'Everything I hate about you ... is because of me?' How Baby Boomers created their own Millennial Monsters
For every opinion piece written blaming the millennial generation for the decline of civilization (just this past year, Millennials have been blamed for ruining everything from the economy and home-financing to push-up bras and paper napkins), there exists an equal number of dissenting perspectives. Chief among the counter arguments is the suggestion that it seems a little premature to label an entire generation as irredeemably contemptible when the oldest among them are only in their early 30s.
Rome was neither built nor destroyed in a day. Anyone blaming only Romans of a certain age when the city state was sacked – first by the Visigoths (410), then the Vandals (455), then the Ostrogoths (546), then the Normans (1084) and then finally the mutinous troops of Holy Roman Emperor Charles V (1527) – would be deemed utterly myopic.
Nonetheless, millennials still get all the bad press. Just don’t equate their love of selfies and the eponymous shade of pink to catastrophic events like the mega asteroid that wiped out the dinosaurs. The title of worst scourge of all to plague the planet isn’t so easily won; it must be earned. To accomplish such a feat takes time. And so, while it may be too soon to point fingers of blame at a generation only now coming into its grown up years, perhaps we might look a little further back – oh, say, to the devil-spawning era between 1946 and 1964.
Let’s take stock of the world as it stands, as brought to us by Baby Boomers. While the generation had more opportunities, wealth, freedom and power than any previous, they managed to squander it all in a matter of decades. Today, we’re dealing with severe economic disparity, catastrophic climate change, broken political systems, spikes in racism and xenophobia and a status quo of fear, anger and hate.
While blaming all of the ills of the world on a single generation would be a case of mistaking causation for correlation, there’s no denying the state of the world has taken an astonishing downturn during the Boomers’ reign. But instead of taking responsibility for the current state of the world, this bloated, all-consuming generation prefers to focus its ire on Millennials – whom they accuse of being selfish, lazy, immoral and entitled among other sins.
However, many of the qualities they find most reprehensible in this younger generation are actually the direct repercussions of their own actions. If Millennials are truly as awful as they’re made out to be, we only have Boomers to thank for raising and nurturing such a Frankenstein generation.
One of the chief complaints Boomers have about Millennials is that they can’t seem to find or keep jobs – let alone careers for life. If you ask Boomers, this is an indication of Millennials’ lazy nature, flakiness and expectation that success be handed to them on a silver platter. However, in reality, Boomers themselves are refusing to buy into the basic tenets of the social contract that kept the revolving doors of the job market working for decades. One of these assumptions is that older workers retire so that younger workers can fill their shoes and begin their climb up the corporate ladder.
Many Boomers refuse to retire at the traditionally expected age. According to a recent Bankers Life study, 40 per cent of Boomers still in the workforce plan to delay retirement past the age of 69, if not indefinitely. Stats Canada reports the number of Canadians working over the age of 55 has increased 12 per cent since 1997 as Boomers age into their late 50s, 60s and early 70s. Previously, the percentage had been on a slow decline since the 1970s. This has created a clog in the workforce preventing younger workers from being hired or promoted to fill positions.
Because of this delay in full-time employment and salary increases, most economists predict Millennials will be the first generation not to out-earn their parents. The Federal Reserve reports Millennials are currently earning a whopping 20 per cent less than Boomers did at the same life stage. This is despite the fact that they comprise the most educated generation in history and are working in an economy that is 70 per cent more productive than when Boomers were in their late 20s and early 30s. The Center for American Progress says that, by all accounts, millennials should be the highest-paid generation in American history. They’re not. Boomers are.
While Statistics Canada doesn’t track the number of unpaid interns in the country, the CLC estimates there are over 300,000 unpaid interns in Ontario alone at any given time. Over the years, these exploitative internships have lasted longer and longer with fewer job prospects at the end of the tunnel.
Many Boomers will eagerly offer unsolicited memories about “paying their dues,” but the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) in the U.S. says that, from the mid-1980s to the mid-2000s, the share of college graduates participating in at least one internship rose from less than 10 per cent to over 80 per cent. Students who have unpaid internships today are barely any more likely to get a job offer (37 per cent) than those who have no internship at all (35 per cent).
Boomers may have held down unglamorous entry-level positions, but they rarely had to work for free. And when they did, there was a much higher chance of it leading to an entire career. Furthermore, they had every possible benefit of being born into the golden age of affluence. Yet they remain utterly opposed to offering subsequent generations anything resembling a leg up – even when the struggles of these generations largely stem from Boomer practices.
When Baby Boomers aren’t on their high horses about Millennials’ apparent failures in the workplace, they point to their shortcomings at home. Not only do large numbers of the younger generation still reside in their parents’ basements, they aren’t getting married and having kids until much later – if they intend to at all.
However, attributing the decline of the traditional family to Millennials gives them way too much discredit. Boomers haven’t just taken to ruining society from their swanky boardrooms and plush rocking chairs in retirement villages, they started long ago when they found themselves getting married and giving birth.
Like many Baby Boomer stats, their divorce rate of more than 50 per cent is unprecedented. This inability to maintain lasting relationships and keep families together also contributed to the mental health crisis faced by their children, who paid the highest emotional price for their parents’ divorces. It sparked a rampant fear of commitment (Tinder’s hookup culture just didn’t create itself), low self-worth, fear of hard conversations and aversion to conflict.
According to a study published in the Journal of Family Psychology, “many young adults from divorced families report a general belief that couples do not have the ability to overcome marital conflicts and that their hypothetical future relationships are likely to fail.” Many of the characteristics that Boomers use to dismiss Millennials as flaky, selfish and soft can actually be linked to lasting mommy and daddy issues.
