Week 11: Information Technology and the Millennial Generation Updated For 2012


The Millennial Generation have arrived.  This week we will look at the impact that this new generation is having on society now and is likely to have in the future. First we’ll define the characteristics of recent generations, then we’ll consider the Millennial generation (or Generation Y). Their impact at work will be investigated and we will  look at the implications for universities.

Generations of the 20th Century

Generations of the 20th century are typically divided into six categories. The Lost Generation is the people who fought in World War I. The Greatest Generation is the people who fought in World War II (born between 1901 and 1924). Those born between 1925 and 1945 are known as the Silent Generation, who grew up during the Great Depression.

The Baby Boom Generation was born between 1946 and 1964 and were a “population bulge”. They are usually thought to be ‘work centric’, hardworking people who will often criticise other generations for their lack of work ethic. They tend to be independent minded and self confident, often believing that they can change the world. They are goal oriented and welcome exciting, challenging projects. Competitive and clever, they strive to win. They may have difficulty with remote working which they see as showing insufficient commitment to work.

Generation X was born between 1964 and 1979. They tend to be more individualistic, independent, resourceful and self sufficient – usually both of their parents were working as they grew up. They are usually technologically adept and were the first generation to grow up with computers. They tend to be flexible – they had workaholic parents who they often saw commit themselves to one employer and suffer as a result. Because of this, they are less committed to one employer, adapt well to change and are quite tolerant. They value a work / life balance, working to live rather than living to work.

The Millennial Generation

Generation Y were born between 1980 and 2001. They are thought to be tech – savvy, having grown up with technology and seem to be always connected to the internet. They are family centric and willing to trade high pay for fewer work hours. Achievement oriented they were nurtured by their boomer parents. They are confident, ambitious and not afraid to question authority. Team oriented, many participated in team sports, they value teamwork and seek affirmation, want to be kept in the loop and seek praise and reassurance.

Opinions on Generation Y are divided, so much so that Mark Bauerlein has written a book accusing them of being the dumbest generation:

The Boston Globe lists eight reasons that Bauerlein gives.

The Pew Research Centre undertakes research on the Millennium Generation.

The Pew US based research shows a number of interesting differences between Millennials and previous generations. They are less likely to get married between the ages of 18 and 28, they live in more racially diverse communities, have higher levels of education, are less likely to be in the labour force, are much less likely to have served in the military and are less likely to live in a rural community than generations aged 18 – 28 that came before them. The Pew report is available here.

The Millennials and Work

As the Baby Boomers age and retire, organisations are looking to the Millennial generation as a source of new blood and the generational differences are explored particularly closely in relation to the world of work.

Compared to previous generations, Generation Y’ers place a higher value on leisure. There is a perception that they have a sense of entitlement that is separated from the work that they do. They expect rapid promotion and frequent rewards. Contrary to some reports Twenge et al argue that the Millennials have altruistic values that are similar to previous generations. They appear less concerned about the intrinsic value of work – the value gained from the work itself and they appear less concerned about the social rewards of work – gaining value from their interaction with others at work is less important to them.

The Millennials and University Education

This generation is also considered in terms of their impact on universities with some arguing that universities need to change to keep pace with this new world:

Jason Frand provides a list of the factors that he believes need to be taken into account about Generation Y and education:

• Computers aren’t technology

• The internet is better than TV

• Reality is no longer real

• Doing is more important than knowing

• Learning more closely resembles Nintendo than logic

• Multitasking is a way of life

• Typing is preferred to handwriting

• Staying connected is essential

• There is zero tolerance for delays

• Consumer and creator are blurring

Michael Wesch of Kansas State University has prepared this video on the future of education:

Finally, while the focus of this piece is on the Millennials it is perhaps appropriate to conclude with a look at the next generation – those born after 2001 and known as Generation Z:

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