Generation Y: defining the landscape of tomorrow

Millennials have very different attitudes and appetites to the baby boomers before them, finds Alicia Buller. But what impact will they have on the environmental, economic and social landscape of tomorrow?

The next generation of humans always defines the trajectory of society. Today, as the planet’s very existence hangs in the balance due to threats like climate change, particular attention is being paid to ‘Millennials’ or ‘Generation Y’ (Gen Y) – the incoming workforce aged between 21 and 32-years-old. This much-discussed group is the first generation to enter a world pervaded by technology, changing work parameters and intense environmental challenges. Gen Y will also be the wealthiest generation ever to have lived.

According to consulting firm Accenture, baby boomers have started to pass along their life savings to their heirs, and this process will continue over the next few decades. When done, some $30 trillion will be transferred from one generation to the next. A recent study by financial research firm Spectrem showed that a greater percentage of Millennials were concerned about caring for ageing parents than they were about their own health. They are also more apt to use their wealth for social good. George Walper, president of Spectrem, attributes both the Millennials’ financial awareness and their awareness of the world around them to two landmark events, “September 11, 2001 and 2008,” he says. The terrorist attacks and the onset of the recession at once opened them up to the world and caused them to protect their futures. But Gen Y is also financially freer than the generations that came before. Timothy Sabol, an Ameriprise financial advisor,says:“GenYdoesn’t see success the same way their parents do. They want to travel. The availability of liquidity means they are more free to take the money and run.”That desire for relevance, rather than the other benefits of riches, is a key differentiator between generations.

According to the Future Workplace ‘Multiple Generations @ Work’ study, Millennials will hold between 15 and 16 jobs over the course of their careers. This contrasts with the three jobs that Boomers would have typically held. Millennial loyalties to any one job are weaker than the previous generation and they place high precedence on company values.


Future Workplace asked Baby Boomers and Millennials to weigh the importance of ‘doing good’ (purpose or mission-driven work) versus making more money. The results indicated a substantial divide in attitudes between the two generations. Respondents from the Baby Boomer generation said they were 67 per cent more interested in making more money than doing good.

Conversely, Millennial respondents weighed making more money on par with ‘doing good’. Whether this is attributable to life status (lack of financial obligations such as children and long-term home loans) or a true value difference is yet to be determined. For now, it is safe to say that Millennials entering the workforce are significantly more purpose-driven than members of their parents’ generation.

What’s more, a recent study conducted by Bentley University’s Centre for Women & Business found that 84 per cent of Millennials view making a positive difference in the world as more important than professional recognition.


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