Maybe it is fear, not entitlement

I generally dislike generalizations about generations. Any such generalization vastly ignores or simplifies the lived experience of those within the generation, smoothing over differences to falsify coherence or, more cynically, to sell books or speaking engagements. To draw from personal experience, I am a tail-end Gen-Xer, a latchkey kid from a single parent home. Yet I was also rural, poor, and white. All of those things matter when you tell my story, and make it pretty different from my friends who grew up in wealthy Detroit suburbs or black and middle-class in South Carolina.

This is not a rant about generations or generalizing. I just want to ask a question about a particular generalization of millennials, part of a story we have told ourselves, especially as educators, that millennials are “entitled” and “don’t want to work their way into or up from anything”. I have heard and experienced this stereotype as a teacher a lot. Like some stereotypes, experience bears out their truth.

But . . . What if this “entitlement” is actually rooted in fear? Specifically, a fear that things will be worse in the future than they are now, so waiting and working will bear no fruit.

If you are a 30 year old with student loan debt, landing in your first real job after navigating a soft job market for a few years while living at home. You are told, and you have been told, that you can learn the ropes and work your way up and things will pan out. But you’ve seen it not work out for plenty of people. Your needs are immediate and pressing, and the fear of being worse off than you are now is real, so you try to compensate for that fear with (unreasonable?) expectations that you need the salary and title and benefits and everything else NOW. After all, it’s not like houses will be cheaper in 10 years. . .

Like I said, this is just a thought -- half formed and not remotely researched. But it makes some intuitive sense and makes me have more empathy for those that I know, teach, and work with.


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