Did you know that the oldest millennials turn forty this year?
The defining end and beginning of a generation is ambiguous. Some put the cutoff at those who graduated high school in 2000, others define it by ten-year periods, putting the start at those born in 1980…and anyone who was born in 1980 will be turning forty this year.
There’s a meme still that millennial are young people, which was a perfectly reasonable assumption fifteen years ago. But times *winded chariot marches on and we must update our thinking accordingly.
This matters. It matters because statistically “young people” don’t vote as much, so their political values are often ignored.
But times change. If the Brexit vote were held again, even if everyone alive voted the same, Brexit would likely have failed, due to the deaths of elders who disproportionately voted to leave.
This is just one way millennials aren’t taken seriously. They are frequently the subject of articles complaining that they aren’t adulting correctly. They are treated like the unruly college roommate who has just learned about liquor, who isn’t expected to have a “real job” and who will be celebrated for paying a bill on time.
But that’s not who they are, if they ever were. They are parents, or old enough to have chosen not parent. They have careers, even if they have to juggle freelance gigs. They are teachers and firemen. They are soldiers who join the military to pay off student loan debt. As (mostly) thirty-somethings, most of them are post-college. If they didn’t attend college, by this age they’ve learned enough skills to make a living. They are electricians and executive assistants and small business owners. Their hair is receding and graying. They have passports and credit scores.
It’s not only boomers who fail to acknowledge the arrival of this contentious generation. I was having a conversation with a smart woman in her late thirties, a former policy analyst with planned parenthood who just had her first baby—a grown-up. I caught her complaining about millennials. She was surprised when I told her she is one herself. And she’s not the first millennial I’ve had to inform. Because millennials were the “young folks” some of them closer to Gen X never bothered to do the math and just assumed the label didn’t apply to them.
The narrative of the aimless couch-surfing millennial is damaging. Many can’t afford a mortgage or to bear children; they are forced into the lifestyle of a twenty-something whether they want that or not. But what does it mean to be an adult, if adults choose to live differently than previous generations?
But every generation changes what is considered normal. There was a time when being unmarried at age twenty incited murmurs from relatives about the old maid. Even as recently as the boomer generation, women were expected to “graduate with an MRS.” For boomer women, completing college without a degree was an act of rebellion. Those boomer parents valued education more than marriage and raised Gen Xers and millennials who took for granted education was more important than marriage. That changed what is considered normal. Now it’s millennials’ turn to decide what it means to be a person right now.
So take note, and be sure to share this fact widely: millennials are all growns up now!
Happy 40th birthday oldest millennials! It’s your turn in the sun.
* I meant to type the reference properly as “winged,” but this winded typo seems too apt. I’m leaving it.
Karma has a degree in writing and sociology. She’s an Americorps grad and a board member of the California Writers Club. Her first foray into human rights work was with the Westcott 12 activists who launched a 100+ day camp out in protest of sweatshop labor. Since then she’s organized with IndyMedia, Occupy Oakland, and most recently with Solidaridad Con Los Ninos, a group that organizes caravans to visit detainment centers. She loves street art, poetry, and dancing with wild abandon.