Millennial Volunteering Impact: More than the "Me Generation"

By: Natasha Derezinski-Choo

A great debate has arisen over the character of the next generation. People born after 1980 are defined as the “Millennial” generation because these young people, now in their teens and twenties, will be the first to come to the age of maturity in the new millennium. This generation is also sometimes called Generation Y in reference to its succession of Generation X (1965-1980). Analysts of this new generation are divided. Skeptics have deemed it lazy, narcissistic, and in an article by Tom Jacobs, downright delusional. However, research also points to the fact that the average 21st century “youngster” is also more educated and accepting than his or her predecessor, Generation X, or their parents, the Baby Boomer Generation. The sweeping generalizations looking down upon Millennials are often one-sided and fail to account for the progressive nature and potential of young people.

"Are millennials delusional?" , an article by Tom Jacobs, portrays Millennials in an unjustly negative manner. Jacobs focuses on the consumptive and material expectations of young people to argue that they are unrealistic and, as the title suggests, delusional. Work ethic and entitlement are two of the primary criticisms. He quotes that teens are increasingly more expectant of material gain without having to put in the proper amount of effort. Jacobs continues to analyze materialism as a “disturbing trend” among youth, supported by a study by psychologist and researchers Jean Twenge and Tim Kasser. The study found a rise in material concern through a survey that asked about the importance of owning possessions such as a new car or a house. The article has some hypocritical implications. It begins by gauging a generation’s personality based on its willingness to earn money, and then goes on to criticize it for its materialism. In fact, the article does not address the other positive impacts that young people are making each day and only takes into account consumptive tendencies, while other negative portrayals also seek to criticize youngsters’ personalities.   

In the cover article for Time magazine, Joel Stein attacks the narcissistic nature of “The Me Me Me Generation." Stein opens with “the cold, hard data” stating that “the incidence of narcissistic personality disorder is nearly three times as high for people in their 20's as for the generation that's now 65 or older, according to the National Institutes of Health.”  However,  further studies contradict this idea: In “It Is Developmental Me, Not Generation Me," Brent W. Roberts, Grant Edmonds, and Emily Grijalva say “that age changes in narcissism are both replicable and comparatively large in comparison to generational changes in narcissism. This leads to the conclusion that every generation is Generation Me, as every generation of younger people are more narcissistic than their elders.” In Elspeth Reeve’s rebuttal of Stein’s article, she explains, in layman’s terms, that this means, “Basically, it's not that people born after 1980 are narcissists, it's that young people are narcissists, and they get over themselves as they get older.” Like people, every generation of youth has its flaws and naiveties, but it would be highly inaccurate to deem any generation faulty without considering its revolutionary and progressive nature during its reign as “the next generation.”  

Millennials should be praised for their innovative and forward-thinking demeanor. Pew Research Center’s report, “Millennials: Confident. Connected. Open to Change,” found that Millennials are more educated than their predecessors. In 2009, males aged 18-28 reported 34% attained some college education and 15% had four-year degrees or higher. This is a dramatic increase from the 25% of the Baby Boomer males who received some college education and a significant increase from the 13% with four-year degrees or higher. Female education saw an even greater increase. In 1978, Boomers reported that 11% had four-year degrees. In 1995, Generation X reported 15%, and in 2009 Millennials reported 20%, almost double the percentage of their parents. Millennials are certainly not lazy or oblivious. They are beginning to experience and change the world. This generation is the most educated generation in American history, and will go on to becoming active and innovative problem-solvers in the new millennium.  

Despite economic hardships and difficulty finding employment in entering the workforce, young people are more likely to engage in volunteerism than previous generations. The Pew Research Center found that 52% of Millennials reported volunteering in the past twelve months, more than the older generations surveyed. Young people are innovative and impactful within the greater community. Forbes’ article, “How The Next Generation Of Wealth Is Revolutionizing Philanthropy As We Know It," asserts that “philanthropy extends far beyond just writing a check or lending your name to a charity. These individuals [millennials] have dedicated their lives to harnessing the venture capital mindset in order to ensure the success of their charitable giving.” Millennials are revolutionizing the nonprofit sector by not only donating funds, but also employing their time and energy to support charitable causes.  

Millennials’ progressive social and political outlooks will change the face of policy-making and adapt it to 21st century realities. Millennials were reported to be more tolerant towards gay-rights, supportive of equal opportunities for minorities, and accepting of diversity of family structure, such as single-mother families or divorced parents. Pew reported that youth were just as likely to take political action on these issues as their older counterparts. Millennials are challenging the stereotype of laziness and apathy by making a Noble Impact through volunteerism and civic engagement.  

The next generation possesses some of the greatest tools to solve the great social, political, and economic crises being handed to them. In this globalized world, the evolution of the Internet and improved communication will no doubt be an incredible tool in the Millennials' success. Every generation is handed problems of the past. In the last century, new generations faced, in brief terms, WWI, the Great Depression, WWII, and the Cold War. Today it is terrorism, human rights, global warming, and the recessions of a post-industrial economy. When faced with such conflicts, young people cannot help but be optimistic toward their potential. Rather than putting them down, older generations should also begin to accept and cultivate the future because, regardless, it looks like you’re stuck with us.  

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