As part of Diane's remote author interview series, she had the chance to speak with Ann Patchett in January over video Zoom as a live audience watched. Here's that conversation.
Today’s 20-somethings are politically progressive, at ease with technology and more ethnically diverse than previous generations. How millennials are re-defining traditional ideas of what it means to be an adult.
- Paul Taylor Executive vice president of the Pew Research Center.
- Hannah Seligson Journalist and author of "Mission: Adulthood."
- David Burstein Author of "Fast Future: How the Millennial Generation Is Shaping Our World."
- Roger Fierro Co-founder of the start-up First Encounter Productions.
Read An Excerpt
Excerpted from “Fast Future: How the Millennial Generation Is Shaping Our World” by David D. Burstein
(Beacon Press, 2013). Reprinted with permission from Beacon Press.
Read An Excerpt
Excerpted from “Mission: Adulthood: How the 20-Somethings of Today Are Transforming Work, Love, and Life” by Hannah Seligson (Diversion Books, 2012). Reprinted with permission from Diversion Books.
MS. DIANE REHMThank for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. Unlike many of their boomer parents, millennials are not changing the world through calls for revolution and political movements. But like the boomers, observers of this generation say millennials have made a loud entrance onto the national stage. So what does it mean to be a millennial? Here in the studio, David Burstein. He's author of "Fast Future: How the Millennial Generation is Shaping Our World."
MS. DIANE REHMHannah Seligson, journalist and author of "Mission Adulthood." Roger Fierro, co-founder of the start-up First Encounter Productions. And Paul Taylor. He's with the Pew Research Center. And throughout the hour, I invite you to be part of the program whether you are part of the millennial generation or any other. Give us a call, 800-433-8850, send us an email to firstname.lastname@example.org, follow on Facebook or Twitter. Good morning to all of you.
REHMGood to see you all. Hannah, I'll start with you. You've been writing about your generation. What is it that makes millennials so special?
MS. HANNAH SELIGSONDo we have the whole hour? They're so diverse, they're so innovative, they're entrepreneurial, and we're living through this time of seismic social and political changes. We've never had as much gender and racial diversity, and so for me, my thesis is that we're the next greatest generation. And I would love to hear from everyone else about it.
REHMThe next greatest generation.
REHMTell me why you think that.
SELIGSONBecause -- and I think some of this polling actually comes from Pew, and this is something that I really just kind of hang onto here. We believe in interracial marriage, we don't turn our heads -- most people don't when they see a same sex couple walking down the street, and I think that kind of tolerance makes us a really noteworthy historical generation.
REHMThat's very interesting. Roger Fierro, you're a co-founder of the start-up First Encounter Productions, and you're also featured in Hannah's book. Tell me your reaction, what is it about millennials that we as perhaps older adults ought to take note of.
MR. ROGER FIERROI think that there should be special attention paid to what we're reacting against, right? There's a lot of things that have been -- that peg millennials as whiny or lazy or entitled. And instead of kind of thinking about why that is, and -- it's instead seen as a negative thing, and I think that one of the things that I love about this panel is that it seems like everybody has a positive approach to what a millennial is. I feel like most of the things that I've read have been negative or critical.
REHMLike what? Like what?
FIERROI don't know. If you Google millennial, and you read the New York Times, or any publication I think, at some point there has been a shift, and I think what Hannah and David have written are really good examples of that. And the stuff that Pew does is really cool too. That quiz is amazing.
REHMAnd let me turn now to David Burstein. You're author of "Fast Future: How the Millennial Generation is Shaping Our World." You're also the founder of the Youth Voter Engagement Organization Generation 18. How is the millennial generation shaping our world?
MR. DAVID BURSTEINWell, when you look at it, you know, there's never been a generation that's had such a transformative impact on all other generations. You know, if you look at the impact that this generation is having on the way we all communicate, and this generation, through creating new technology companies and new platforms is shifting the way that you, Diane, have to do your show, and that you, you know, now have to tell everyone to go on Twitter and Facebook to be part of the show. That's a direct impact of businesses started by people in this generation.
MR. DAVID BURSTEINAnd if you look at the way that these platforms and this way of communicating comes naturally to this generation, you need only look at the Arab Spring and see what happened. There were lots of disaffected people all over the Middle East of all generations, and it was young people who understood the power, the transformative power, of, you know, being young and being in this time period who were able to take advantage of that, take advantage of the ability to scale that other generations weren't.
