It’s not all smashed avocado, chai lattes and living in the city.
Last year The Atlantic ran a fascinating article by Derek Thompson examining many of our assumptions about the average life experiences of older Millennials (29 years) in the USA.
A few weeks ago, this topic started popping up with a few clients (and even some friends outside of media or advertising). You know the one, the “who even watches TV anymore?” conversation. And in an instant I was thrown back to this piece.
In US mass media, Thompson argues, the term ‘Millennial’ has become a kind of lazy, all-encompassing shorthand for a “single, university educated young person living in a city”; and given its ubiquity in usage when talking about ‘young people’ in general, this skewed view has become the default impressions that most Americans now hold when thinking about the lives of their younger compatriots.
There are, however, a few problems with this impression of all young people as single, educated urbanites in that most Millennials in the US:
a) won’t graduate to university
b) don’t live in cities, and
c) are mostly cohabiting with a stable partner.
This got me thinking. Does the same hold true in here in New Zealand?
In New Zealand, trend pieces often depict “Millennials” in the context of young urban professionals spending too much money on avocado-based brunches and too little time saving for a deposit on a house. In a marketing and advertising context, it is a generalised term for a young cool person who will give a brand and its products coolness and sexiness by affinity.
Unlike in the US, no major universities or government departments have recently released a study on the average life experiences of 29 year olds in New Zealand. However, we can look at a broader population of Millennials in general thanks to the fantastic, and hugely undervalued work compiled by Statistics New Zealand and also Nielsen’s ongoing Consumer Media Index study.
So, what is the average life experience of New Zealand millennials based on the three criteria above?
While NZ does have high rates of university attainment among our younger generations, and the median millennial has a university degree, more than 60% of 25-29 year-olds have not graduated from University, with around one quarter of people taking on trade or technical qualifications, and another quarter doing no further study or training after secondary school. While we don’t see overtly skewed gender discrepancies in broader educational attainment, of concern is the almost 10% of our young women who will leave school with no qualifications at all.
The median income at this stage of life is around $37,500 per year. And similarly to the findings in the US study, talk of having a ‘stable career’, in the classical sense of the term, is just not broadly applicable. The average tenure of employment for New Zealanders in their twenties is less than two years. Of course, the days of spending one’s full working life with one company is fast receding, and has been for some time. In 2011, Statistics NZ released a report calling us a “nation of job hoppers”, with the most common amount of time spent in our jobs just 1-3 months.
We must also not get caught up in notion of tech-savvy millennials necessarily working in the cities in open plan offices powered by MacBooks and the Cloud. Millennials are more than one and a half times more likely to be unemployed or a beneficiary than they are to be self-employed or in a profession. As it stands in 2017, the most likely type classification for a millennial in New Zealand is a Trade or skilled technical work.
In terms of where NZ Millennials live, 65% can be found in metro areas (defined by Nielsen as Auckland, Hamilton, Wellington, Christchurch and Dunedin) – 40% in Auckland. It would seem this is where we differ from the US perspective – we’re much smaller in land mass and many of the work opportunities (corporate or development opportunities) are concentrated in the main mets.
Marriage rates have been steadily declining for more than 40 years, yet the story of marriage and relationships is slightly less obvious than what we might initially think. While it is true that Millennials are marrying later and older than our parents’ generations, it would be false to assert that they are foregoing stable and successful long-term relationships. Among Millennial New Zealanders, over two-thirds are either married or are living with a stable partner.
So who is the average Millennial New Zealander? I don’t know that there’s a good or even a right answer to that. But I do know who it isn’t. They’re more nuanced than being a stereotyped university educated, advertising or marketing professional, working in the city.