Shakespeare’s Hamlet speaks of “A divinity that shapes our ends, rough-hew them how we will.”
We live in a time when “rough hewn” means a wasteful economy, climate change on a global scale, whole industries made unprofitable or impractical, and consumers buying things that are bad for them.
But as I read about the choices and preferences of the rising Millennial generation, I can see that some of the hurtful habits my generation have practiced may be on their way out.
I’m stopping short of suggesting that the Millennials are doing all the right things, or that they are wise and noble about everything. And I’m certainly not suggesting that all the country’s problems will be solved by Millennials’ shopping preferences. But it just may be that the generational choices are going to help.
CNN’s Money page cites 10 Things Millennials Won’t Spend Money On. Evidently, Millennials don’t like mass market beer. They also spend less on weddings than earlier generations.
Glenn Beck’s The Blaze decries the Millennials’ lack of savings. Typical of the shoddy sort of information you can expect from Beck, the article cites trends that occurred between the ‘60s and ‘80s, before Millennials were even born, and blames them anyway.
Investopedia gets it right, I think, by recognizing that what people do is determined not just by what they want, but also by their circumstances. And the circumstances of Millennials are straitened:
“Although they have frequently been labeled as materialistic, spoiled and saddled with a sense of entitlement, many millennials feel that they will not be able to achieve material goals like finding their dream job, buying a house or retiring until much later in their lives than their parents did. Paying off student loan debt has become increasingly difficult for many who are struggling with unemployment and low-paying jobs. The recession left over 15% of millennials in their early twenties out of work, many of whom are still struggling to get their feet on the ground. This will hurt them long after they do get work.”
The Atlantic looked at Millennials’ finances at length in a series of reports in September, 2014. They find Millennials buy fresh fruit, eat at Chipotle, but don’t drink much soda pop. That is affirmed in MarketWatch in its article, 5 industries that millennials are destroying. The five are autos, cable TV, in-store retail, housing and soda pop. And here’s yet another good take on Millennials and cars, from fastcoexist.com.
The three biggest expenses most people encounter in their lives is a house, a college education and a car. Millennials are going for college, but seem to be scaling back on houses and cars.
And that has sparked a big reaction among automakers, casting about for a trigger to stimulate young people to buy cars at something like the rate of older Americans. That’s drawn a lot of special attention, as described in The Atlantic:
“We have to face the growing reality that today young people don’t seem to be as interested in cars as previous generations,” [Toyota USA President Jim] Lentz said. “Many young people care more about buying the latest smart phone or gaming console than getting their driver’s license.”
The billion-dollar question for automakers is whether this shift is truly permanent, the result of a baked-in attitude shift among Millennials that will last well into adulthood, or the product of an economy that’s been particularly brutal on the young.”
MTVPress has put out a study saying the shift isn’t permanent — that it doesn’t even exist. Their study insists that Millennials are in fact more enthusiastic about owning cars and driving than older cohorts.
“Today’s findings establish that 8 in 10 Millennials get around most often by car as opposed to any other form of transportation – a stark contrast to studies in recent years that show driving on the decline among young people. This shift in driving behaviors and attitudes towards automobiles can be attributed to Millennials aging up into car ownership, an improving economy and the fact that more Millennials are able to afford cars now than a few years ago.”
Nah! It is evident to me that MTV has done a hack job of research. Saying 8 out of 10 people travel by car is evidence they haven’t taken a representative sample of Americans. (Barely over half the households in New York City own a car, and in many of the largest cities less than 8 in 10 even own a car.) The article doesn’t claim that the sample is representative, and it pretty evidently isn’t. By working with a large share of car enthusiasts, the study inevitably found strong support for driving.
This country and this world face serious environmental challenges that are aggravated by emissions from vehicles. Millions of frivolous miles are driven every year, on top of hundreds of millions of miles of driving that are vital to our economy and our way of life. And there isn’t enough petroleum on the planet to keep it up forever.
If the Millennial generation chooses to turn from private cars in a big way, then I say hooray for them. They have no duty to sustain industries that don’t serve them. But more than that, the Millennials’ choices might make the necessary pivot away from Big Oil a whole lot easier.
To another topic, the music industry. It seems pretty basic that if someone has a talent that other people enjoy, they ought to be able to make a living doing it. But it is increasingly difficult for a musician, however talented, to make a living. A handful of pop artists get super rich, but after them the pickings get slim very quickly. There just isn’t enough money in selling recordings anymore to support the band. David Byrne discusses this problem at length here. And here is a first-hand descriptions of the income and outlay of a touring pop group, written by the somewhat grumpy and resentful accordion player for Pomplamoose,
Digital Music News reports that Millennials would rather attend a concert than buy CDs or downloads of the same musician. The concert is the sort of shared experience Millennials appreciate.
“While Millennials don’t believe digital music needs to be paid for, they are happy to pay for concerts and other artist-fan experiences. And they are interested in supporting their favorite artists in ways that make sense to them.”
Just what those “ways that make sense” are isn’t clear. But more live performances in smaller venues before a more appreciative crowd (willing to pay more for tickets) might work out well. It wasn’t enough for Pomplamoose, admittedly. But maybe they just didn’t make the right choices. At any rate, it is encouraging just to think that an industry that is failing in the status quo has some new ideas and a generation of enthusiastic experimenters willing to try them.