REHMAnd to you, Paul Taylor. Given that access or creation of new communication media, how does that change the outlook, not only for millennials themselves, but for the rest of us, you and me for example?
MR. PAUL TAYLORI think it's enormously empowering. The millennial generation is the first generation of digital natives. These new communication technologies with people like you and I, we still have our jaws dropped.
REHMWe're catching up.
TAYLORWe have -- it just astounds us...
TAYLOR...that you can hold in your hand, you know, you click a few buttons and all the accumulated knowledge of the world is at your fingertips. For this generation, of course, it's the only world they've ever known, and they are able to adapt to it and take it to places that the rest of us will be chasing them.
TAYLORSo that is enormously empowering. But there is another side to the millennial that story. I agree completely they're a very, very consequential generation, although just really just getting started. But they are just getting started in a very difficult economic climate. They have been dealt a very hard hand, probably the worst hand of any coming-of-age generation since the Great Depression. And how that plays out in the course of our lives is a story yet to be written. One, I am impressed as somebody that looks at a lot of data at how upbeat they have remained in the face of very tough economic times.
REHMHow do you account for that?
TAYLORWell, I'm going to -- I'll let my colleagues here who are of that--but I can tell you the numbers, and the numbers are that if you ask somebody in his or her 20s, you know, do you now have the life you want economically, they will say no, of course not, because 40 or 50 percent of them are not even in the work force. A lot of them are still living with mom and dad. They've delayed child -- they've delayed adulthood, they've delayed marriage.
TAYLORThey are in a very slow walk to adulthood, and that's very much I think related to their economic circumstances. Has it bummed them out? No, I don't think so looking at my data. And are they -- is it just because they're young and they don't know any better? Maybe. Or is it something about who they are and how they have come of age, and I would say that the empowering force of digital communication...
TAYLOR...they can put themselves at the center of the universe. Fifty years ago, if you took a funny picture of your cat, you maybe showed it to your sister, and that was about it. Now, if...
TAYLORNow if it's a good one...
TAYLOR...you know a hundred people might see it, or a million people might see it, and there is something about that that I think has influenced the collective, you know, personality of this generation.
SELIGSONBut Paul, I would say that we're not on a slower walk to adulthood, I'd say we are reimagining adulthood and the economics of this play in.
REHMWhat do you mean, re-imagine?
SELIGSONAnd the economics of this play in enormously. I think we're in this moment of reinventing the American dream. Because the American dream of a house in the suburbs and 2.2 kids and a car is, quite frankly, just not attainable for lot of people. So I think -- and this came up when I was doing interviews for my book "Mission Adulthood," that people are rethinking what does it mean to be an adult? And maybe it doesn't mean having a house in the suburbs. Maybe it means having a smaller apartment. Maybe we're picking having job satisfaction over job security and deferring earning potential.
SELIGSONAnd so I think that given the economic hand we have been dealt, which is really horrific, we are thinking about how to do the best with the worst hand, and that means that we have to have different markers of what it means to be an adult. I think we will have fewer kids, we'll delay marriage, and I think we will downsize our lives significantly.
TAYLORI mean, I think it's important when you think about people say this generation has this sort of terrible economic outlook, it's important to remember that that -- a lot of that is based on the standard cost of living which include homeownership and car ownership, and all these costs -- and right now we have the lowest, as Hannah said, sort of the lowest rates of all of those things that we've seen for any youth demographic in history. So I think it's a question of how, you know, how we look at what long-term economic future means is actually being changed.
REHMBut, you know, I keep hearing about college debt and what you come out of college with, and how that's going to affect your ability to move forward, Roger?
FIERROThat's a really good place for me to jump in. That -- as much as it's cheaper to buy a house or that, you know, it seems to be a good environment to buy, right? There was something interesting that happened with the housing crisis. It was somewhat of a charade, right? There were lots of foreclosures because people couldn't keep up with their payments because something funny happened with banks. I think the same thing happened with student loans at some point, and I think that I was one of those that was duped.
FIERROI was admitted into the University of Illinois, which is kind of like the big state school in Illinois. Most -- a lot of kids from my high school went there. But I wanted something a little bit different. I knew that I needed to make leaps and bounds in order to get out of the situation, you know, kind of like a working class urban environment, that I took on about a hundred thousand dollars in student loans to go to the University of Chicago, and I grew up thinking, and I grew up reading, that if you went to a great school you would make a lot of money and you'd be a great person. And when I graduated, I found that that wasn't necessarily guaranteed.