As for the hordes of Millennials still living in their parents’ basements, this trend can also be put on the Boomer tab. According to the Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corporation (Freddie Mac) in the U.S., Boomers control a whopping 66 per cent of today’s home equity and a majority of them plan to stay in place. Last summer, Freddie Mac’s CEO, David Brickman, stated, “Shifting housing choices by the Baby Boomers may significantly exacerbate the already acute shortage of affordable housing in the years to come.”
They gobbled up real estate at a frantic pace during their younger years, and now refuse to downsize. This has, in part, created what’s fondly referred to as the real estate bubble. Millennials simply can’t afford to enter the market as renters, let alone homeowners. They earn significantly less than Boomers while dealing with the fact that adults under 30 are facing double the inflation rate of any previous generation. Millennials actually spend a higher percentage of their income on rent and bills – more than any generation before them.
Despite the litany of hardships inflicted on Millennials, Boomers still love to gripe about how many handouts and entitlements the younger generation expects. Ironically, no generation has ever been more entitled – and determined to stay that way – than the Boomers who benefited immensely from the post-war economics that created a cushy middle class and ample opportunities for upward mobility.
Just as Boomers benefited immensely from the rise of unions, company retirement plans and generous benefits, Boomer bosses actively deny those same labour rights to younger workers. Generation Progress counts only 5 per cent of workers 16 to 24 as union members and 10 per cent of workers 25 to 35 as members. Meanwhile, nearly half of all union members are between 45 and 64 years old.
This isn’t because Millennials don’t want to be part of unions; a Gallup poll reveals 66 per cent of them approve of unions. Instead, their companies continue to accumulate wealth while they force new generations of employees to subsist on contract work, little to no hope of retirement and dismal access to affordable health services.The Canadian Labour Congress (CLC) reports the majority of workers aged 15-29 are either in part-time work or hold down multiple contracts at a time with no access to the once-standard benefits of full-time work.
Rather than support policies that would ease the burden on young families, Boomers are largely concerning themselves with ensuring their retirement benefits remain well-padded – even if it means increasing hardships placed on their children and grandchildren to pay for those benefits. And the results are having an immediate impact in the likelihood of younger generations building families. Canada’s fertility rate is currently 1.5 children per woman aged 15 to 49, well below the replacement rate of 2.1.
The government realized in the 1990s that the Canadian Pension Plan was not sustainable given the life expectancy and demographics of Canada – and yet, it’s never been dramatically overhauled and entitlements for seniors have never been reduced despite the impossible burden it places on young taxpayers.
In fact, there’s been an increasing Boomer trend of “double-dipping” by continuing to work part-time gigs and collect both paycheques and their pensions. For example, the substitute teaching field used to be populated by fresh grads vying for full-time roles. A Globe and Mail investigation in 2010 found retirees are now returning en masse to substitute teach, costing Ontario taxpayers million of dollars and stealing away jobs from new teachers.
Boomers like to frame themselves as a strong, determined generation that overcame countless struggles. They often view Millennials’ inability to deal with an unstable world, broken social contract and lack of promised opportunities as a sign of collective weakness. However, it’s Boomers who chiefly contributed to this fragile mental state.
The effects of corporate control, hoarding wealth and depriving others aren’t just measured in dollars and cents, but there are broader cultural implications to consider as well. The lack of work/life balance, job security and access to health benefits – particularly mental health services – has led to a sharp and disturbing rise in mental health issues. The Mental Health Commission of Canada reports that 21.4 per cent of Canada’s working population suffer from a mental illness. That’s a staggering one in five people, and the number rises from there if you’re female, a minority or a Millennial.
Workers who rate their job security as “very poor” are over 50 per cent more likely to suffer anxiety, stress and depression than those with a “very good” sense of security, according to a study by Roy Morgan Research. United Way and McMaster University found that temporary, part-time and contract workers are twice as likely as those in full-time jobs to have mental health problems, six more times as likely to delay starting a relationship due to financial insecurity and three more times as likely to delay having kids.
It’s become harder than ever to take the traditional steps of adulthood when you’re still living in your parents’ basement, expected to work longer and longer hours for less and less pay “because you’re lucky to even have a job,” and can barely afford to feed yourself nutritious food, let alone a child.
It’s no surprise that as the newest cohort to enter the workforce, Millennials are bearing the brunt of Boomers’ exploitation. Millennials report higher rates of depression and anxiety than any previous generation. The Boomer prioritization of economic success while ever-narrowing the scope of opportunities is paralyzing: According to Psychology Today, “the average high school kid today has the same level of anxiety as the average psychiatric patient in the early 1950s.” An Ipsos report classified a whopping 56 per cent of Millennials at high-risk for mental illness compared to just 15 per cent of Baby Boomers.
Boomers may be the most successful and powerful generation to date, but the real marker of a great generation isn’t how they come into the world, but rather how they leave it. Right now, it feels uncertain whether there’ll be much left behind at all. To say Baby Boomers merely misused the wealth and security they were born into is too generous. This generation’s grandiose self-image, eagerness to put their own success and immediate wants above anything else, failure to plan for the future and penchant for blaming anyone but themselves is at best, negligent and selfish; at worst, indicative of large-scale sociopathic tendencies.
Not only do Millennials suffer the consequences of the older generation’s actions, they’re also blamed for them. Sure, this generation has its own problems and faults, but to justify condemning them at such a young life stage, one would have to assume Millennials to be the greatest self-made generation of all time rather than looking at what caused them to be the way they are.
Baby Boomers aren’t using the bright torch they were handed to light the way for the future. No, just like the Visigoths, Vandals, Ostrogoths, Normans and mutinous Catholic soldiers, they’re using it to burn the whole thing down – all while pointing fingers at a generation that hasn’t yet reached its prime.