In most of the advanced economies, the millennials are today the largest groups in the working population but this is only part of the equation; for millennials are creating a strong basis for social renewal. They believe in the strength of communities, in local, in no barriers of gender or race. This generation does view the world through very different eyes.
Some argue that the millennials are one of the most diverse, tolerant, educated and idealistic generations to be seen for some time. This group can no longer be described as being the young for many are now in their late thirties and are positioned to be the leaders of tomorrow who will hand the task of delivering the change that they so desire. In the US, this generation numbers close to 77 million so it is no small group to be discounted. It is their idealism though which can create genuine change and see society once again find a strong balance with the new narrative.
The most educated of generations
One of the logical questions to ask is whether the growth in idealism is linked with greater education. It was in the late 1990s, as Tony Blair ran for Government, that he spoke of the importance of education being a centrepiece in his Government. “Education, education, education” was his mantra. The argument was simple. The more educated that society was; the more progressive it would be. It is maybe now that we are beginning to really see the results of that philosophy. It maybe that it will be with Gen Z that the full potential of the investment in education as a major social tool will be seen and that is not far away.
It is not hard to see that each passing generation is more educated than the previous one, and compromises that little bit less than the one previous. The Silent Generation set the tone of change with the new narrative of the 1950s and 60s. So much did change and there was a growth in social consciousness. However, the 1970s was a sober and difficult era which did erode some of the optimism of the 60s. The baby boomers grew up with great ideas but they also had a strong desire to build a better economic and social base which acted as a spur for this generation to become arguably the most successful business generation in history in terms of wealth generation. They lived the dream released by Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher and their free economics in the 1980s. However, until the 00s there was an underlying understanding that leaders also held a social responsibility to their employees, teams and communities. This did change in the 00s under the influence of a long economic boom period combined with real advancements in technology.
However, greater education does naturally lead to greater numbers thinking with greater clarity in a bigger vision & picture. The more educated that each generation becomes, it is natural that a stronger social awareness and belief in progressive practices would emerge.
The share of young adults with a bachelor’s degree or higher has steadily climbed since 1968. Amongst Millennials, around 39% of those ages 25 to 37 have a bachelor’s degree or higher, compared with just 24% of Baby Boomers and 15% in the previous generation. It is clear that with each passing generation, there is a higher level of the educated emerging.
One of the interesting social changes though is that the share of millennial women with a bachelor’s degree is now higher than that of men. It does seem that women particularly have been driven to achieve higher levels. Of course, it can be argued that women tend to value the importance of education that little bit more as they feel, rightly or wrongly, that they have had to prove themselves that much more.
One of the real complications is that the baby boom generation has been perceived to have amassed great wealth. However, the relative earnings of middle management have remained relatively flat over the last thirty years. In hard facts, the millennials have only earnt slightly less than in previous generations; the major difference that previous generations reached positions of leadership at an early age and felt far more empowered. Back in the 1980s, it used to be viewed as a fair ambition to aspire to be a director by the age of 30. Today, this would be very unlikely to be achieved. The average age of becoming a director today has increased quite markedly and the average age of becoming a CEO too has risen to 59.
One can argue the case of earnings between generations but the real concerns have been the lack of opportunity and the lack of genuine empowerment. Many complain and wonder at the disengagement of the emerging generations without seemingly asking the hard questions of how they would have felt themselves?
Real change is driven through the opportunity to achieve. If this is restrained then it is very natural that the tensions rise. The millennials and Gen Z will acquire wealth as they themselves are empowered and allowed to influence. It is important to provide emerging talent with genuine opportunity as it is this that powers the economy.