The Plight Of Generation Y

There’s been a lot discussed in the media recently about Generation Y and all the difficulties they are facing today.  See this Globe and Mail article, for example.

Who are these disadvantaged youngsters?

There are differing time frames, but the generally acceptable one refers to the generation born during the 1980’s and early 1990’s – roughly those between 18 and 34 years of age.

Related: Learn from the Boomers’ mistakes

Members are often referred to as “echo boomers.”  This term is mistakenly interpreted as the children born to the baby boomers.  While this may be the case for some, it really refers to the generation’s size relative to the boomer generation due to the significant increase in birth rates during the time.

They are also called the millennial or the Internet generation.

Authors William Strauss and Neil Howe are credited with giving them the specific characterizations of:

  • Materialism
  • Sense of entitlement
  • Increasingly narcissistic

Author Ron Alsop calls them “trophy kids,” a term that reflects the trend where “mere participation is frequently enough for a reward,” and being overly praised for little accomplishment.

Related: What if you’re not University material?

Other media articles that “explain” this generation include; Stop trying to define millennials and 10 things generation Y won’t tell you.

The comments after the articles are quite enlightening.  Especially interesting to me are those that consider the Baby Boomers to be evil, at total fault for everything, always had an easy life, and won’t quit their jobs so the millennials can take over the desks.

Finding yourself

It’s no secret that young boomers, disenchanted with what they perceived as the dehumanizing and regimentation of employees working for big business profits, thought they could “drop out” and “find themselves.”

I believe the turning point came from our depression-era parents.  Their philosophy was – work hard, save your money, don’t come crying to me (if you do something foolish) and we’ll see you for Sunday dinner.

Related: What are you saving for?

Boomers quickly got a dose of reality when they “found” themselves working to provide for their families.  Most boomers married and had children very early on – often right after graduation.

On the other hand, Gen Y’s are known as the “Peter Pan,” or boomerang generation because of their tendency to live with their parents longer than previous generations.  They tend to switch jobs frequently due to their great expectations from the workplace and find themselves unemployed and frustrated.

The difference is that their parents hover reassuringly above them and praise their darlings for abilities they don’t yet possess.  They commiserate when their child doesn’t get the dream job, loses their girlfriend because they’re broke, and can’t afford the high housing costs.

Some Gen Y’s that I know personally

I don’t know many youngsters in this age group, but here’s some I do know (names have been changed).

Yasmin is 23 years old.  She has enrolled in a number of 16-to-20 weeks courses in various fields but has not been able to find work in any of them.  She lives with her parents even though they purchased a condo for her, because she just doesn’t earn enough money at her three part-time jobs to be self-sufficient.

Related: When doing what you love doesn’t pay the bills

Twenty six year old Yancy has attended university for the past eight years.  He can’t graduate as he omits mandatory courses necessary for a degree in any significant course of study.  Fed up, he quits with $45,000 in outstanding student loans.  He moves into his parent’s nicely finished basement where his mother cooks his meals, does his laundry, and loans him her car when he’s tired of playing video games.  He has worked on-and-off at various low paying jobs.

Yolanda worked as a cashier at a grocery store during high school.  After graduation she had no real motivation to continue her education, so she stayed working at the store.  An opportunity arose for her to move into an administration role.  Now this 24 year-old, who regularly slept in to 10 am or later, starts her new position at 6 am – and loves it.  Yolanda recently became engaged to York who is an engineering graduate and they are anticipating a good future together.

Yolanda’s sister, Yvette (22), on the other hand, took a legal course and, since Calgary is to lawyers as Toronto is to banking, she is now working in a large firm as the assistant to the assistant’s assistant.  She works hard and is well liked and is looking forward to rising to the office in the ivory tower.

Related: Money advice for college graduates

Finally, there’s Yvie, who moved away from her family, across the country to Fort McMurray.  This 21 year-old works at an exceptionally well paying job in the oil sands.  She learned financial responsibility early on from her parents.  She purchased a small condo (with down payment help from her parents), is fairly frugal, and is saving and investing her excess (especially overtime pay).  She doesn’t intend to stay forever, but if she stays the course with her finances she’ll have a very bright future.

I know this is a minuscule sampling, but it shows that you can’t paint an entire generation with the same brush.  Whatever the generation, different personalities deal with circumstances in various ways.

So, where am I going with this?

Young adults, you are smart and well educated.  You thought that if you went to university or college, doors would open for you.  You developed dreams and want to follow them.  You want to get it right the first time.

You are special because you are unique – not because you deserve every privilege.  You need to be realistic.  The adage – luck happens when opportunity meets hard work – is true.  You can’t apply for hundreds of jobs via the Internet and expect to nail the perfect position, you have to pound the pavement and network.  Be the person the employer wants to hire.

Be willing to start at the bottom.  Be reliable when performing what you think are menial tasks.  You need to be willing to do whatever it takes.

Parents, your job is to teach your children good work ethics and values, learn how to manage money, and have a sense of responsibility.  Then let your baby birds go.  If they need assistance when some disaster strikes, do what you can to help.  If you have the desire and the means to finance their education, pay for a honeymoon and gift them with a down payment for their first house – go ahead.  It’s a lovely gesture that will be appreciated.

But they need to live their own lives.  Let them go.

Final words

I’ll end with this quote that is attributed to Socrates, 469 BC – 399 BC.

The children now love luxury.  They have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for their elders and love chatter in place of exercise.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email


  1. Daniel @ Urban Departures on September 24, 2013 at 10:00 pm

    Great commentary on the need for GenY to be realistic. Are parents are enabling the boomerang generation by feeding their heightened expectations with ‘handouts’?

