A millennial’s potential
The author is a professor of demographics at Seoul National University.
The millennial generation might have the biggest influence over today’s market trends. As books studying Generations Y and Z fill up bookstores, market experts say that no product or service can succeed unless they win over the hearts of millennials.
Pinpointing the exact age group of the millennial can differ by nation. In Korea, the term refers to those born between the mid 1980s and ’90s, who are currently in the 20s to 30s age range. The generation grew up in the digital and computing environment. They are more used to communicating over social media and the internet than having face-to-face meetings, and they are more conscious of environmental issues. They value individualism more than collectivism, spending more on today’s happiness than tomorrow’s, and strive to find a balance between work and leisure.
Millennials tend to ignore the spotlight on them. Some in the older Generation X also think they are not special as they too are familiar with technology, having grown up with computers and seen the wireless evolution and are equally conscious about social issues such as democracy movements. They also had earphones to use while listening to music — although on portable CD players — and backpacked during trips to Europe or elsewhere to see the world.
There would be no need to endeavor to study and understand millennials if they were not that different from elder generations. Products and services or market systems that had worked well for Generation X could apply to the Generations Y and Z. But are they really not any different? To the eyes of demographic experts like me, there are distinctive differences. I could name three of them at least.
First, today’s young generation has been educated beyond comparison. Eight out of 10 people born in 1989 went to university, regardless of their gender. The ratio was 63 percent for Generation X men and 57 percent for Generation X women who turned 30 in 2005. It was 31 percent for men and 15 percent for women who were 30 in 1990. Life cannot be the same for those in their 30s who have such stark differences in education. Jobs were waiting upon graduation for those who went to college in the ’80s. During the industrialization and developing stage, a university degree secured a career and success because only a selective number of people had it. Generation X also had less trouble. A college degree today has less value now because most people have one. Millennials may be more educated, but they are less appreciated for it.
Second, marriage matters less. Among those who are 30 this year, just 25 percent of men and 45 percent of women are married. When Generation X was 30, the ratio was 43 percent for men and 70 percent for women. Among the previous generation, the ratio was 77 percent for men and 91 percent for women. Simply put, people now in their 50s found themselves married and parents earlier in life. Millennials are an exception.
Third, the job market is different. The pressure comes when there is a bigger population of elders in the labor market. In 1990, those aged 30 worked in an environment where their elders under 50 made up a population 12 times larger than them. Today’s 30-year-olds face a population of elders under 50 that is 25 times bigger than that. A generation under doubled pressure cannot have the same values of as their elders. They are under a greater squeeze to fight for a job. The concept of competition and success cannot be the same as in the past.
What should be done to bring out the best in the highly educated and skilled millennial work force? The pressure must first be reduced. Society must break the hierarchy that works in favor of elders. Otherwise, the potential of millennials could go to waste. It was the older generation that built their potential — it is now their duty to help them shine.
Translation by the Korea JoongAng Daily staff.
JoongAng Ilbo, April 25, Page 31