Generation Y v. Millennial a new distinction

Posted on February 4, 2009. Filed under: Generational Differences | Tags: , , , , |

from .Larry Page

from .Larry Page

Last week I attended a training on generations.  The trainer discussed the four generations in the workplace (Traditionalists, Boomers, Generation X, and Generation Y) and how we can all work with the different work styles.  During the training, the trainer also mentioned another generation, the Millennials.  She described the phenomenon of the division being created between individuals in their 20s and those younger.

She described the two generations as quite similar, but with a few very distinct differences.

Generation Y is tech savvy, optimistic, confident, diverse, individualistic and realistic.  Generation Y doesn’t like to waste time in meetings, loves work/life balance, being effective, and multi-tasking when ever possible.

Millennials, as described by the trainer, are tech savvy, diverse, and individualistic, but this generation seems to have different expectations.  We are seeing kids  wanting something for nothing, putting off work as long as possible, and really being into celebrity.  Think of anyone you know who is a teenager or even younger do they fit any of these characteristics?

Although the division isn’t purely formed yet, I can see what the trainer is talking about.  Although my brother is over 20 I can see distinct differences between his friends and mine.  I also hear from other friends with younger brothers and sisters that they see a difference.  There is a strong difference in work ethic especially.  I’m not necessarily calling the so called Millennials lazy, but the way they work is different.  Everything I do I am thinking about how it will fit into my future plans, how will what I’m doing affect my mission for making a change, will what I’m doing matter.  Right now I don’t feel like my brother and his friends have plans for their lives.  Many his age are going to school just for fun, and thinking they want to be a star chef or superbowl hero instead of getting a steady job.  This is just one example, I am sure there are many more.

What do you think, are you seeing the differences in the two generations?  Do you think the trainer is on to something here?


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13 Responses to “Generation Y v. Millennial a new distinction”

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I had always heard Gen Y and Millennial used interchangeably to describe the same generation, but I always used the word Millennial to describe myself. There’s a conflict between Gen X and this Gen Y/Millennial generation, and my own personal theory is that it comes from the Boomers lumping all “young people” into the same category, even though Xs and Ys know we’re so different. That is partly why I identify as Millennial; Gen Y just seems like an extension of Gen X, and I am so not an Xer. Based on this description you just gave, I can see how Ys would be almost in that transition category between the two.

While I can see some differences between people my age (28, very soon to be 29) and those that are younger – especially teenagers – I don’t necessarily think its a result of ‘generational differences’. I think its mostly a result of youth in general.

I was pretty focused on the future and on my goals in high school, but I still did tons of stupid things because I didn’t know any better, or didn’t care. I think thats where teenagers are always at, it just gets expressed differently in different times.

I agree there are differences between older and younger members of the same generation, but isn’t this true of EVERY generation? Also, many of the reasons you cite (work ethic, future planning, etc.) could be simply stage-of-life issues, rather than generational distinctions/characterizations– I think that’s something hugely important to keep in mind.

I do believe the differences may also be because of stage of life, but as we are seeing the younger Y’s growing up they are experiencing different events in their formative years. Generation Y grew up on sitcoms and reality TV, during a time of school shootings and terrorist attacks. The trainer was suggesting, and as I see makes sense, the younger Generation Ys or Millennials are growing up now in different times and are showing signs of the creation of a new generation based on their distinct behaviors, although they still have a lot of the same characteristics.

Hmm — this is an interesting distinction, and one that might have a hard time getting legs because the language of Gen Y and millennial is so synonymous/established by now. I think the distinction is a real one, but the language isn’t as exact as it could be yet…

I’m 24, and my brother is 20. He and I, and his friends and mine, are quite different. I often link this to the fact that online media and related innovation came into my life when I was at an age of reason and more maturity — between 10 and 12. My engagement in new media and other cultural shifts was more intentional and self-directed.

My brother, however, was basically immersed from age 6. And by the time he was 10 or 12, businesses had already been adopting new technologies, MTV was in full swing with reality TV, etc., etc.

I like to think that people in their mid-20s right now are the “sweet spot” when it comes to Gen Y and digital natives. We came into a changing world at an age when we could better interpret what it meant, and many of us have learned how to apply it more carefully to our studies, work and personal lives.

Our younger siblings have been almost overexposed from an age when they wouldn’t have been able to understand what it all meant. I have said that my brother has all of my intensity for learning and all of my energy for new ideas, but he lacks any of my focus for actually applying these concepts and *doing* something.

