Menus Subscribe Search

Follow us


You Don't Know America

diversity-cartoon

(Photo: igor kisselev/Shutterstock)

This Millennial Story Is Different

• February 04, 2014 • 8:00 AM

(Photo: igor kisselev/Shutterstock)

Millennials are the most diverse generation in U.S. history. So why has the criticism about them been so one-note?

Millennials are entitled, narcissistic, and lazy—you’ve heard this all before. The bit about the narcissism seems true (even though it might not be) thanks to the pervasiveness of social media and reality television, but the other knocks against my generation come with dubious proof.

In his May 2013 cover story about Millennials for Time, for example, Joel Stein’s claim that Millennials are lazy relied on a Families and Work Institute report, which showed that in 1992, “80% of people under 23 wanted to one day have a job with greater responsibility; 10 years later, only 60% did.” The 2008 report, which can be found here, actually notes that there was a steep decline from 1992 and 1997 for reasons “we can only speculate” about and that “since 1997, the desire to move to jobs with more responsibility among young workers has increased.” More interestingly, the desire to move to jobs with more responsibility has increased especially among young women, who are now “just as likely as men to want jobs with greater responsibility.” Stein conveniently omitted this from his story. Also omitted from Stein’s story, and from countless stories written about Millennials, is any mention of race.

Discussions about race and ethnicity have also been largely left out of the discourse about Millennials, despite the fact that we’re living in a country that is rapidly becoming more diverse. The Census Bureau has projected that, by 2060, no single racial group will constitute a majority of the country, while a 2009 report by the Pew Research Center shows that the millennial generation is “the most ethnically and racially diverse cohort of youth in the nation’s history” with 40.2 percent of those between the ages of 13 and 29 identifying as Hispanic, black, Asian, and mixed race or other.

This is significant for the same reasons why the HBO series Girls received so much criticism for its lack of racial diversity in its first season: Though young people have much in common due to the proximity of age, our race and cultural backgrounds play a crucial role in defining who we are. When Lena Dunham’s Hannah Horvath declares that she may be the voice of the millennial generation, and then clarifies that she is “a voice of a generation,” one voice of many, she’s right to self-correct. Because while Girls provided a snapshot of what it’s like to be a twenty-something in the 2010s, it had done so mostly through the lens of “whiteness.” Leaving race out of the discussion about Millennials cuts out the story of what it really means to be part of the most diverse generation in U.S. history.

How do you reconcile the idea of the lazy, entitled Millennial with the Asian-American Millennial who was raised with culturally-specific expectations to work hard and financially support her parents?

THE SO-CALLED MILLENNIAL sense of entitlement supposedly stems, in part, from being coddled by parents who told their children, as Mister Rogers did, that we were “special” and could grow up to be anything we wanted to be. Yet, until Yale Law School professor Amy Chua came along in 2011 with her polarizing essay about tiger moms in The Wall Street Journal, it appeared as if everyone forgot that different cultures in America have different ideas of how to raise children and that some of those parenting ideas include being severely strict and punishing children for failing to meet high standards of success.

As someone who grew up in an Asian-American household of first-generation immigrants, my tiger parents were not as extreme as Chua in their parenting tactics, but much of what she wrote rang true. My mother rationed praise, made B grades sound like they were F grades, and consistently drove home the idea that only continuous hard work could result in a successful career and the remunerative rewards that could build an earnest, comfortable life. She also ingrained in me traditional values of filial piety, which in Asian cultures means respecting your parents and supporting them in their old age—both emotionally and financially. I regularly send my parents money to help them pay their mortgage.