    • Boomer on September 25, 2013 at 8:00 am

      @Daniel: It’s natural for any parents to want to provide for their children and help them do things they – the parents- possibly couldn’t at their age.

      Kids stay at home longer than those of my generation but with things like the cost of schooling turning into high debt loads, and the high cost of housing it makes sense.

      There’s a difference though in helping your child get established by providing free housing while they save and letting your child freeload.

  2. Trombonedadio on September 25, 2013 at 7:17 am

    I find your sampling of gen y’ers rather weighted toward making it look like they should start out with low expectations (cashier or assistant to the assistant’s assistant -haha), stay away from university, work hard, and then success will find them. I do not know if your 8-year university careerist is typical of the majority of those seeking a university education, but I doubt it. I recently returned to university after 25 years in the work force and I observed much the same melange of brilliant hard-working kids, party animals, and everything in between, as when I completed a master’s degree in 1986. As with parents who indulge their game-boy playing stay at home 20-somethings, university is perhaps a little TOO available for those with low marks. Perhaps having higher scholastic standards for what is considered a pass or fail, would limit the amount of people who one day graduate lacking adequate skills to get a job and keep
    Another option is to encourage youngsters to have big dreams of success with the understanding that the only way they can get there is by hard work, dedication, and yes, sacrifice!

    • Boomer on September 25, 2013 at 8:15 am

      @Trombolino: These are the people i know personally so it may not be a typical sampling – I admitted that.

      A university education is great but you are not going to be sitting at the vice president’s desk in your first job just by clutching your diploma. Graduates need to be realistic and, yes, sometimes you have to start at the bottom of the ladder and perhaps even move away from the comforts of home. Employers aren’t going to be knocking at your door because they heard on Twitter that you are so brilliant. Finding a good job is hard work.

      It also makes no sense to me to pay the high costs of university if you have no idea of where it will lead. Take some time off. (BTW my cashier friend had the typical high school student’s part time job which she parlayed into a better opportunity for her (after graduation) in the same organization, by being noticed as a valuable employee.)

      Finally, I totally agree with your last sentence. It applies to everyone.

  3. Bet Crooks on September 25, 2013 at 7:19 am

    I think your personal examples are very accurate: any group of people are not all alike and it must be infuriating to those who work hard and succeed to keep hearing how they are spoiled and self-centred.

    There have always been dropouts and whiners in every generation and I doubt this generation has any more than mine did.

    In fact I think “generation bashing” is counterproductive and I wish the media would grow up and stop encouraging it. If the media wants to discuss employment challenges it could do so without the vicious personal attacks that don’t do anything productive or positive.

    • Boomer on September 25, 2013 at 8:23 am

      @Bet Crooks: I agree. There are lazy people in every generation, just as there are hard working, successful people – and many in between.

      Each generation has their own challenges. We hear that the current elderly had it so lucky because the interest rates were so high on their savings – but they experienced the Great Depression, rationing, no jobs, a world war!

      You can’t label an entire generation – regardless of which one – with an inaccurate generalization.

  4. Neil Murphy on September 25, 2013 at 12:58 pm

    Don Tapscott discussing Gen Y on CBC Ideas. Great talk! Starts at 1:28 minutes.

  5. Erin on September 25, 2013 at 11:48 pm
    • Boomer on September 26, 2013 at 10:08 am

      @Erin: I read the article when you posted it previously. Thanks again for the reminder.

  6. Ross Taylor on September 26, 2013 at 7:12 am

    Enjoyed this article thanks – hits a note for me with responsibility for 7 gen Y’s myself 🙂

    • Boomer on September 26, 2013 at 10:10 am

      @Ross Taylor: Are these all your children, Ross? You must be a saint!

  7. Bryan Jaskolka on September 26, 2013 at 10:30 am

    I frankly, am getting fairly sick of all the whining on the part of most of Generation Y, or the “Me Generation.” The Huffington Post also just ran a great article showing how they’ve always been told they’re special (contradicting the actual meaning of the word ‘special’) and how they end up thinking they’re so hard done by because – just as you said – their reality doesn’t match up with their expectations. You and I have gotten into it, Boomer, about how they should be able to dream and be whatever they want (me saying that) or going out and working hard for what you want (you saying that.) Truthfully, it’s a combination of the two, as we had come to agree on. Yes, you can dream and you can become something really great and really special. But no one is going to just hand it to you. It takes a ton of hard work. They should be thankful that that hard work only means going to university, or doing whatever they can to get noticed in their field. If they don’t, they should talk to their great-grandparents who had to work harder than any of us. Not to be special, or to grow into their own unrealistic expectations, but just to put food on the table.

    • Boomer on September 26, 2013 at 2:45 pm

      @Bryan: I suspect that there’s a very vocal whiny minority that is getting all the press. As I mentioned – and Bet Crooks said so well – personalities are the same in every generation.

      I’d like to know how we got to be such a weak-minded society that we are so afraid of offending and hurting people’s feelings. Teachers now just give pass/fail grades. Kid’s teams don’t use any scoring so there is no win/loss because that’s bad for their self esteem. Just showing up is it’s own reward. We eliminate concepts of competition and striving to be better, then turn around and blame the very children we brought up to be that way.

  8. Gerard on September 27, 2013 at 6:30 am

    “Competition” and “striving to be better” are not the same thing, though.

  9. Tom on October 3, 2013 at 8:05 am

    Interesting article.
    A relatively new phenomenon is that a huge number of jobs are really open to females or visible minorities. Another segment wants experience only.
    A possible suggestion for future, related articles might be on the value of such companies as Career Joy ( which offer counselling, coaching, résumé creation services.

Leave a Comment

Join More Than 10,000 Subscribers!

Sign up now and get our free e-Book- Financial Management by the Decade - plus new financial tips and money stories delivered to your inbox every week.