good point that we are sick of marketers trying to falsely sell us for their own gains sake.

    Also agree with Shelbi.

    • Hey Isaac, two months later lol. It’s so true, many of us working extremely hard just in a different way than generations before.

  • Love this, I just had pictures of my Dad being like “Work hard. Then continue to work hard, Jennfer!”, it’s like if you weren’t miserable working your ass off you weren’t serious about life. Millenials have questioned this model, and want to find a different way, and I love that.

    I am also in love with this idea of minimalism, because that gradually flattening graphical curve of happiness correlated to possessions is real! I watched a tiny house the other day, and the family had a 5,000 sqft house, the house of their dreams, but then didn’t ever know where any of their children were in it at any one time, it was almost awkward spending time together, an expectation of rejection. When they moved to the tiny house, the family were forced together and cried when it was taken away from them and they were sent back to the misery of their massive house.

    Sometimes we chase things because we feel we should, Millennials have fought hard to break this mould and continue to do so. Thanks, Luke, for your insights, and the reminder that we’re doing alright.

    • Thanks for the positive feedback Jennifer! Appreciate it. I sometimes feel guilty if I’m not working 10 hour days out in the cold and miserable as hell! Ha-ha how stupid is that. I’m certainly trying to take the good aspects of hard work and apply it to finding a different way and model. Tiny houses are so cool! Looove them, want to build one one day.