REHMAnd of course you've heard the statement from many people that there are no guarantees in this life.
REHMYou did make that decision to take on that debt knowing that at some point you were going to have to pay it back, but you assumed that the opportunity would be there for you immediately after you got out of school.
FIERROIt wasn't so much immediately. I think it was more that we didn't really know what it looked like. We didn't really know what the effect of the recession was going to have. We didn't really know that maybe...
REHMThere wouldn't be a job.
FIERROThere wouldn't be a job and that -- yeah.
REHMAnd that it was going to be tough. And that is Roger Fierro. He's co-founder of the start-up First Encounter Productions. He is featured in Hannah Seligson's book "Mission Adulthood." Short break here and right back.
REHMAnd welcome back. We're talking about a subject that an awful lot of people are interested in right now because the word millennial has come more and more to the fore. People are trying to understand exactly who and what the millennials are. Here in the study David Burstein. He's author of "Fast Future: How the Millennial Generation is Shaping our World." Hannah Seligson is a journalist and author of "Mission Adulthood." She writes frequently about millennials. Roger Fierro is cofounder of the start-up First Encounter Productions. He's featured in Hannah's book
REHMAnd Paul Taylor is executive vice-president of the Pew Research Center. He also serves as director of the center's social and demographic trends project. Coming to you David Burstein, before the break we were talking about Roger's $100,000 debt coming out of college. An awful lot of people have experienced college and university debt. I mean, my husband came out of law school 50 years ago with college debt, which he managed to pay off after several years in the workplace. The different being now, I gather, we know more about it, it's gotten larger and there are no jobs out there.
BURSTEINRight and there are more people going to college. I mean, this is the most educated generation in history so it's no longer just a problem that's facing a small group of people. It's facing, you know, an entire generation. I think, you know, there's a huge burden on this generation in that regard, but I also think on the flipside of that, you know, you see people like Roger who, in spite of facing that debt, are still going out and starting, you know, something that he's incredibly passionate about, which is, you know, a production company to do something to have an impact on the world.
BURSTEINSo I think that that's sort of the upside of it, which is the sense that ultimately in the long run, as Paul alluded to, we have this belief, this optimism that it will work itself out. We will pay those loans off but it's certainly a daunting prospect when you're starting out.
SELIGSONAnd I just sort of wanted to say, I mean, Roger did turn down a full scholarship at the University of Illinois. And what came out when we really dissected that decision, which I think sort of gets lost in the whole college debt debate, is that he grew up in a working class family. He's the first person out of 40 cousins to go to college, and he wanted to leapfrog his social class. And he felt -- and I think probably rightfully so -- that going to a school as prestigious as the University of Chicago was a way to do that. And so I think that sometimes you do have to pay for those opportunities.
REHMPaul, is that still the case?
TAYLOROh, it's still the case. We did a report last year called "Is College Worth It?" and looked at all of these attitudes towards the albatrosses due to loan debt. And lots of families and young adults experience this very profoundly. It's among the most important things in their financial lives. On the other hand, what you'll also find is that the only thing more expensive than going to college is not going to college. That over the course of your lifetime you can figure this different ways.
TAYLORWe calculated that somewhere -- you get somewhere between a half a million to a million dollar economic advantage for having gone to college, even factoring in the lost wages while you're in college and the student loans. So it is a good investment but it is a difficult investment when you come out and there's nothing there for you.
REHMTough. Exactly. Paul, give us some of the stats, the millennials I guess, between 18 and 31 years of age. How do they divide racially, ethnically?
TAYLORWell, that's part of the transformation. And they are much more nonwhite than older generations. And if you look at their younger brothers and sisters it becomes more and more nonwhite. So we are in a path, as a country -- if you go to the middle of the 20th century we were 88 percent white. by the middle of this century we'll be 46 percent white. The millennials are part of that transformation. They express themselves politically in ways, whether it's with the immigration debate now but it's whether it's a whole set of attitudes that are much more liberal than...
TAYLOR...and much more accepted. And so the racial change that I think for older adults it's a lot of change pretty quickly and there's some discomfort around it. The younger adults, it's who they are. It's the most natural thing in the world. So as Hannah was saying earlier, interracial marriage about one -- you know, when Barack Obama's parents were married in 1961 in Hawaii we estimate that about one marriage in 1,000 was an interracial marriage. It was still illegal in many parts of the country. Today about one marriage in six is an interracial or interethnic marriage.
