Millennials and Consumerism: An Overview

Millennials. It’s the word on everybody’s mouth. Depending on who you are (and likely what age you are) your opinion on them varies. Some view them as entitled, lazy and unwilling to work. Some view them as victims of an economy (and planet) ruined by their parents. Some view them as the sure sign of the end of the great society. Some view them as the best hope of an eco-conscious and non-materially focused future. Whatever your view on millennials is, as a generation they’re much more complex than one opinion. And without a doubt their overall views on consumerism are certainly different from the generations before them. We’d be remiss in our mission if we didn’t take some time and a series of articles to offer a look at how millennials relate to postconsumerism.

Uh, But What’s a Millennial?

We’re just going to throw this in here in the rare case that millennial is a new term to you. It’s the general name (similar to Baby Boomers or Gen X) of an entire generation. According to Wikipedia, millennials are the cohort generation that followed Generation X. The dates are a little vague, but it’s generally safe to say that these are children born from 1980 to the early 2000’s. We obviously can’t do an entire explanation of the very complex millennial generation here, and as we noted in the first paragraph there are widely varying concepts about how this generation behaves. A broad stroke is that they tend to be technologically adept, better connected with friends and more distanced from institutions and structure. If this is the first you’re hearing of them, we’d strongly suggest reading up since they’re the new future!

Millennials and Consumerism: The Basics

Before we go any further, the good news is that millennials seem to be redefining consumerism in both an eco-friendly and mentally healthy way. Now, before we get too excited, let’s also remember that much of this would also have been said about the hippie generation. However, as that generation aged, they became both more conservative and more addicted to consumerism. There is a big difference between the hippie generation and the millennial generation, though. The millennial generation has both an actual climate crisis and a technology-based world that makes the potential to elevate above the consumer marketing machine entirely possible. We’re optimistic, but we do believe that we need to keep raising awareness (and even applying pressure) because a youthful generation can still change and our culture overall is still hypermaterialistic. With all of that said, here are all of the ways that millennials are sending us positive vibes that addictive consumerism may become less of a plague in future generations.

In the Best News Ever, Millennials Value Happiness Over “Stuff”

If the reason that you have a negative opinion of millennials is because you’ve heard employers say “They’re just lazy. They don’t want to work. They’re not driven,” or because you’ve worked with a millennial and have the same opinion, then there’s an upside to that. Yes, it’s certainly true that the millennial generation doesn’t want to grind out a twelve hour work day while hoping for that promotion that will turn their twelve hour work day into a fifteen hour work day in order to get more pay. Is that because they’re lazy? Well, it may depend on your definition. What is undebatable though is that, as Forbes headlined it, millennials think of happiness as the new success. And they don’t define happiness as “stuff.” Millennials in general want a work-life balance, not a “work to pay for stuff” balance. This is good news for postconsumers, bad news for the consumer marketing machine. Which isn’t to say that there still aren’t members of the millennial generation who are dreaming of their next sports car. But as an overall generational theme, they are not willing to grind it out just to buy “more, more and more.”

Millennials Invented the Sharing Economy

From Zip Cars to Rent the Runway, millennials invented the culture of “borrowing instead of owning.” Sure, they still value things like cars and couture and will put money towards them, but not enough to own them. This shift towards a sharing economy has been credited to two things. The first is, simply, the economy. Millennials just don’t make as much money as the generations prior to them did. So while they can afford to rent and share things, the process of saving up to purchase something like a car and then spending to maintain it is further from their reach. Secondly, the millennial generation is more nomadic than past generations. They wait until later in life to buy homes (some of them are lifetime renters) and switch apartments — and even cities and states and countries — several times before they settle into one place. Who wants permanent ownership of tons of “stuff” when you’re moving around?

Millennials Really Do Care More About the Planet

Yes, this has certainly been said about other generations before and then their planet passion fizzled and died. The difference this time around is that (to any logical brain) it is undebatable that there is a climate crisis beginning — or even in full thrust. Millennials will be on this planet longer than the generations before them and they seem, for a variety of reasons, more inclined to make lifestyle choices with global warming (as well as global socio economic issues) in mind. This means that they’re far less likely to show up in a big box store and load up with tons of “stuff” for no reason other than “retail therapy.” In fact, millennials are known for spearheading the local shopping movement.

They Live in a Virtual World

How much “stuff” do you need when everything is on your smartphone? It’s a question that is still in progress to be answered, and certainly millennials don’t have a problem coveting “stuff” when it comes to technology and much else. This is a developing point, and we don’t have answers yet. What we do know is that as more moves to the cloud, less needs to live in the closet.

Where millennials actually impact the consumer machine is still a work in progress, but in many ways they’ve already forced shifts for the better. So the next time you’re complaining about a “lazy millennial,” keep in mind that you may have a point, or you may not!

Pro Tip: This was our favorite article that we read while researching this topic!

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Photo Credit: Elizabeth Hahn via Flickr

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