Kids Today -- The Arrival of "The Millennials":
Over at, Hofstra Law librarian Tricia Kasting has an essay for law school staff and instructors on the psychology of the new generation of law students, dubbed "The Millennials." According to Kasting, and a lot of high-paid consultants, "Millennials" are the replacement for "Generation X" and are different from the Xers:
Millennials are those with birth years 1982 to roughly 2002. They are a larger group than the Boomers, and they are the most diverse generation ever. The core personality traits are: special, sheltered, confident, conventional, team-oriented, achieving and pressured.

Special: have been told they are special all their lives.
Sheltered: kept from harm's way and have highly structured lives.
Confident: see special; they expect good news and believe in themselves.
Conventional: accept social rules.
Team-oriented: they like to work together and keep in contact with peers.
Achieving: see special, confident and team-oriented; they expect to accomplish a lot.
Pressured: much is expected from them.

They have used technology all their lives and are comfortable with it, but they also expect stimulation and dislike mundane work. Mass media has left an impression that work should be fun, be exciting and immediately pay high salaries. Their expectations of achievement and career success are often not be realistic, and without the structure provided by their parents they may be directionless. . . .

They are used to structure and like to have clear defined rules and policies. They respect authority and will generally conform to the rules. A Millennial will protest to authority about a rule they don't like but accept when the reasons are explained. . . .

Millennials are confident and achievement oriented. They expect to do well and accept the services we offer as the natural order. They are not sure how to do something, but are confident they can learn.
  So here's the question: Are these changes real?

  I tend to think not, but then I'm pretty skeptical about claims of generational change. My pet theory is that the baby boom generation really was different, and focus on the baby boomers forty years ago created a market for and interest in these sorts of generalizations even if they're not supported by particularly strong evidence. Plus, I would guess that as we get older and relate less to recent college grads, we want to come up with an explanation for that distance that puts the responsibility on them, not us. (In other words, the subtext of such narratives is that if kids today strike you as weird, it's them, not you.)

  This isn't to say that times don't change; technology can shape social experience, and those growing up with new technologies naturally have a different relationship to it. But I guess I'm pretty skeptical that "the Millennials" are much different from "Generation X," or that "Generation X" was much different from whatever you want to call the generation before that. I tend to think that for the most part, people are just people.

  Thanks to for the link.

  UPDATE: I should point out, for the sake of full disclosure, that I am a member of "Generation X." So if you think I'm wrong in this post, please understand that this is the best effort of a slacker with a short attention span who doesn't care about anything and is in search of himself.
9.28.2006 12:52pm
Derek Balsam (mail):
Sounds a lot like astrology to me.

The claim here is that every human being born in the USA over a 20-year period has the same "core personality traits"? There's what, about 4 million births a year... so 80 million people share these same traits. But these traits are presumably not shared by people born in other years.

Either the traits are defined so broadly as to be useless, or the traits are just wrong. Yup, sounds just like astrology.
9.28.2006 12:56pm
I do think that people have "formative" years, and that their worldviews and life aspirations are influenced by the historical and cultural milieu they are exposed to during those years. So even though people are basically the same, it is possible to make certain generalizations about generations.

Of course, many things do remain the same over time, and many factors that are not common to a given generation (class, geography, etc.) influence people. So generational generalizations are pretty weak. But they can be made.
9.28.2006 1:11pm
Gabriel Rossman (www):
In my research (on changes in musical taste) there's a pretty big difference between pre-1950 and post-1950 birth cohorts. I checked GSS data on attitudes towards premarital sex and there the watershed cohort appears to be about 1945. Much as it pains me to say it, my own Gen-X birth cohort is pretty similar to most of the baby boom and I see no indication that millenials are any different.
9.28.2006 1:11pm
Houston Lawyer:
It is interesting to watch a group whose parents are incapable of disciplining their children. What's sad is that they don't appear to understand that discipline helps a child.
9.28.2006 1:20pm
Steven Plunk (mail):
While the group will not all share personality traits we can expect groups born in different eras to have differences from previous groups. The technology use is a good example as is the sheltered life. Both of these changes were made by society and put upon this group, they didn't pick them, it was the environment provided.

Saying that we must now remember that advertisers and the media overplay these generational differences. They create an image that many embrace such as the boomers embraced the image foisted upon them (to everyones detriment).

Having a fifteen year old son I see him and his friends being more independent and less concerned with image than previous generations. More diversity of opinion and less trust(scepticism) than my generation or the boomers had.

The difference between them and GenX is that they are not living in the wake of the boomers like we did. Though technically a boomer(b. 1960) I saw that generation as self indulgent fools who let common sense be overshadowed by idealism. Self centered and subject to moral relativism boomers left a trail of ruin institutions for us (GenX) to deal with. Even today advertisers are targeting boomers with retirement plans and lifestyles that are idealistic rather than realistic.

