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Boomers: Hug a Millennial Today

Enough with the generation wars. Here are five ways we’re a lot alike.

By Andi McDaniel

At least a couple times a month, an article with some kind of generational war cry makes the rounds. You’ve seen them in your Facebook feed: “Millennials: Could They Get Any Lazier?” Or “Boomers: When Will They Get Out of the Way of Our Careers?”
Inevitably, one group feels self-satisfied while the other rolls its eyes, feeling misunderstood.

My opinion? We can do better than this.
A new Nielsen report provides fodder for a generational ceasefire, and its insights might surprise you. The research suggests to me that Millennials are more like boomers — and their parents — than the stereotypes would have you believe. Here are five ways how:

(MORE: Are You More of a Boomer or a Millennial?)
1. Millennials are the modern-day coupon-clippers. “Coming of age during the Great Recession imprinted Millennials in important ways similar to Great Depression-era generations,” according to the report. “They’re more austere, more money-conscious, more resourceful and wary of investing in the stock market.”
In July of 2013, the unemployment rate for boomers was 6 percent, and for younger Millennials, 13 percent. In other words, Millennials have been broke throughout their coming of age. And much like the boomers’ parents, their worldviews have been permanently shaped by this experience.
But instead of the Depression-era-stuffing-bread-rolls-into-their-coat-pockets, they’re seeking deals on Groupon and Shopkick.
2. Millennials are not so selfish after all. Boomers are seen as the ultimate parenting enthusiasts (responsible, after all, for the infamous “My kid’s an honor roll student” bumper stickers). But Millennials are also family-oriented, with 52 percent saying being a good parent is one of their most important goals in life. And 63 percent feel it’s their responsibility to care for an older parent.  
3. Millennials value community, like, a lot. Picture the stereotypical Millennial: hooded sweatshirt, giant headphones, absorbed in a tiny glowing screen, lost to the world. While the hooded sweatshirt part may be true (and OK, fine, the glowing screen), the “lost to the world” part is not.
Millennials are actually highly engaged with their communities. Despite their small paychecks, they contribute to causes (75 percent of Millennials made a financial gift to a nonprofit in 2013), and they’re avid volunteers (more Millennials did volunteer work in 2013 than any other generation).

(MORE: How Generous are Baby Boomers?)
4. Let’s talk about the technology thing. There’s no question that Millennials are more absorbed in technology than any previous generation. And boomers should relate — across the entire age spectrum, we’re all spending more time mesmerized by our screens, and we’re all feeling the consequences (or else ”tech sabbaticals” wouldn’t be rising in popularity).
But I find it encouraging that to Millennials, technology is a relationship tool: “54 percent feel technology helps them be closer to their friends and family,” the Nielsen report states.
Whether technology actually does strengthen relationships is a deeper question.
5. Cities are the new suburbs. While Millennials’ affection for urban environments may not bode well for suburban real estate (might want to unload those McMansions sooner rather than later), it’s a great sign that this generation is building a future with fewer cars and the vibrant, creative energy that defines urban life.
As Nielsen puts it, “The ‘American Dream’ is transitioning from the white picket fence in the suburbs to the historic brownstone stoop in the heart of the city.”
If you value art, music, historic preservation, and hey, even shopping — this is good news.
As a recent cover story in The New York Times Magazine suggests, the young and the older have much to learn from each other. It’s a “lose-lose” situation when we antagonize and categorize, but a win-win if we stay open and learn from each other’s strengths.
We’ll explain to you what ROFL stands for if you’ll help us get our kids on the honor roll. Deal? 

Andi McDaniel leads Twin Cities Public Television’s Rewire project. Generationally, she’s a “MilleXer” — young enough to sleep with her iPhone but too old to tolerate texting at the dinner table. Read More
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