TAYLORAnd what seemed just over the top and was a taboo and a stigma is now increasingly just part of who we are. And it's the millennial generation who make it part of who we are.
REHMRoger, tell us a little about your family, how you grew up, what your aspirations were for yourself and what your parents' aspirations were for you.
FIERROThe aspirations my parents had for me were to live in Chicago and be a city worker. You know, civil servants are pretty much -- most of the people in the city do. My mom worked for Chicago Public Schools, my dad was a union carpenter. They came here illegally in the '70s...
FIERRO...from Mexico. And so, you know, they both naturalized at some point, my dad during the amnesty, my mom in '96. But I feel that -- my grandfather always told me that they struggled because -- they struggled so that we wouldn't have calluses on our hands, right. So the idea is that I was supposed to do a job that didn't involve manual labor or that was, you know, kind of I guess maybe blue collar.
FIERROThe aspirations that I had with myself didn't really match with what was available around me. And I mentioned this a little bit to David earlier that my aspirations came from fiction, from television, from books, from things that I saw, you know, on TV which was my window to the world then because I wasn't a street kid. I was a nerdy kid that stayed inside and read. And so when I found out that -- I didn't know that I was underprivileged growing up until I started the college application process. And I said, hum, I can use this to my advantage and I should actually try to do something that isn't, you know, within the realm of what I imagine now. So I'm going to push myself.
BURSTEINWorked really hard in college to get into the best school that I could. I did. I worked hard. And, you know, I think that the debt that I have really informed what kinds of work I did. I'm kind of a Jane Adams social do-gooder type. And that didn't match up with making lots of money. But I found that in vain of the American entrepreneurial spirit, which is now called start-up, that's what I'm trying to do now so that I don't have to pay -- work one -- you know, work an office job until I'm 50 and maybe I'll pay it off by the time I'm 80.
REHMTell me about First Encounter Productions.
FIERROFirst Encounter's a really -- it's a really fun story. I reconnected with my roommate from college freshman year, who's actually a D.C. boy. He -- so about a year-and-a-half ago when I was leaving teaching and I was starting kind of to try new -- you know, consulting for small businesses and doing kind of like a job juggling thing, Ben called me and asked me if I wanted to shoot him some ideas for reality TV shows. He was meeting with the producer. So that was kind of the first part of us working together.
FIERROA year later he kind of moved to Chicago temporarily and now we started working together since maybe November or October. And what we want to do is to kind of merge activism, education and entertainment. So the idea being that if I hadn't read certain books or if I hadn't watched certain shows I wouldn't know what New York looked like or what New York culture was like, and I wouldn't want to go there. Or if I hadn't seen people going to college on felicity I wouldn't have even imagined what that would be like to move away, you know.
REHMSo the ideas that flow have -- from these millennials, if we can call you all that, are sort of adventurous, are experimental, are outside the box that's already been laid out there for all of you.
SELIGSONYes. And I'm sure David can speak more to this, but you mean just the rise of entrepreneurship? And I think that this is what happens and you see sort of a historical pattern when the financial rug is pulled out from under any generation you are forced to innovate. And maybe it's sad that that is what has to happen as a result of sort of such terrible economic times. But I think what I see I think when it bears out in the data and into my own reporting that you are seeing people re-imagine their careers, you know.
SELIGSONNow it's that people have eight jobs before they turn 30. You see more and more people, the aspiration is not to, you know, necessarily become a partner of Goldman Sachs or to, you know, work at a law firm. It's to, as Roger's doing and so many other people, to start your own company. But I will just say one other thing, that I think the big divide in this generation between the haves and the have nots is whether you have student debt. And that is unconscionable. That is just something that we should all -- and I hope every policy -- every lawmaker in Washington is listening to this -- it is a true scandal.
BURSTEINWell, you know, I mean, I can't agree more with that. And I think that there needs to be more attention to student debt. And I think that you -- the only reason that anyone is talking about it in the political arena, the few people that are, is because of the role this generation played in the last election and the last several elections in turning out and showing that we have political power and political muscle.
REHMBut, you know, at the same time there are lots of people listening who may say to themselves that millennials simply feel as though they're entitled. And, you know, they're sort of unwilling to grow up.