The changes are real but I expect they will be exagerated by those who can exploit them.
9.28.2006 1:21pm
JLR (mail):
The generalizations that Tricia Kasting makes of "millenials" pretty much resemble David Brooks's generalizations about the winners in the American meritocracy that he likes to evangelize.

See David Brooks's "Organization Kid" (Atlantic Monthly, April 2001) for his in-depth analysis of (and, to a fairly large extent, paean to) the American elite-in-training.

Professor Kerr's above critique of unsubstantiated generalizations makes a good point; viz., that unsubstantiated generalizations about any differences will inevitably overstate said differences.

But perhaps the reason why Professor Kerr might be right is that Kasting and Brooks describe not a generational phenomenon but a social phenomenon.

Namely, Kasting and Brooks are describing a social class that one can call the "Winners of the American Meritocracy."

Of course, generalizations about social classes fall prey to the same criticisms that generalizations about generations do. Nevertheless, there is something to be said for finding certain characteristics to be pervasive among the American meritocratic elite.
9.28.2006 1:24pm
Taeyoung (mail):
As a Millenial myself (1982), most of those core characteristics describe me reasonably well. I'm not sure how much of that is a generational thing (most of my schooling and peer-interaction has been with the previous generation -- Generation X?), and how much is due to my being the firstborn in my family. Isn't there some sociology or psychology research about how the firstborn are pressured, tend towards conventionality, think they are special, etc.?

Sort of building off of that (with no particular data, even anecdotally), I wonder whether Millenials are only-children in greater numbers than earlier generations.
9.28.2006 1:26pm
See, Oren, you were just born ahead of your time. You're really a Millenial!
9.28.2006 1:33pm
Bill Harshaw (mail) (www):
As a pre-boomer just old enough to remember War bond stamps, ration coupons, and saving tin cans for WWII, I think the idea of "formative experiences" has something to it. That probably helped me to accept being drafted, something boomers like Clinton, Bush, and Fallows didn't. I suspect 9/11 had less impact on me that it seems to have had on others. I'd also agree with technology impacts--TV and birth control pills had a big impact on past generations.

But I'd also agree it's perilously easy to overgeneralize and see what you want in generational phenomena.
9.28.2006 1:44pm
Jake (Guest):
It doesn't really make sense to me to extend the class of people out to 2002. How can we possibly know how today's four year olds are going to turn out as adults?

Relatedly, is it really true that somebody born in 1982 is more similar to somebody born in 1992 than to somebody born in 1980?
9.28.2006 1:49pm

I should point out, for the sake of full disclosure, that I am a member of "Generation X."

With that hairline, are you sure you aren't really a "baby buster"? [note that I'm similarly tonsured and early-born]
9.28.2006 2:28pm
Gabriel Rossman (www):

There was a psychology literature on birth order effects but it was thoroughly debunked. See:
Jeremy Freese, Brian Powell, and Lala Carr Steelman. 1999. "Rebel Without a Cause or Effect: Birth Order and Social Attitudes." American Sociological Review 64: 207-31.
9.28.2006 2:37pm
Ship Erect (mail) (www):
The timeframe is ridiculous. If Kurt Cobain were alive today, he'd be almost forty; Richard "Withdrawal in disgust is not the same as apathy" Linklater is forty-six. Four-year-olds are in the generation after theirs?

These same "core personality traits" could indeed describe the "Greatest Generation." What, exactly, is "expected" of this generation? What could be more expected of a generation than to beat the Nazis? We have no draft--obviously expectations coudn't be that high.
9.28.2006 2:47pm
Well, obviously culture has an impact on beliefs and behaviors, and obviously culture changes, so it shouldn't be surprising that there are differences. E.g., there's noticeable differences between Depression/WWII-era children, "boomers," and "Gen X" types due to the effect of growing up during a time of deprivation (it could be worse), during the post-war boom (idealistic and/or disillusioned), and after Vietnam and Watergate (cynical, apathetic). But like all generalizations, these are broad impressionistic characterizations and you can push them only so far. Has technological change had an impact on culture to the same extent as Vietnam and Watergate and 60s violence, so that "millenials" are different from Gen Xers? Hard to say, but even if it has, I think it's been somewhat gradual, making a sharp line harder to draw.
9.28.2006 3:25pm

Hairline? What hairline?
9.28.2006 3:44pm
I've always thought of my family as being in between "generations" -- born in the "off" years, so to speak. My parents were born in the middle of the Depression, and remember WWII very very vaguely. My dad was in the Air National Guard (a supply sargent) and was too young for Korea and too old for Vietnam. I was born in 1963, and "The Sixties" for me are a few fragmented vague memories. Note that 1963 was not the highest birth rate of the Baby Boom, but that was the largest birth cohort and that record held for quite some years afterwards, so there are a lot of us "off generation" folks out there.
9.28.2006 3:49pm
liberty (mail) (www):
I do think that these different eras and technology and time periods that people live through have a huge impact - but are only one variable. I think that, for example, the baby-boomer cum hippies (a subset of total baby boomers) often became the worst friend-parent with no disciplining and produced a generation of borderline schizophrenic semi-delusional often over-medicated children.

