By Rafa Bernardo, a journalist at Cadena Ser
They are the generation of the moment, with the greatest virtues and the biggest flaws. If we believe everything we read, we would come to the conclusion that they are spoiled and well-equipped, committed and narcissistic, optimistic and uninterested in politics. Varying from study to study, these contradictory characteristics are cited to classify a generation which, despite the name ‘millennials’ being repeated in abundance, does not have any clearly defined limits in terms of time (the general consensus is that they are born between the early 1980s and mid 1990s). However, two messages are constantly repeated about the generation, the first of which is obvious and easily observable (they are familiar with technology from early childhood). The second, however, is harder to demonstrate, yet popularly cited by columnists and opinion-makers: they are unmotivated and lazy.
Is the generational model any use in explaining the reality? Perhaps it does not help us to understand the upcoming cohort itself, but these taxonomies and classifications shed quite a lot of light on the people that devise them. It may well be a little premature to evaluate the achievements and characteristics of the group of millenials, the oldest of whom have barely reached 35 and many of whom have had their careers stopped in their tracks by a recession for which they were not to blame. The people who can (and should) be judged are the two preceding generations (the Baby Boomers and Generation X), who played a key role in the economic crisis and the eradication of trust in institutions that has engulfed the West in recent years.
Let’s draw a veil over the previous generations’ accountability for the political and economic fiasco that millennials have to face, and instead ask what millennials are like as entrepreneurs. Once again, the analysis and research is contradictory: some say that they show more initiative, while others ensure us that they show less. If we look at the statistics, such as those provided in the latest GEM España report, we can see that the rate of entrepreneurship in the initial phase among 25 to 34 year olds has been the highest or second highest of all of the age bands in the last decade (rivalled only by the 35 to 44 age band), without any indication of a strong trend either upward or downward. In other words, there are few causes for surprise or concern. Perhaps the claimed virtues or shortcomings of this generation subjected to so much public scrutiny are not such a big deal after all, neither for better nor worse.
So, let’s leave the millennials to make their own way forward, without loading them down with so much positive or negative baggage. If the advocates of the generational theory, William Strauss and Neil Howe, got anything right with their classification of the generations, this (still) young group belongs to one of the so-called ‘civic’ generations: they have lived through a crisis on their journey to maturity and, according to the model put forward by these authors, they will go on to found new institutions when they reach middle age and, in old age, they will see the new order brought about by the following generations questioned. Incidentally, there are already some people who are tracking the qualities, flaws, virtues and intentions of these youngsters: Generation Z. Now that we have reached the end of the alphabet, let’s see what these great taxonomists come up with to define what the youngest members of society are thinking (despite being so unprepared to prevent the ills of their own times) to find a catchy name to label the next generation.