The oldest Millennials are turning 40 or older this year! While this is a normal life step for every generation, it seems more complex for Millennials since the media’s narrative of the generation has often portrayed them as eternally twenty-somethings.
However, this image of Millennials as constantly stuck in their mid-20s moves further from reality every day. In fact, many 40-year-old and older Millennials feel a connection to both Gen X and Millennial generations, having had experience with both analog and digital worlds. In a sense, those born on the cusp between the Millennial and Gen X generations feel like they often have one foot in both worlds.
At the same time, it is well known that Millennials have faced a series of economic challenges as they’ve emerged further into adulthood. From student debt to the Great Recession to the Covid-19 pandemic—the average 40-year-old Millennial has less wealth and more debt than previous generations did at the same age. Interestingly though, compared to younger Millennials in their generation, older Millennials often have less student debt, many own a home, and often have, or are starting, families of their own—all of which are promising signals that the eldest Millennials are on a path to recover from the many macro challenges that seem to continually face them.
In a recent interview with Business Insider, CGK President Jason Dorsey shared his thoughts on what it means for Millennials who have now been officially adults for more than 20 years(!) and how coming of age during such challenging times has affected them and their future.
The typical 40-year-old Millennials were the ones in the generation hit the hardest by the Great Recession, entering dismal labor markets—leading to wage stagnation and career stalling—that left many of them behind generations before them at the same age. Add in the continually rising costs of living in many parts of the country with the fact that wages have not kept up, and it is no surprise many Millennials are struggling with the imbalance. This financial imbalance between earnings and the cost of living appears to be much greater than in previous generations. Pull all these experiences together, and it is no wonder why Millennials often have less wealth and more debt as a generation because they have been fighting an uphill financial battle for most of their adult years.
“The oldest Millennials delayed many of the traditional markers of adulthood, such as marriage, kids, and buying homes, as they went through the eye of the Great Recession and long and uneven recovery afterward.” –Jason Dorsey
At the same time, many Millennials are continuing to delay marriage, buying homes, and having children until they feel more financially stable—in fact, more women in the U.S. are starting to have kids at later ages.
Even more interesting is how the typical 40-year-old Millennial may dissociate from their generation—feeling caught somewhere between Gen X and Millennials—they are “cuspers.” They remember the days when PCs were new and becoming the norm in schools, early and slow dial-up connection (you’ve got mail!), and let’s not forget MySpace, yet this cusper group also feels comfortable in today’s TikTok and Clubhouse world. Though younger Millennials may not remember life without the ease of social media, the eldest Millennials, though digitally connected, remember when email and listservs were still primitive concepts and getting a “pager” was a big deal.
It is this unique straddling between generations that make “geriatric” Millennials a key asset in the workforce because they have empathy for both younger and older generations but often have 20+ years of work experience, too. They have the skills and experience on how to best engage with Gen Z in the workplace while recognizing and valuing that a different approach with older coworkers may lead to better results and unlock the potential of every generation. These older Millennials can teach the younger generation more traditional skill sets and build trust and influence with older generations through this unprecedented union of diverse generations in the workplace. In a sense, Millennial cuspers are fast becoming the bridge between generations.
While our focus on studying generations evolves with each generation, one thing is for sure: Millennials are here to stay. And though they are no longer the young kids on the block (in fact, their kids are the young kids on the block!), Millennials have a tremendous amount to offer in experience, mindset, and skillset at exactly the time more Gen Zers make their way into the workforce.
If you’ve enjoyed this perspective and are curious to know more, especially the impact of Millennial parents and Gen Z’s emergence, check out Jason’s new book, Zconomy. This research-filled book was a Top 10 Business Book of 2020 on Forbes, and it reveals a trove of unexpected insights that you can use to understand and bridge generations—fast.