The myths of millennials plague our news streams, telling us how the generation has single-handedly killed everything from napkins to relationships. The fightback has been warranted and tough, with many millennials blaming their parents or grandparents — the baby boomers — for many of the financial, social and environmental problems they face today. Even if the pushback against different age groups can get extreme, generational gaps only seem to be getting bigger.
Who Are Millennials and Baby Boomers?
“Millennials” has become a catch-all for newer, younger generations, but the term is technically limited to those born between 1981 to 1996 (the exact years may change from one definition to another). Today, these individuals are usually between 23 and 38, while their Baby Boomer counterparts are typically 55 to 73.
Baby Boomers are named for the post World War II “baby boom” and are born between 1946 and 1964. They make up about 76 million people; there are 95 million millennials. While neither of these figures beat the enormous size Generation Z — that takes up a quarter of the population — they’re the top two generations in the U.S. electorate population, trumping the voting-age-appropriate Gen X stock.
While the Boomers near typical retirement age, they’re working longer than those before them. In 2017, workers aged 55 or older still made up a quarter of the working population, while millennials took the lead — over Gen Xers — at 35 percent.
Key Differences in Work Styles and Habits
Baby Boomers are very loyal to their company, while Millennials are loyal to what they’re working on. A baby boomer is very likely to stay with one company for their entire career or for a majority of their work life; millennials may bounce around from one place to another to find work. This “bouncing around” is estimated to occur less than every three years, when millennials leave their current position to pursue better work opportunities elsewhere.
Work seems to claim less in-office time, which may be a product of the millennial work-style. Millennials are more open to working remotely, often working from home, in a coffee shop or wherever there’s wifi. Being more comfortable with technology and independent, they enjoy flexibility with their work schedule and can produce valuable content even through online communication. Baby boomers prefer to be on site. They thrive when conversing in person and often communicate in a direct and driven fashion. They value face-to-face interactions in the professional world.
3. Working with Others
Baby Boomers tend to be team-oriented. They are successful in group projects and assignments where extensive communication with coworkers is needed. While working in groups isn’t necessarily a Millennial’s pain point, they are often individualistic and prefer to work alone. If Baby Boomers are team players, Millennials tend to thrive in the solitary sport.
Millennials aren’t working simply to enjoy their paycheck. When looking for a new career opportunity, their decision is swayed by their passions and goals rather than on logistical requirements. They want jobs that can teach them, help them grow and make a difference. Baby Boomers may also value their work but often prioritize stability and security when making a job selection.
As part of the older crowd at the office, Baby Boomers often may want to lead and provide mentorship opportunities at work. When they just began their careers, however, they often did not outright seek mentorship opportunities. Millennials crave mentorship, specifically in the form of direct feedback from their superiors. Because they place emphasis on the value of their work, the desire for results and criticism is especially high. Baby Boomers don’t always appreciate the same type of constant feedback and instead prefer independent, private work when completing a task.
Baby Boomers believe that experience is the king of the workforce. If a Baby Boomer has been working at their company for a long time, she may believe this time commitment should earn her authority or a promotion; it’s not necessarily about how well you serve but rather how long you serve. Millennials associate the same authority and promotion with hard work and significant contributions to the company, regardless of age or relevant experience.
Millennials may be more comfortable with technology, which can make simple tasks easier, faster and more efficient than doing them traditionally by hand. However, the same technology — or other devices with which they’re comfortable — can undermine their work ethic and productivity. While 90 percent of boomers have Facebook profiles, Millennials often let social media affect their productivity at work and risk becoming less engaged.
Millennials vs. Baby Boomers: Lifestyles
Millennials are more educated than their parents and grandparents, with nearly 40 percent boasting a bachelor’s degree or higher to their name. About 15 percent fewer Baby Boomers hold the same type of degree; more of the generation consisted of high school graduates (40 percent), while those with just high school degrees make up 25 percent of the Millennial generation.
Both men and women are more educated, and with Millennials comes the second generation in which more women have a completed a bachelor’s degree when compared to men. In the early Boomer generation (1982), 21 percent of women had graduated with a bachelor’s degree or higher; in 2018, 43 percent of Millennial woman had accomplished the same feat, compared to 36 percent of men.
Baby Boomers had accumulated slightly more wealth than millennials at their age. This is mainly due to increased debt for the later generation; more Millennials have ongoing student debt. As the price of a college education has increased, so has the amount of debt millennial students owe.
While education can lead to debt, it has a larger impact on income for millennials. The income gap between those without a college education and those with one has dramatically increased, especially for Millennials able to obtain a Master’s degree. Household income has an even greater disparity, with those bachelor’s degrees or higher having household incomes of over $50,000 more than their high-school-graduate counterparts.
Millennials with some or no education outside of high school, however, fall lower on the income scale than the Baby Boomers at their age. Those with some college or less education made an average of $36,000, while Baby Boomers at the same age made $38,900.
Baby Boomers began to grow up with vast and quick improvements in the medical field, yet often define “healthy” as not being sick. Millennials are more likely to include daily life habits in their definition of healthy, specifically eating well Nine out of 10 Millennials believe that healthy eating is one of the main points of wellness, compared to just over one out of 10 Baby Boomers (12 percent).
They’re often held responsible for leading the charge in recent food preferences, such a dairy-free, gluten-free, vegan, vegetarian and natural options. They’re actively fighting against food industries that hide their food practices and supporting locally-sourced food options instead.
Yet while the fight for healthy eating practices wages on, Millennials are less active and more obese than earlier populations. New technology has lead to an increase in sedentary behavior and can have negative effects on sleep, stress levels and emotional wellbeing.
Sixty-seven percent of Baby Boomers were married when they were between the ages of 25 to 37, compared with under half of the Millennial generation. Millennials are part of the shift to marriage later in life, but the share of adults who never married is also increasing with their generation. According to Pew Research, it’s predicted that a quarter of adults will have never been married by the time they reach their 40s or 50s.
Millennials are slower in forming their own households and starting their own families. They are likely to remain in their parents’ home for longer stretches than generations before them. When Millennials do have children, they’re having them later in life; however, they still account for the majority of annual U.S. births. Their children (Generation Z and beyond) are on track to be the most diverse and educated generation yet.
The battle between the oldies and the youngsters is a war that has been waged regardless of time, place or technological gadgets. These differences can strike a chord between members of various generations, but by understanding the circumstances of distinct upbringings and cultural trends, there can be intergenerational harmony.
Zoë Kaplan is an English major at Wesleyan University in the class of 2020. She writes about women, theater, sports, and everything in between. Read more of Zoë’s work at www.zoëkaplan.com.