My parents tied the knot when they were nineteen and twenty-four, with their first child—me—being born within that same year. They bought their first home three years later. For two young, immigrant adults lacking college educations, I would say our family is pretty well off, with three children enrolled in private education, a reasonable mortgage and multiple vehicles.
I grew up assuming this lifestyle was conventional and feeling considerable pressure to pursue marriage and childbearing by my twentieth birthday. I’m now on the verge of twenty-one and far from fulfilling either of those expectations, which was a reality that troubled me for a while. Now, though, I see that way of living what was apparently the standard for Generation X and does not necessarily apply to my generation, otherwise classified as millennials.
Many media outlets have made it a point to keep tabs on this particularly influential generation as they make the transition from adolescence to adulthood. With that transition, millennials are also moving into their prime spending years, which is alarming to economists and the modern person for many reasons, perhaps most importantly because the very industries once sustained through the spending habits of previous generations, such as the Baby Boomers and Generation X, are not receiving the same financial attention from millennials.
Millennials and Department Stores
With the emergence of clothing stores with deflated prices, such as H&M and Forever 21, department stores like Macy’s and JCPenney are suffering from a serious sales downtrend. Millennials now hold the greatest sales power, and as a result, they are being blamed for the apparent demise of these once prosperous companies.
“Forbes” lays out a detailed explanation for this shift in sales, taking into account the current strength of the U.S. dollar, the need for readjustments in the customer service techniques of these stores and the lack of interactive experiences within department stores.
Through critical analysis and many crippling sales quarters, retailers are finally learning that the most beneficial way to appeal to a generation born during the peak of the technological age is to feed into their need for specific volumes of stimuli to stay interested—but not just any stimuli. The millennial consumer may not want to engage in shopping to elevator music under fluorescent lighting, but rather in dimly lit stores with televisions streaming music videos that can be identified.
The former shopping experience is dreadful for many millennials because it presents shopping as a chore rather than an adventure. Overhead lights have been scientifically proven to cause complex stress in children with even the slightest indication of ADHD. Coincidentally, many millennials are being misdiagnosed by doctors as ADHD due to the rising endemic attention deficit this generation is experiencing as a result of the American lifestyle.
Television and video games underwent a major shift in popularity during the ’90s and early 2000s, beginning the first wave of this heightened exposure to technology and stimuli that generations before hadn’t been exposed to. Millennial consumers are unintentionally recognizing the need to unplug and truly relax while engaging in leisure activities such as shopping, so they search for an experience more like the second example presented.
This type of shopping experience offers a more personable atmosphere where customers won’t feel as though everyone is eyeing their potential purchase, and the wait between services can seem less bothersome with the distraction of a Rihanna music video. Dim lighting allows for a calmer environment that can also encourage normal brain functioning, increasing the likelihood of the millennial consumer feeling safe enough to be his or herself.
Select Nike stores have gone the extra mile and now offer monthly fitness classes to engage customers with the products they are thinking of purchasing or have already purchased. This activity is impressionable and interactive, which is exactly what the millennial consumer needs.
Millennials and Homeownership
Homeownership is the gateway to family formation and has proven to be a long-term wealth builder. However, until recently, the likelihood of the typical millennial having the opportunity to fulfill this prerequisite for the American Dream has been quite slim. With a median household income of $40,000, millennials are expected to earn 20 percent less than the Baby Boomers did during their twenties. The Fed has also confirmed that millennials and their younger families will have to deal with lower net worth than every generation before them, encouraging millennials to hold off on real estate purchases, even though if millennials do decide to engage in the housing market, their involvement is expected to strengthen the already recovering market.
Student debt is also a major hindrance for the millennial, so as a precaution, it is best to hold off on unnecessary debts such as homeownership. According to “Business Insider,” millennials are the most educated yet worst paid generation, and because of crippling student loans, many are left with no other choice but to return home following graduation. Living under the roof of their parents, millennials are less likely to indulge in the steps that lead to children (an additional financial burden, if we’re being honest).
As a result, millennials aren’t in the financial or social position to engage in the lifestyle their parents and grandparents were expected to have at this age. However, I still encourage this generation of educated, strong-willed individuals to continue pursuing the luxury of a home, the gift of a newborn baby and the desired shopping experience. Despite the many obstacles the typical millennial may face during this transition from adolescence to adulthood (thanks to the financial negligence of our parents and grandparents), I still believe that homeownership and the social prosperity that comes along with it (children, cars, etc.) are still in reach.
Raised by generations that believed in prosperity through hard work, but not seeing the results come into play in our lives, can be discouraging. To have these things, hard work won’t be enough. Our generation will have to take financial risks, learning from the mistakes of the generations before us in hopes that the economy will adjust to our efforts.
Fear not though, dinner table conversations with the family can be difficult when all they’re doing is hounding millennials about their lack of a job or family, but know that you’re not alone. This is the reality for many people my age and the only people willing and able to change that is us. Good luck.