In the first two parts of this mini-series on Millennials we talked about how the world is a vastly different place than it once was for prior generations and how we, Millennials, sometimes find ourselves out of sync with societal expectations because our life doesn’t fit into the same “box.” In this piece I’ll focus on our total life timeline, both personal and professional, as well as how we might move forward with our changing societal structure.

Our personal and professional timelines are substantially different, so our expectations should be too -

Life Expectancy –

  • There have been major changes in our population’s life expectancy over time. For context –
    • In 1900 the average US citizen’s life expectancy was 47.3 years, relative to 68.2 years for a Boomer born in 1950, and 75.8 for a Millennial born in 1995.
    • At age 65, there is a stark difference too – for Boomers that reach age 65, the average person will live 13.9 additional years, relative to Millennials that are projected to live an additional 17.9 years.
    • Check out the differentials by date of birth, sex and race here - https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/hus/2019/004-508.pdf
  • Effectively, Millennials have an additional 7.5 and 5 years to work with compared to someone born in 1950 & 1970.

Entry into the workforce –

  • For a number of reasons, Millennials enter the workforce at the oldest age on-record. We generally graduate high school at 18, undergrad at 22, and grad school at 25. The opportunity cost of this delay is significant because we are missing out on 4-7 years of earning potential and, due to student debt, actually enter the workforce with a negative net worth.
  • To demonstrate the significance of this  difference, if a hypothetical worker earned the inflation adjusted equivalent of $50,000 for those 7 years and saved 10%, they would have a net worth of $35,000, relative to the average graduate student starting out with $60,000 - $90,000 in debt. In the game of life, Millennials are starting multiple steps behind the start line due to societal expectations for educational attainment.

Life Beyond Work –

  • Because we are projected to live beyond retirement longer than any previous generation, our timeline doesn’t have to be as condensed. This means our generation’s retirement path will likely differ from the current model of working as many hours as possible during your career to be promoted, to then hit age 60-65, retire fully, take Social Security (and potentially a pension) and enjoying the sunset years.
  • Millennials are redefining what retirement means, moving from a narrow, job-specific focus to a broader, more holistic, life-centric focus. Our goal is to achieve what we want financially, physically, and mentally. This may mean consciously joining the FIRE movement (financial independence, retire early), working a side hustle to accelerate saving, or simply enjoying life as it comes with a typical 9-5 job. Ultimately, we aren’t looking to retire “from” work but retire “to” the freedom we aspire to have.
  • Interestingly, this concept isn’t new. Benjamin Franklin was one of the first to retire early, and consciously express contentment with his life. He was determined to live his life on his own accord. Here’s a link to the story -  https://www.forbes.com/sites/chrisreining/2020/09/23/benjamin-franklins-timeless-money-advice/?sh=2126f3092439

Different Paths –

Life –

  • The US is the most economically productive nation in the world; however, we fail miserably on nearly every metric of happiness, health, and wellbeing. Let’s collectively reimagine what our longevity can do for our long-term health by considering changes to our work-life balance, lifestyle, and stress today, to enable us to live a more fruitful, balanced, and engaging life.

Communication –

  • Employees and employers would greatly benefit from open dialogue about what each party needs, and desires, from their arrangement. The “norms” of pre-COVID are likely permanently changed, so we need to work together to create more collaborative, autonomous, inclusive, and productive workplaces.

Timing –

  • Some Millennials are looking to retire by 40, while others anticipate working past 70. Our individual goals differ, but we can share information on what works for each of us to create better awareness and understanding in our current and future endeavors.  

Where do we go from here with our societal, personal, and professional relationship structures?

For personal relationships, how do we move forward as a society to address the diversity of opportunity, thought, and lifestyle to reimagine how we can better our lives and that of future generations?

Marriage –  

  • Marriage has been an integral part of society’s foundation for centuries; however, its importance to Millennials is the lowest of any generation to date as we continue to evolve the concept. We’ve watched during our lifetime as divorce rates have grown to exceed 40%, the average marriage length has decreased to 8 years and restrictive LGBTQ+ laws have limited freedoms that affect millions in our generation.  
  • Principally, being married to a partner of your choosing does not change your level of happiness, contentment, or longevity with that person, which is why up to 25% of all Millennials age 25-34 are cohabitating but have no plans to get married in the short term.
  • This is supported by a recent study from Bentley University that found 53% of those age 30-49 surveyed believed that society is just as well off when society focuses on other priorities besides marriage and children.
  • The act of marriage doesn’t define who we are as individuals or as a cohort, nor does an expensive wedding or filing our taxes together.
  • Let’s make a conscious decision to stop fearing what is different and consider how our generation’s relationships and partnerships can productively contribute to society. Making different decisions and having diverse preferences are not inherently wrong. We can learn much from each other.

Children –

  • The birth rate in the United State has steadily decreased over the past 5 decades to its lowest level on record with 3.6 million births in 2020. A multitude of factors are impacting the birth rate, with some key factors being the COVID pandemic, economic instability, student debt, women’s career growth, and educational attainment.
  • As Millennials attain higher levels of education, they are more likely to be career-focused, live in dual-income households and have fewer children, if any.
  • Once again, being child-free is different, but not something to fear as a society. This simply means that we will have additional full-time contributors to innovation, science, entrepreneurship and thought leadership to make the world a better place for our ourselves, your children, and future generations.  

Variable Work -

  • The concept of work has evolved, in similar ways to that of marriage, family, and lifestyle. Gone are the days of corporate offices and long-term careers being the only option for earning a living. We now live in a multi-faceted, global economy that is made up of traditional employees, remote workers, and the gig economy, the acceptance of which has been accelerated by COVID.
  • Employees, entrepreneurs, contractors, and employers are all working through the learning process of how supporting short-term engagements with a variety of contributors best functions.
  • Millennials believe having the autonomy to influence when, how, where, and with whom we work will build a variety of relationship across multiple industries, further increasing opportunities and individual contributions in the global workforce.

Food For Thought –

     Change –

  • Change is constant in all of our personal and professional lives. Why aren’t we trying to solve for our own, and others’, wellbeing as part of this equation?
  • Our current economic and societal structure doesn’t work for millions of Americans, so let’s embrace change for the betterment of ourselves and others.  
  • Next time a big “change” happens, think of it as an opportunity to explore new facets of your personal or work life. You might just find you enjoy the new instead of fearing it.

     Autonomy –

  • As a society, we are increasingly responsible for our own career and financial wellbeing. Take care to be conscious about your life and financial planning, as there are nearly limitless opportunities, but an equivalent number of pitfalls too.

     New Concepts -

  • Consider discussing finances, career objectives, and mental health with your personal stakeholders (family, friends and employers).
  • Millennials are looking to evolve a number of the societal constructs that have existed. Simply because it has always been “that way” doesn’t mean it must, or should, always be so.  
  • The world is finally opening up to societal and economic structural changes, it would be irresponsible of us to not reimagine how we can move forward as a society.

     Conclusion –

  • We need to consider changing the measure of success for our careers and personal lives. The former metric of buying a car, then a house, getting married, building a long-term career, then having kids, doesn’t necessarily apply to everyone. Maybe we should consider translating our metrics to focus on personal happiness and wellbeing instead, regardless of what your material possessions, job title, or personal life structure might be.