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Jul. 26, 2016

Millennials: The special and not-so-special generation

BY Lily Wang

Henry graduated from Harvard in a recession and, like boomerang kids before him, promptly moved back in with his parents. He found work as a teacher, but it didn’t quite suit him, so he quit after only two weeks. Henry spent the following 12 years bouncing from one gig to the next, working for his father, selling magazines and shovelling manure. Finally, at the ripe-old-age of 31, he found his true calling and wrote his first book, A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers.[1]

It turns out, Henry was the great 19th-century American essayist, poet and philosopher Henry David Thoreau – also a chronic couch surfer until his late 20s.

When we talk about millennials, we generally describe them in terms of a generation shaped by uniquely modern influences. But as the above description attests, the transition between adolescence and adulthood has rarely been easy.

In fact, prior to the post-war prosperity of the 1950s and ‘60s, the designated markers of adulthood – getting married, owning a house, having children, etc. – weren’t within everyone’s reach. When marketers initially targeted youths for their newly acquired spending power, they generally looked at people aged 14-24, which by 1960 made up 21-percent of the American population. By contrast, millenials (18-34) now make up roughly the same proportion.[2] The trouble is, very few 18-year-olds have much in common with their 34-year-old counterparts. There is a wide chasm between kids who grew up prior to the digital revolution and those who were born into it. Furthermore, among the 70 million millennials presently in America, 40-percent aren’t enrolled in school and make less than $10,000 a year.

While today’s millennials certainly have unique challenges that influence their attitudes, the enduring truth is that life stages remain a primary behavioural driver. Just ask Henry.


[1] “When Are You Really An Adult,” last modified January 5, 2016, http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2016/01/when-are-you-really-an-adult/422487/

[2] “So How Many Millenials Are There in the US, Anyway?,” last modified May 3, 2016, http://www.marketingcharts.com/traditional/so-how-many-millennials-are-there-in-the-us-anyway-30401/

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