Millennials: The group that has paused life’s milestones

A millennial at a beach. Millennials, the generation widely defined as born between 1982 and 2001, has become a favourite topic of study. FILE PHOTO

What you need to know:

  • The ways in which millennials were brought up have contributed to their feelings of inadequacy as adults.
  • James Njoroge, 29, says millennials are unwilling to settle for work that does not engage them the way they would like.

They are digital natives with a world of information at their fingertips, they live in the age of opportunity working exciting jobs that did not even exist 10 years ago, they are more educated than their parents, better travelled and better connected to the outside world.

And yet, millennials still think they got the short end of the stick.

They are disillusioned with the government, are worried about money, and are delaying marriage and parenthood, among other significant markers of adulthood.

“At my age, my dad had a wife, three children, a stable government job, a home.

"Other than work, I do not think I am even remotely close to those type of levels.

"I think my parents had a better life as the cost of living was dramatically lower and there was little societal pressure to acquire low value return assets,” Eric Wainaina, a 26-year-old who works for a technology company, said.

Millennials, the generation widely defined as born between 1982 and 2001, has become a favourite topic of study, comment and critique among researchers and pundits.

The habits and eccentricities of this generation have held the rest of the world fascinated, inspiring headlines after headlines about trends millennials have bucked, industries they have killed and institutions they have laid siege upon.

According to research and commentary, millennials are delaying or refusing to settle down and have children thus threatening the institution of marriage; they are buying less real estate than their parents, thus killing the property industry and they have made the unassuming avocado a sort of super food.

Wainaina frames the millennial paradox quite well.


While he has relative job satisfaction with the work he currently does, he is also worried the important markers that are supposed to come with the job still remain out of his reach.

From his point of view, what his parents were able to do with relatively the same resources 30 years ago, he cannot do today.

And it is this complaint that has earned millennials the tag “entitled”.

In a memorable TIME magazine cover story in 2013, millennials were referred to as “The Me Me Me Generation”, a narcissistic, self-involved, lazy and entitled demographic who want things easy and expect participation trophies.

They quit jobs if they are slightly unhappy, expect promotions as a matter of course and are unsatisfied with barely being cogs in a big wheel — they immediately want to feel valued and like they make an impact in their organisations.

In an interview that went viral on Youtube, self-described leadership coach Simon Sinek said this mindset is down to poor parenting that has created a generation that has low self-esteem and is ill-equipped to handle the challenges of the real world, especially at the workplace.

“The generation we call the millennials grew up subject to failed parenting strategies where they were told they were special; they can have anything they want in life, some of them got into honours classes not because they deserved it but because their parents complained and some of them got As not because they earned them but because the teachers didn’t want to deal with the parents. Some kids got participation medals for coming in last,” he said.

Counselling psychologist Catherine Gachutha agrees.

She told the Saturday Nation the ways in which millennials were brought up have contributed to their feelings of inadequacy as adults.

“Millennials were brought up by high-achieving parents who worked very hard to escape poverty, therefore could not pay their children as much attention as they needed.

"And perhaps out of guilt, these parents overspent on and overindulged their children, therefore giving rise to a generation which could be described as entitled,” she said.

Grace Naserian, a 24-year-old lawyer, thinks perhaps the tag “entitled” comes from how much millennials demand out of life, something older generations were afraid to do.

“Millennials are always chasing the sun, which makes many people uncomfortable.

"We want instant gratification, we want the glitz and glam without the sweat and tears and to some extent that makes us entitled,” she said.

But 29-year-old Wandia, (who only gave us her first name), chafes at being described as “entitled” or “lazy”, saying the terms are inaccurate and a cop out used by the older generation to escape responsibility for the things they have bungled up.

“Each generation will always want to shift the blame elsewhere, usually onto another generation most especially when frustrated.

"I think we need to start being smart about the ‘whys’ and ‘hows’ and understanding that all these statements are merely symptoms of a bigger problem, which isn’t solved by merely saying millennials are lazy and entitled," she said.

James Njoroge, also 29, agrees. He says millennials are unwilling to settle for work that does not engage them the way they would like.

“It’s an inaccurate description. It is based on the assumption that millennials should be willing to work in the types of jobs previous generations cherished, even when they are more aware about how exploitative the labour market is now. Millennials are not lazy, they just know their worth,” he said.

He is determined to chart his own way in the world of work, remaining disinterested in employment and preferring to engage in creative pursuits.

“I do not have a full time job. I am, however, not looking to go back to formal employment.

"There are opportunities for me in fields that are driven by communities created by the growth of internet culture.

"Co-hosting a podcast has opened my eyes to the possibilities of new forms of media,” he said.

In her career as a psychologist that has spanned many years, Prof Gachutha has seen many millennials walk through her doors seeking help for a variety of issues.

“Many of them report having trouble making lasting connections with other people, not just in romantic relationships but even in friendships or at the workplace,” she said.

According to her, this is due to a lack of interpersonal skills that make it difficult for millennials to build trust, and a prioritisation of the self at the expense of others.

“Tellingly, many of them are disinterested in marriage or stating their own families, and would rather work on building their careers,” she said.

Prof Gachutha believes if millennials had seen their parents model good personal relationships, then they would have found it easier and more appealing to form them in adulthood.

Wainaina, for instance, says finding and marrying a partner has slid lower on his list of priorities as time goes by, and that if he does decide to settle down, he is cautious of the fact that it might be hard to find someone genuine to put down roots with.

“Having a romantic partner is a good thing but it is more transactional now with the 'what do you bring to the table mentality."'

"That makes it a sham and you do not know if you like each other or like the idea of each other,” he said, adding that he is open to the idea of marriage but at a later stage in life. 

Chavalegi Amendi, a 33-year-old advertising professional, has some of the same fears as Wainaina.

He says he is still trying to decide whether marriage is for him or not, and he is in no hurry to get to an answer.

“There are too many failed marriages floating around and the thought of being another statistic scares me,” he said.

For Naserian, though, marriage and motherhood sound like good ideas, although she is wary of how society sometimes frames partnerships as an accomplishment, something to be lauded.

According to her, marriage is just a “stage in life”, not something that should be seen as an achievement.

Wandia and Njoroge are more extreme in their beliefs.


For them, marriage is largely unattractive, something neither of them is willing to pursue.

And like so many other young people in their age group, they are not crazy about having children either.

“I wouldn’t want children. I really don’t want the added responsibility and children don’t match up with my long-term goals,” she said.

For Njoroge, the decision to not have children is down to what he feels is an increasingly uncertain world where the cost of living has continued to go up and life has become more difficult and unequal.

“I feel it is a wise decision for me to not have any children because providing them with a decent life is becoming more difficult and may eventually become impossible for the majority of my generation,” he said.

"I’m anxious about the possibility of humankind destroying itself by creating an increasingly unsustainable economic system that promotes greed, inequality and war.”

This disillusionment and uncertainty was well captured in a report by communications firm Well Told Story, who found that young people increasingly feel angry and disappointed about the future, and are excluded from governance.

According to the report, a majority (63 per cent) of young people aged between 15 and 24 feel unhappy, disengaged and disgruntled with how the country is governed.

They also say that they feel “excluded and voiceless” and left out in the cold with little information about governance processes, even those that are aimed at them.

Which could be part of the reason why Wandia reports feeling “uncertain” about the future.