BURSTEINIt's interesting because I get that feedback a lot. And I think when you think about the way that this generation was raised and the culture that we were raised in, it was one where everything in our society, everything our parents told us, everything adults told us was that we were going to have all these great opportunities. We grew up in a prosperous economic climate for the most part in the '90s which said, you know, you're going to go out and have this great opportunity. You should go out and have this great impact. And then we are hit with a reality that doesn't allow us to do that.
BURSTEINI would not consider that as entitled. It's not entitlement when someone makes a promise to you and then as a society fails to live up to the promise of what they told you your world was going to be like. And I think in a lot of ways this generation feels like they were promised something but then the rest of, you know, adults in the society, you know, got carried away with what happened in the financial crisis and didn't keep sort of the promises that they made to this generation.
REHMWe've got to -- David Burstein. He's the author of "Fast Future: How the Millennial Generation is Shaping our World." And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Hannah, you wanted to jump in.
SELIGSONYeah, I mean, I think we could also talk sort of meat and potatoes here too that our grandparents -- I think many of our grandparents probably went to college on the GI bill.
SELIGSONAnd, I mean, I don't think it's entitle to think that we want to live in a society where someone doesn't have to be saddled with hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt. If you look at the proportional spending of military spending versus what we invest in young people, it is -- will boggle your mind. I don't know if it's 77 billion on military spending and 1 billion on young people. I mean, we don't invest in young people. And for young people to want that and to want our society to take care of that, that is not entitle. That is basic respect.
TAYLORWell, you know, one of the perspectives on whether or not this is an entitled generation -- and people -- psychologists who look at personality attributes have suggested that there is some level of narcissism in this generation that's higher than previous generations. If I were to locate a proximate cause of that I think I might go to the parenting styles of this generation. There's been a lot of literature on this generation was raised as a pretty coddled generation. The everybody-gets-a-trophy generation.
TAYLORAnd part of that is loving parents, part of that is perhaps having fewer children than people had in the past. Part of that is living in dangerous times, whether it concerns about crime, whether it concerns about terrorism and all the rest. So I think it is a generalization but it's fair to say that this generation was raised and told by their parents, their teachers, their coaches, you are special. You can do anything. Now parents do that all the time but I suspect there was more of that in this generation.
TAYLORI think then the message of the empowering technology which you can place yourself, you can publish to the world. This is a breathtaking change in human experience and all of which says -- sends messages, I am very special. And then you -- and then along comes the harsh reality of, yeah, I took out that big loan because the future is going to be all mine. And then you crash into a world where you can't find a job or you get an internship or you're back home in your childhood bedroom or you have four roommates.
TAYLORBut the good news is, and we're listening to these other guests, is that -- the world of this generation has not come crashing down. And they have not sort of checked out and said, it's all been a big lie. They are innovating and they are bringing the energy, you know, that is going to change us, and my guess is changes for the better.
REHMOn the other hand, Hannah, you recently wrote an article about people in their 20's stuck in what you called the internship vortex. Talk about that.
SELIGSONYeah, I wrote a piece in Washingtonian about parmitars (sp?) and these are people -- because we have a very padlock job market and you have environmental NGOs that get 900 applicants for an internship that doesn't pay you anything, that you have these sort of perpetual interns. And what I sort of take away from all these different points, that it feels like the system is rigged against our generation and that it is the ladder to social mobility is only for the privileged and for the rich now. And that I -- that is my biggest fear for this generation is that the American Dream will be -- even if we are redefining it, will only be attainable if your parents can pay for college.
BURSTEINWell, you know, I mean, I think -- I'd actually slightly disagree with that and say that, you know, I talked to a guy, for instance, for the book who was a guy from Brooklyn. And he sort of had this experience, didn't go to college, didn't have any, you know -- but he said because he has a computer, because he has the internet he's able to design T-shirts and, you know, he's been able to start a business around doing it. So I actually think in some ways the connectivity has created new possibilities for people because, you know, Smartphone penetration and internet penetration is actually greater and higher in low income communities than it is in some other communities.
BURSTEINSo I think that that sense of access and connectivity has really helped connect people who otherwise may have had no way out and no way out of opportunities. It's not to say that there aren't a lot of challenges still in those communities, but I think there's actually a lot of new possibilities. One of the greatest uses of public libraries is now to connect to the internet, for instance.