There are countless other Asian-American Millennials in my position as well. Katherine Nguyen, writing for The Orange County Register—a county known both for being the setting for the popular TV series The O.C. as well as being home to the world’s largest population of Vietnamese outside of Vietnam—explained how common it is for Asian-American children to send money to their parents after acquiring their first jobs. In her article, Nguyen talks to Cal State Fullerton professor Son Kim Vo, who tells her that this kind of financial support “is the ultimate symbol of gratitude that a child can show to his parents. In the Vietnamese culture, it shows the complete cycle of a family. Parents raise their children, and now the children give back.” Joanna Goddard, a popular women’s lifestyle blogger based in New York, once interviewed a Thai friend about how typical it is for Asian children to pay for their parents and was told, “My husband is Korean; and in his culture, you’re expected to give your first paycheck to your parents.”

So, how do you reconcile the idea of the lazy, entitled Millennial with the Asian-American Millennial who was raised with culturally-specific expectations to work hard and financially support her parents? Without any discussion about race, this kind of reconciliation is impossible and has the effect of turning a large segment of a generation invisible. And invisible is precisely what we often feel. Wesley Yang, writing about the Asian-American experience in New York magazine in 2011, summed it up: “Here is what I sometimes suspect my face signifies to other Americans: an invisible person, barely distinguishable from a mass of faces that resemble it. A conspicuous person standing apart from the crowd and yet devoid of any individuality.”

YET, LIKE HANNAH HORVATH, I must make it clear that the Asian-American Millennial experience is just one experience in a generation of many culturally diverse experiences. Though I’d suspect that the “80% of Latino youths and 86% of Latinos ages 26 and older” who “say that most people can get ahead in life if they work hard,” according to a Pew Research report, are also irritated about being pigeonholed as lazy and entitled. Sydette Harry certainly is. Writing from the perspective of a black Millennial for Salon, she points out that she is part of a generation “fighting redistricting, police violence and voting rights challenges that hinder the very moment we’re supposed to seize.”

This nuanced view of the Millennial generation, informed by racial and ethnically diverse perspectives, says so much more about who we are than what our relationships to our smartphones do. And really, much of the hand-wringing over Millennials—how we’re delaying adulthood because the Great Recession and the subsequent credit crunch made it harder for us to find financial independence and take out loans to buy cars and houses and start families—is really hand-wringing over the state of our country as a whole. Because the financial crisis and a decade of stagnating wages didn’t just have an effect on a generation of young workers—it had an affect on an entire country of workers. Federal Reserve data shows that 59 percent of households headed by people 65 and older currently have no retirement account assets. Perhaps it’s not young people we should be worried about right now.

Mike Dang
Mike Dang is co-editor of The Billfold, and the managing editor at Longreads.

More From Mike Dang

A weekly roundup of the best of Pacific Standard and PSmag.com, delivered straight to your inbox.

Recent Posts

December 17 • 4:00 PM

How to Run a Drug Dealing Network in Prison

People tend not to hear about the prison drug dealing operations that succeed. Substance.com asks a veteran of the game to explain his system.


December 17 • 2:00 PM

Gender Segregation of Toys Is on the Rise

Charting the use of “toys for boys” and “toys for girls” in American English.


December 17 • 12:41 PM

Why the College Football Playoff Is Terrible But Better Than Before

The sample size is still embarrassingly small, but at least there’s less room for the availability cascade.


December 17 • 11:06 AM

Canadian Kids Have a Serious Smoking Problem

Bootleg cigarette sales could be leading Canadian teens to more serious drugs, a recent study finds.


December 17 • 10:37 AM

A Public Lynching in Sproul Plaza

When photographs of lynching victims showed up on a hallowed site of democracy in action, a provocation was issued—but to whom, by whom, and why?


December 17 • 8:00 AM

What Was the Job?

This was the year the job broke, the year we accepted a re-interpretation of its fundamental bargain and bought in to the push to get us to all work for ourselves rather than each other.


December 17 • 6:00 AM

White Kids Will Be Kids

Even the “good” kids—bound for college, upwardly mobile—sometimes break the law. The difference? They don’t have much to fear. A professor of race and social movements reflects on her teenage years and faces some uncomfortable realities.