The boomers had a lot in common and their children had a lot in common: but the subset of boomers that became hippies and their children were very different from those who did not. And those two generations often had more in common with each other than either had with the others in their own generation.

Many friends of mine relate very well with their parents and friends of their parents but would not be capable of holding a conversation with someone of the same age from Kansas.

And I think I have more in common with David Horowitz (a baby boomer - I am a pretty much Gen-Y born just prior to the start maybe, depending on how defined) than with many born in my generation, because culturally I simply have more in common.

Because it is a cultural phenomenon, there is truth to it, but like any cultural phenomenon its just one component and may be overshadowed by others.
9.28.2006 9:42pm
Assistant Village Idiot (mail) (www):
I think we accept when we enter such conversations it has to be with the understanding that the generalizations are vague. The differences between individual members of a cohort are going to be far greater than the differences between cohorts. The bell curve, or if you prefer the Venn Diagram, likely shifts slightly year by year and after awhile creates a noticeable difference.

My first two sons were born in 1979 and 1983. The description above fits both somewhat, but the older more than the younger. That would be a data point agaisnt the theory. They are both, however, far more like the description than I am, which would suggest there is something to it.
9.28.2006 10:54pm
Not that this is contributing to the topic, but I've always heard Gen Y (which may or may not be the same as Millenials) defined as "Someone who has never used a rotary phone."
9.29.2006 2:11am

Millennials are those with birth years 1982 to roughly 2002. They are a larger group than the Boomers,

Is that really true? And if the Boomers are 1946-57, how is it the "millenials" are over a 20 year period?

The more interesting essay does not relate to law school...hmmm...that is damning with faint is the one that describes what the current college freshmen have always experienced and have never experienced, e.g. for this year's entering freshmen, there has never been a Soviet Union, a Cold War, vinyl records. There has never not been computers, internet etc.
9.29.2006 2:27am
Alan K. Henderson (mail) (www):
The Boomer cohort ends at 1960, when I was born. As a geeky intellectual and finger-pointing moralist, I definitely fit the profile. (And definitely have use for a blog.)
9.29.2006 3:59am
liberty (mail) (www):
If boomers are 1945-1960, then I would think it'd go like this:

1945-60 Baby Boomers
1960-75 Generation X
1975-90 Generation Y
1990-2005 Millenials

And given this def it is obvious that we do not truly know the personality of the millenials since those actually born around the millenium are still too young.
9.29.2006 9:11am
Shawn Levasseur (mail) (www):
The very name "Generation X" should be a hint that you can't characterize an entire generation. They couldn't come up with something that they have in common other than being born in the same era.

Most of what has been traditionally called "Baby Boomer" characteristics actually are characteristics only of the white middle-class of that generation. Even then, it was stereotyping.
9.29.2006 11:24am
Another big problem is families that double-tap a generation (two generations in one "generation") or skip one. I had a classmate born in '81 whose Dad fought on Okinawa. What was she? the last baby boomer? The last X-er? A middle Y-er? The first Millenium? I had another classmate born in '82 who had a baby born in '00. Are they a pair of Millenials?
9.29.2006 2:57pm
ElizabethN (mail):
If you're wondering about the "Millenials" term and generations theory, I believe it was first expounded in Generations: The History of America's Future, 1584 to 2069, by Neil Howe and William Strauss.
9.29.2006 3:33pm
tioedong (mail) (www):
Baby boomers weren't "different"...the elites of the baby boomers might have been, but the rest of us worked hard and tried to raise families as society crashed around us.
As for the "millenials", what is different is that they are more moral in many ways (less promiscuity but accepting gays, more conservative and willing to work part time). And many of the "racism" arguments and affirmative action are passe for them.
Or are you talking about the "upper middle class elite whites" while ignoring imigrants?
9.30.2006 12:06am
Alan K. Henderson (mail) (www):
If boomers are 1945-1960, then I would think it'd go like this
The generations don't have a set length. They tend to span roughly 20 years. When the old one ends and the new one starts depends on when the cultural shift takes place.

Perhaps one point of confusion is the similar naming of two largely but not perfectly overlapping eras - the Baby Boom (1945-1963) and the Boomer Generation (1943-1960).

Generation Y is the Millennial Generation - see here.
9.30.2006 6:02am