REHMExcept that public libraries themselves are being underfunded and failing. David Burstein, Hannah Seligson, Roger Fierro, they're all part of the millennial generation. Paul Taylor and I are in a different group. We'll take a short break now. And when we come back we'll take your calls.
REHMAnd welcome back as we talk about the rising generation of millennials, those between the ages of about 18 and 31. During the break we were talking about 9/11 and Columbine, David.
BURSTEINYou know, I think one of the interesting things about this generation as you've seen us go through these sort of series of these terrible events in our formative years. And, you know, things like 9/11, things like Columbine that took place at time when we were just, you know, figuring out who we were. We were going out of middle school into high school. We were going out of high school into college. We were having these important moments figuring out who our identity was and that was all very much wrapped up in those experiences. Two wars that went on for the majority of our lives that were fought overwhelmingly by people in this generation and our peers.
BURSTEINAnd I think when you go through those kind of experiences, you know, one approach could be a generation of people who's afraid and scared and doesn't -- you know, thinks the world is full of danger and uncertainty, which I think we have seen some people responding to that in that way in other generations with some of the rise of survivalism and things that we've seen even more recently.
BURSTEINBut instead this generation has said, we realize that we're part of a global interdependent world. We realize that the world has problems and we want to do something about them. And we've become resilient and we are able to bounce back from these challenges. I think it's one of the reasons we're able to bounce back from this economic crisis and one of the reasons we are so socially minded.
REHMAll right. Let's take a caller in Madison, Wis. Good morning, Matthew.
MATTHEWHello, Diane. How are you?
MATTHEWSo I guess my comment was -- is that the millennials, we have also been a very trapped and tiered generation. And the top few of our generation has gone to great schools but are now located in maybe five or six cities in this country and are trying to make it in D.C. or San Francisco. And when you get outside of that top tier it is not a rosy picture. These kids do not have jobs that have been consistent. They don't have great long term employment concepts. And it's a much different world outside of that top tier in the millennial generation.
REHMYou know, I have a Twitter to that same topic. It says, "It's obvious to me that Diane only has the New York City/urban millennials represented today speaking as though they represent everyone their age." Big differences, Hannah.
SELIGSONYeah, and I think this is another sort of divide in the generation. There is a huge number and I think that statistically they're called treaders, people who don't have a college degree, who are much more economically disadvantaged, even the people who have loans. And I think we need to caveat this whole conversation with that important point.
REHMAll right. And here is another email on millennials from Leslie. She says, "How and why do millennials respond differently to difficult economic times in adulthood than those emerging into adulthood during or just after the Great Depression? Paul.
TAYLORNot sure I can answer that question. The Great Depression generation, as it came of age, was a great believer in government and in civic institutions. It...
REHMAnd in hard work.
TAYLOR...and in absolutely hard work. And I'm not sure that the millennials aren't also great believers in hard work, but that was...
REHMDifferent kinds. Different kinds.
TAYLORYeah. What that generation saw with the depression and then World War II, they saw government as an agent for good in their own lives and in the world. And today I think one big difference is, we don't see government in those exalted terms, and therefore we don't necessarily see collective action in those terms.
TAYLORSo there's a little bit more of you're in it for yourself and you've got to be savvy and you've got to be smart and you've got to figure it out. And again, empowered by these communication tools, they give you the opportunity to do some of those things.
BURSTEINI would also just add that I think one thing is different -- you know, in my book "Fast Future" one of the reasons I called the book "Fast Future" is because the world that this generation is living in has seen so many of these simultaneous revolutions in every different sector of our economy and our world at the same time that the idea of, you know, things -- what things might look like a year from now. We have a sense that, okay in a year we could be out of this. This could look totally different.
BURSTEINAnd I think people in the Great Depression time period had no sense of feeling like, oh in a year this could all be better. In a few days this could all change because there was no sense of that sort of constant revolution and that constant change and how things were moving.
SELIGSONBut I also think too -- and this sort of goes -- I have a less sort of rosy picture than you do, David, of the two wars and the legacy that it's had on our generation. I profiled a young woman who had to buy her body armor off the internet because Congress didn't fund that. And I think that speaks to a larger point about this sort of lack of safety net that our generation has that has cultivated this kind of Ayn Rand-ish rugged individualism. But is it incumbent on the families and the individuals to help raise up young people? And that is a huge burden. And I think that did -- as you pointed out, Paul, there's not as much trust and faith in government and I think that's a shame.