December 16 • 4:00 PM

How Fear of Occupy Wall Street Undermined the Red Cross’ Sandy Relief Effort

Red Cross responders say there was a ban on working with the widely praised Occupy Sandy relief group because it was seen as politically unpalatable.


December 16 • 3:30 PM

Murder! Mayhem! And That’s Just the Cartoons!

New research suggests deaths are common features of animated features aimed at children.


December 16 • 1:43 PM

In Tragedy, Empathy Still Dependent on Proximity

In spite of an increasingly connected world, in the face of adversity, a personal touch is most effective.


December 16 • 12:00 PM

The ‘New York Times’ Is Hooked on Drug du Jour Journalism

For the paper of record, addiction is always about this drug or that drug rather than the real causes.


December 16 • 10:00 AM

What Is the Point of Academic Books?

Ultimately, they’re meant to disseminate knowledge. But their narrow appeal makes them expensive to produce and harder to sell.


December 16 • 8:00 AM

Unjust and Unwell: The Racial Issues That Could Be Affecting Your Health Care

Physicians and medical students have the same problems with implicit bias as the rest of us.


December 16 • 6:00 AM

If You Get Confused Just Listen to the Music Play

Healing the brain with the Grateful Dead.


December 16 • 4:00 AM

Another Casualty of the Great Recession: Trust

Research from Britain finds people who were laid off from their jobs expressed lower levels of generalized trust.


December 15 • 4:00 PM

When Charter Schools Are Non-Profit in Name Only

Some charters pass along nearly all their money to for-profit companies hired to manage the schools. It’s an arrangement that’s raising eyebrows.


December 15 • 2:00 PM

No More Space Race

A far cry from the fierce Cold War Space Race between the U.S. and the Soviet Union, exploration in the 21st century is likely to be a much more globally collaborative project.


December 15 • 12:32 PM

The Hidden Psychology of the Home Ref

That old myth of home field bias isn’t a myth at all; it’s a statistical fact.


December 15 • 12:00 PM

Gluttony and Global Warming: We’re Eating Ourselves to a Warmer Planet

Forget your car. Our obsession with beef and dairy has a far more devastating effect on the climate.


December 15 • 10:00 AM

The 2016 Presidential Race Has Already Started

And this is the most exciting part.


December 15 • 8:00 AM

The Second Life of Old iPods

Why is it that old iPods are suddenly cool—and pricey again?


December 15 • 6:00 AM

The Lifelong Consequences of Rape

The long-term psychological and physical effects of the experience are devastating. And they’re likely exacerbated by the shame our culture insists on perpetuating.


December 15 • 4:00 AM

Mating Mindset Interferes With Attempts to Stop Smoking

Taiwanese researchers find photos of attractive women put men in an immediate-gratification state of mind.


December 15 • 2:00 AM

Where Innovation Thrives

Innovation does not require an urban area or a suburban area—it can happen in the city or in a small town. What it requires is open knowledge networks and the movement of people from different places.


Follow us


Canadian Kids Have a Serious Smoking Problem

Bootleg cigarette sales could be leading Canadian teens to more serious drugs, a recent study finds.

The Hidden Psychology of the Home Ref

That old myth of home field bias isn’t a myth at all; it’s a statistical fact.

A Word of Caution to the Holiday Deal-Makers

Repeat customers—with higher return rates and real bargain-hunting prowess—can have negative effects on a company’s net earnings.

Crowdfunding Works for Science

Scientists just need to put forth some effort.

There’s More Than One Way to Be Good at Math

Mathematical ability isn’t one single skill set; there are indeed many ways to be “good at math,” research shows.

The Big One

One in two United States senators and two in five House members who left office between 1998 and 2004 became lobbyists. November/December 2014

Copyright © 2014 by Pacific Standard and The Miller-McCune Center for Research, Media, and Public Policy. All Rights Reserved.