Although the birth year ranges used sometimes vary, generally speaking, if you were born between the years 1981 and 1997, then you are part of Generation Y, the millennial generation. While some young adults between the ages of 19 and 35 consider the term “millennial” to be demeaning, signaling them out from their predecessors, it’s true that millennials do things a little differently than their Generation X or Baby Boomer parents.
One of the biggest differences between millennials and older generations is the concept of the American dream. To millennials, the American dream is not so much a tangible goal as a vague social construct associated with success. Gone are the days when the American dream meant pretty much the same thing for every American, when it was everyone’s dream to one day have a stable job, a happy family, and own a spacious house with a white picket fence.
According to a study from U.S. News, millennials still want the same things their parents did, but some are taking their time getting there and “the order in which those things happen is changing.”
Millennials no longer expect to get married and own a house right out of college. For most, their main priority is to put their college degree to use and find stable employment on their own terms, which for some takes the form of freelance work or entrepreneurial work- whatever they can do to gain some fiscal independence and start paying off their student loan debt, which totalled an average of $28,950 in 2014- an amount that can seem daunting given the low starting salaries many recent graduates receive. Nearly 70 percent of college seniors graduated with student loan debt in 2014.
It is important to note that while the majority of millennials are delaying starting families in favor of focusing on their careers, this is not the reality for all millennials. The average age of first marriages has risen to 27 for women and 29 for men according to 2015 US Census Bureau data, but not all millennials fit into the mold of the single, career-focused twenty-something. Two of the millennials interviewed by US News, Rebekah Casper, 22, and Laura Judge, 32, married and started families in their early 20s. For them, the American dream meant raising families, not climbing the corporate ladder.
I think, if anything can be taken away in studying the millennial generation and their concept of the American dream, it’s that (unlike with earlier generations), the American dream means something different for every millennial, but in general, they share some of the same traditional goals and values instilled in them from their parents. They just take different paths to secure their own happiness.