REHMAll right. To Sylvia in Kalamazoo, Mich. You're on the air.
SYLVIAHi, Diane. Thank you so much for having me on.
SYLVIAOh, there's so much that I could say. I'm actually finding myself right in between Gen X and the millennials. I was born in December of 1980, so I kind of have transitioned these two groups of people. And I was amazed as I was in college, just the vast change that all of a sudden happened to our campus when this whole group of really bright, talented young people, you know, came onto the scene. And I would like to echo Paul's comments about how it really -- there was a dramatic shift in parenting.
SYLVIAMy parents were actually born before the baby boomers during the depression and during World War II. And there's just a completely different approach. I really found my classmates and subsequently people that I worked with and have supervised not necessarily believing in challenges. Almost like rules don't necessarily apply, often not willing to take one for the team. A very different group perspective.
SYLVIABut at the same time I've seen that that's just a gynormous strength. Because I don't see that this challenge applies to me, I'm going to overcome it. I'm going to, you know, start my own business. I'm going to start a nonprofit. I'm going to do all these things But at the same time it is stressful. You know, it is really hard to supervise somebody who doesn't think that everybody needs to come in at the same time.
BURSTEINWell, you know, it's interesting because this generation is redefining what they want employers to do and how they want work to look like. And I think it's something -- you know, one of the number one questions that human resources' recruiters get when they're interviewing millennials is, you know, what are your flexible -- what's your -- how flexible are your hours? Can I work from home? You know, what's your policy on what devices I can bring? What's your policy on volunteerism? What's your commitment to social responsibility?
BURSTEINI mean, these are questions that recruiters have not had to deal with, specifically not as the first questions they've been asked in a long time.
REHMLet's talk about marriage for a minute. What do you find in terms of how many want to commit themselves to marriage, Hannah?
SELIGSONWell, I'm married and I like being married. But I think what you're finding in this generation is that it is the college educated cohort that is keeping the institution of marriage alive. And again, there is this big class divide and another -- as I'm sure Paul can delineate the numbers here, and that's what's happening. But young people still very much want to reach that sort of traditional milestone of adulthood. They want to get married, they want to have kids, probably fewer because it's so expensive to have kids. And childcare is another big boondoggle.
SELIGSONSo, yeah, we're pro-marriage generation and even more so even within the same sex couples, which Roger can speak to.
TAYLORWell, if you look at the numbers you're not a pro-marriage generation. Something like 20 percent of people in their 20's today are married. In my day that was about 60 percent. So marriage is happening much later and it is absolutely tied to the economic circumstances. And it becomes self perpetuating. And you're absolutely right, most young adult want to get married but increasingly they don't. And that's happening at the lower end of the socioeconomic scale because they feel they don't quote "qualify."
TAYLORThey are not marriage material yet because they don't have a job and they don't have a career. And they associate getting married with having financial stability and security. Unfortunately, this becomes a reinforcing cycle because marriage through human history has been an economic institution. To put it in -- two can live more cheaply than one and it works. It works as an economic institution as you don't participate or partake in it, you don't get there and you just sort of get into a negative cycle. And I do think that there's an economic divide that is very much associated with the marriage divide.
REHMPaul Taylor of the Pew Research Center and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." All right. Let's go to Tampa, Fla. Cordell, you're on the air.
CORDELLHi, Diane. I'm going to be quick here. I'm just making a comment. I'm an African American. You know, my mom was a single mother. She was a head start teacher, made $30,000 a year. I live in Tampa. It's in the south. It's the most racist -- well I won't say the most racist but it is a very racist city. I went to a state college. I only have $30 grand in debt. And when I went out of college and all my millennial peers were occupying Wall Street, I got a temp job at Citi Group. And now I make 50 to $70,000 a year.
CORDELLI don't understand why millennials have this sense of entitlement that -- actually, you know, I do understand it. You know, it comes from what you guys talked about with the parenting and, you know, the internet, sitting on these mountains like Facebook and My Space and Twitter where you can say, oh look at me, look at these accomplishments that I've done. And people feel like if they don't find a job on Google or if they don't find a job immediately they -- you know, they'll give up easily.
CORDELLJust like with doing, like, a research paper, you know. We had the ability to go to Wikipedia and copy it off of there versus from people from older generations that actually had to physically go into a library. And I also feel like millennials are very disconnected from each other. They're willing to ignore text messages, they're willing to break off plans with each other at the whim of the hat. They're able to filter each other off because of things like caller ID.
