Generational identity, what does it mean, and what defines it? That is what CGK President Jason Dorsey sat down with Fast Company (virtually, of course!) to discuss—whether or not the oldest Millennials are considering themselves middle-aged. This is going to be an increasingly hot and important topic as more Millennials turn 40(!) years old or older each year.
In looking back across recent generations, the term “middle age” has been loosely defined and redefined from generation to generation. Baby Boomers generally consider it to be 45 to 60 years old, Generation X generally defines it as 45 to 55 years old, and many Millennials now see 35 to 50 years old as middle-aged. From the oldest Millennials’ viewpoint—many of whom are turning 40 or older this year—they are already middle-aged and have been for a while now. But is being middle-aged a true life stage or more a state of mind?
It turns out that the majority of older Millennials feel that middle age has arrived or is just around the corner. They often say that turning the “big 4-0” is the determining factor. However, these same Millennials see this period of their lives as lasting only a short time—a decade at most. This stage often coincides with them looking around and seeing their life goals and plans through a new life stage lens. This life stage could include marriage, kids, owning a home, being in a certain physical shape, having accumulated a desired amount of wealth, advancing to a certain place in their career, or just an expected level of happiness, experiences, or contentment. Interestingly, it could include none of those things but seeing their peers having those experiences can also create a constant reminder of their peer life stage. Not to be overlooked, older Millennials are also more likely to have dealt with the reality of losing a loved one as well as the very real physical aches and pains of getting older and feeling older.
However, a good number of older Millennials are not willing to give in to this idea of being middle-aged and would not consider themselves at the median age yet! In fact, they may not even feel clear on which generation they currently fit. When asked which generation they best identified with, the research in the Fast Company article revealed that 13% said “younger Millennials,” 25% said “Generation X,” while only 35% of older Millennials associated themselves with the Millennial generation.
Here was Jason’s take on middle age and Millennials in the Fast Company interview,
“Middle age to those previous generations was a very literal term—the middle of your life. Millennials are not feeling half their life is over; they just don’t feel as young as they used to. They ascribe that to ‘Now, I’m like my parents’ age. I remember when they were this age. They no longer view themselves as the young, hip, trendsetting generation. They’re not young and hip; they’re in middle management.”
In addition, Millennials are dealing with the tremendous added stress the COVID-19 pandemic brought on in many aspects of their life, from homeschooling their kids and delaying important plans to losing their job. This has been a very challenging bookend to their emerging adulthood experience since many older Millennials first came into their own during the Great Recession, which often brought its own storm of delayed goals, frustrations, and disappointments.
After the rough start brought on by the Great Recession, many Millennials finally felt in 2018 and 2019 like they were gaining traction toward milestones and career goals, only to get knocked down again in 2020 by an unexpected worldwide health crisis.
Combining these challenging events into a time series, including coming of age during the 9/11 terrorist attacks, it is not a surprise that many Millennials do not view their current life stage as “mid-life” because they are constantly beginning again while having to delay or push back their goals. In some ways, they might say they are still just getting started!
The flip side of the middle-aged Millennial conversation is the millions of younger Millennials on the tail end of the generation who have yet to experience turning 30 years old. They definitely do not feel like or think they are middle-aged! In fact, it’s the long span of ages and life stages within the Millennial generation that creates the opportunity for confusion within the generational identity because the oldest Millennials are in their early 40s while the youngest are in their mid-to-late-20s!
If you’ve heard Jason speak at a conference or have seen one of his media interviews, he theorizes that the Millennial generation may actually split into two different generations in part due to the long birth year range and the number of life stages, as well as global events and technology advancements.
The combination of all these, and many more, generational influences can make “normal” look and feel different between the very youngest and very oldest Millennials over a long period of time. But to confirm or dispel this theory, we will have to wait and see—and keep researching. Alternatively, the generation may actually gel more closely together as they get older and move toward a more similar life stage after early adulthood.
Whether or not the generation ultimately comes together or splits in two, one fascinating perception is that the general population often thinks of Millennials as still 25-year-old, tech-obsessed, avocado-toast-loving, tattoo-getting “kids” who get their money from their parents. When, in actuality, today’s 25-year-old is actually in Generation Z and may think Millennials are “old” (with their skinny jeans and side parts) Jason shared a bit about this in his Fast Company interview…
“Millennials have been the It Generation their entire adolescence to now mid-life. Now a new generation is making fun of Millennials and their funny jeans and calling the 90s ‘vintage.’ It’s been a mental shift for Millennials.”
If you have enjoyed this perspective and are curious to know more, especially the impact of Millennial parents on Gen Z’s attitude about work, spending, and life, check out Jason’s new book Zconomy. It was a Top 10 Business Book of 2020 on Forbes, and it reveals a ton of unexpected insights that you can use to understand and bridge generations.
We look forward to sharing more findings with you on what the future holds for Millennials and emerging generations.