I’ve noticed other shifts that might explain this differing maturity within our generation. A major one, I think, is the perception of college. When I was in high school, it was considered a little embarrassing to be in college for more than four years. By the time my brother went to college, some people were encouraging him and his friends to take their time! There has been a shift in college as career preparation to college as purely experiential.

I’ve tended to think this is just a personal thing (knowing how different my brother and I are), but Tera, your post makes me wonder if it really is a broader, generational issue.

(And I should add, I’m hesitant to draw absolutes about any generation, since it lends itself to stereotyping… I hope my comment didn’t come across that way!)

Emily , you’re right it is hard not to stereotype when it comes to generations, and I think you avoided it quite well in your comment.

You also bring up a good point about college. I think we are seeing this a lot at our university. Many students are taking 5 or more years, exploring several majors or even taking on extra minors.

On another note, I think it is still too early to decide whether there is going to be a separate generational divide, and who really decides that anyways. We may not even know for more than 10 years, but it is interesting to think about now. And to examine the changes as they occur.

I don’t personally like the “Generation Y” label, but as a member of that generation (born in ’86) I can definitely say that there’s a stark difference between people born in the early years of Generation Y and the later years. I generally have very little in common with people born after 1990, and feel like they are in a completely different generation!

I think perhaps what we’re seeing is that the mass-proliferation of digital communication is causing generations to split off earlier than previously thought. I know that Strauss and Howe, the inventors of the term “Generation Y” claim that it includes everyone from 1978 to 2000! I think a distinction should be made between people born in the 80s and born in the 90s.

I gotta go with the life-stage distinction on this one. I’m as old as a Gen Y-er can be (born in 1980) – more or less – and as a 28-year old, I’m much different than our college or high school interns. But every 28-year old has been different from every 19-year old throughout history.

Owning a home, being married, paying bills – that’ll offer you a different viewpoint that most sophomores any day.

Very thought provoking post, btw. I’ll tweet it.

I think it’s dangerous to draw lines in the sand. I’m of the firm belief that you can’t just “steal” the labels from us, either – we named ourselves Millennials. Just because some speaker hijacks the “gen y” label and applies it to the “undesirables” in our ranks… well, we don’t have to listen to that crap.

It’s… Rovian. That group of people almost started a civil war – a lot of us forgot that we are Americans before we’re Democrats or Republicans… or whatever else.

There’s a lot of hatred flying back and forth – mostly towards millennials/gen Y. If you’re an avid reader of blogs, you’ve probably seen it (the Economist is the worst!!).

The sad thing is, we can accomplish so much with collaboration – I’ve learned so much from the oldest programmer on my team (one of the oldest people at the company). I also learn a lot from my peers, but it’s different. My work wouldn’t be nearly as valuable without joining skill sets with members of older generations.

The whole process of drawing lines in the sand and isolating ourselves into “us” vs “them” groups is nonsense. All it does is enable the established powermongers to get a little bit richer off of the strife, and keeps the people who get tricked into playing along in the trenches.

Play nice, stay respectful, and we’ll all be better for it.


[…] which can be positive or negative. Having completed this exercise shortly after reading a post about the generational differences between Generation Y and millenials (thanks Sam), I also started to wonder if this new service just started out as a way to feed our […]

A teenager in America is a teenager in America.

I agree theres a distinction, and that this has almost everything to do with the rapidly changes in technology and media – but that it is too early to isolate what the defining attributes of this new generation are apart from the circumstances and factors that make them different.

Identifying this distinction as “millennial” isn’t really sufficient in my opinion. I also think it is completely misguided to start pinpointing characteristics and expectations to teenagers.

Strauss and Howe came up with the term millennials NOT gen y, which was around before their book “millennials rising” came out, and the grouping is for those born between 1982 and 2002 – that would make the youngest 7 years old!.

According to their original definition, all Gen y are also “millennials” , but not all “millennials” are gen y. under-20’s are also millennials too…but there are huge differences between the older millennials from the younger ones and this is one reason why I have a problem with Strauss and Howes generational breakdown. I personally am more comfortable with the label gen Y bwcause it identifies the unique group that grew up in the same short time period as me (born in 1984) and growing up in the late 80’s and 90’s.

The “i-generation” (as in internet, ipod, iphone, itunes and also informed, independent) is quickly becoming a more recognised distinction. The Australian census of 2006 has come out and defined this grouping as people aged 20 and under – the iGeneration – who don’t remember life before the internet.

I find this label as something true and fitting to describe this younger set – it speaks more about the effortless integration of young people today (under -20) with technology and the fact that they can honestly say (i don’t remember ever not having the internet)

[…] older members of Generation Y, like me, have grandparents and parents who are self-made men and women as […]

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