CORDELLAnd I just feel like my generation does have a sense of entitlement. I don't think they are willing to put their nose to the grind. My first job out of college I had to take the bus here in Tampa. And that takes 45 minutes. I know millennials they'll just quit a job immediately because oh, I'm tired. I don't feel like showing up to my job at Starbucks. Or I don't feel like having an office job because that's not for me. And I really think my generation does have a sense of entitlement problem.
CORDELLI don't think that it has anything to do with our parents. I think we need to grow up. And part of growing up is to realize that hey, not all promises people make come true.
REHMAll right. And Cordell has certainly a different view, Roger.
FIERROI think there's some truth in what he's saying but I think Hannah mentioned in her book that only 7 percent of people under 30 work for Fortune 500 companies. And for some -- that for some reason made me really excited and upset. And I think it has a lot to do with the fact that one, there's a part that -- you know, we want to imagine that millennials are being kept out of these, you know, traditional workplaces because they might not fit the mold, or they might want to, like, be on Facebook while they're working.
FIERROBut I think that instead they've become creative about what kind of income they want to generate or how they're generating that income. I mean, it's kind of what we're talking about, of making -- you know, making it on your own path. And I think that he might be happy working at Citi Bank but, you know, I don't think I would be.
REHMBut at the same time he makes some other points which are, for example, that millennials won't put up with the smallest bit of dissatisfaction or inconvenience. Is that a fair point, Hannah?
SELIGSONI mean, I think everyone has some story of some millennial who brought their mother on a job interview or who quit after there wasn't the right type of coffee in the machine. I mean, we all have that story. I think the bigger issue...
REHMAre they true?
SELIGSONEveryone has one story. I'm not going to say I don't -- I think that there are pockets of it but I think that we have unfairly gotten the rap as an entitled generation. And I think the bigger question is, how do we level the playing field? You know, Obama talked about not having a system rigged. And I truly believe the system is rigged against this generation. And I think we need to think about not thinking about, oh, bemoaning that we're so entitled. How do we give everyone in this generation an opportunity to succeed?
REHMWhere do you see yourself in ten years, Hannah?
SELIGSONWell, I hope to have a job at the New York Times if it still exists.
REHMRoger, where do you see yourself ten years hence?
FIERROI think I'd end up getting married after maybe a month or so. I think that gay marriages passed in the Senate and is going to go to the House. So I'll probably be married with, like, a kid, maybe like a book or five under my belt.
REHMGood for you. And David, how about you?
BURSTEINWell, you know, I hope to have at least a few more books under my belt in the next ten years. And I think I'd like to see myself, you know, having an ability to, you know, see some of the stuff that we're talking about, some of the challenges in this generation change. I'd like to play a role in making that change in some of the ways that, you know, we're talking about how -- the challenges this generation is facing.
REHMSo you feel very socially active as though what you're doing really can help your generation.
BURSTEINAbsolutely. And I'm a big believer in the power of storytelling to change, you know, how people perceive things. One of the reasons I wrote the book was because I felt like, you know, there were all these sort of messages being sent to this generation that -- you know, as we talked about earlier. And I said, if no one's speaking up for this generation, if there's not sort of a voice saying, you know, this is what this generation is actually feeling. Stop telling this generation, you know, what we are and what we aren't and actually listen to people in this generation and what their perspective is.
BURSTEINAnd I hope is what people will find in the book is that sense of, you know, hearing from the voices in this generation. I think that's the way that you change things and that's the way you change the world.
REHMHannah, how about you? Do you feel as though you need to help people understand, not only what it is you're going through now but your hopes, your aspirations for the future and how they may be different from say those of my generation?
SELIGSONYeah, and I mean, it's sort of -- I think Dave and I have a very similar story here. The reason I decided to write "Mission Adulthood" and follow a group of seven people, all of whom represent different demographics in the generation was to sort of document these challenges, but also to tell a very positive empowering story of how we are redefining it. And even if it doesn't look like how our parents and our grandparents grew up, it's not wrong, it's not bad. It's just different.
REHMHannah Seligson. She's journalist and author of "Mission Adulthood." David Burstein is author of "Fast and Future." Roger Fierro is cofounder of the start-up First Encounter Productions. Paul Taylor is executive vice-president of the Pew Research Center. Thank you all. And thanks for listening. I'm Diane Rehm.
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