In the Sunday New York Times today, there’s a feature article about the “Millennial Generation,” those born after 1980 and before 2000, “a giant cohort now estimated to number at least 80 million Americans.” Wow. That’s hard to imagine. I’ve considered myself to be of the Baby Boomer generation more or less (74.6 million born between 1946 and 1964.) Then there’s the generation in between called Gen-X (84 million people born between 1961 and 1981.) I read online that Gen-X is considered the “middle-child” of our population right now. With that kind of perspective, Baby Boomers represent the eldest child, Gen-X the middle-child and the Millennials are the youngest kid in our American family, at least sociologically and culturally speaking.
That’s an interesting way to look at things if you realize we’re talking about 240 million people here (80M+75M+84M) in these three generations. For me, it also offers some insight into why I feel I may not have much in common with people these days–especially if it turns out to be with younger generations (Mills & X-Gen) who are on Facebook, have I-Phones or their equivalent and Tweet besides. To draw these distinctions further, what kind of music do they like? or is it indistinguishable among these generations? How about eating preferences?: non-gluten, vegan, vegetarian, locavore, fusion, paleo, fast-food? What about reading? on-line, books, sci-fi, kindles, newspapers, magazines? If you think about it, trends are all over the place and are not easily categorized by age either.
But when you watch cooking shows like “Chopped” and somebody says, “oh, that presentation is so ’80’s” –you know the fresh raspberry cluster with a fresh mint leaf or two–, you realize that there’s also a generation gap in food trends. My reaction to the explosion of easy demolitions on TV is that many of the kitchens are still serviceable if you didn’t have money to “update” them. So, there seems to be a distinction between attitudes of efficiency and economy versus trends for granite countertops and state of the art sinks and faucets. Of course lots of people want granite countertops, even baby boomers with empty nests and money to finally spend on themselves instead of college and graduate student tuition payments. (I’m partial to soapstone myself but not sure if I can finagle that for our kitchen!)
I guess before I read the article about “Millennials” I thought we were all the same: human beings that is. Ones who go to school, some who get married and some don’t, some who have children and some don’t, raise them and send them to college while working jobs that are demanding in an economy that is not thriving as much as it used to. It isn’t that simple, apparently. The Millennials have more of a social conscience and are more empathetic towards others and doing good than the other generations, as noted in the article. Gen-X has been caught in the middle and is still wondering about its identity. Baby Boomers have been through it all, at least up to now and are savoring retirement if they can afford it and crossing off items on their bucket lists if they are healthy enough to try out what’s on them.
Honestly, I’m content to stay at home, clean up my kitchen with its outdated formica countertop, put the remaining bag of mulch around the hydrangea bush near the front door and water the the Montauk daisies that I planted yesterday with $5 dollar plants I found at Lowe’s. G. and I ate a roasted Peking Duck last night for dinner that I bought from the local Vietnamese market in town on Saturday. I made the wrappers from scratch which we spread with hoisin sauce, fresh green onions pulled apart nestled with crisp duck skin and fragrant roasted duckling pieces folded together. What a feast it was! We could hardly move afterwards.
Reflecting about the huge numbers of people in each of these three generations (@80M each) is interesting though, because it helps me to understand at least why some things seem so far removed from my consciousness (like Twitter, although tons of people of all ages use it–especially actors and celebrities) but other things don’t seem to separate generations at all. For example, my granddaughter is leaving to start her freshman year at college in Baltimore next week and it seems that there are universally true things that repeat themselves: finding nice dorm room furnishings and shoes that fit, saying goodbye to friends from high school who are going separate ways, hoping that you get along with your roommate and moving into a different level of learning and experience. That doesn’t change much from generation to generation. Love doesn’t either: for my children who are “Gen-X” and my granddaughters (ages 4 and 18) whose generations aren’t even labelled as yet.
As the old adage goes: “the more things change, the more they stay the same.” Some stay the same while everything else around us spins off in amazingly different directions. C’est La Vie, I guess.