- Millennials are accused by some of being whiny, narcissistic, and too politically passive.
- A number of them suggest, however, that the real problem isn’t them; it’s baby boomers.
- 21 millennials told Insider why baby boomers are responsible for many problems millennials now face.
- See more stories on Insider’s business page.
Whiny, self-obsessed, not politically engaged enough – the accusations directed at millennials by older generations seem endless.
Millennials, or anyone born between 1980 and 2000, often get painted as pampered do-gooders with a naive worldview, whose priorities extend only to getting sabbaticals and being allowed to work from home.
That said, decades of disregard for the climate, unfair policies and structures being implemented between the generations, and questionable ideas concerning success in the workplace have left 18 to 38-year-olds with a heavy weight to bear.
Twenty-one young people from Germany told Insider of the problems the baby boomers have created and perpetuated in Germany and how they can be solved:
‘Let’s stop talking about what’s gone wrong.’
We’re hurtling towards the edge of a cliff at full pelt – it isn’t for the sake of science that we’re trying to figure out the quantity by which sea levels are set to rise; it’s about survival.
Together, with more than 67,000 other children and young people from our Plant for the Planet initiative, I’ve committed myself to combat the climate crisis. And yes, perhaps the older generation is listening to us but are they doing enough?
The climate crisis is the greatest challenge of our time. The CO2 clock is ticking. What must we do and what can we do right now? Well, we can massively reduce our CO2 emissions. And we can plant 1,000 billion trees to absorb a quarter of man-made CO2. I’d say to the older generations, to company bosses, and to politicians: “Let’s stop talking about what’s gone wrong or what’s going wrong – let’s plant trees together and save our future.”
‘It’s older people who get to call the shots on pensions – yet they no longer have to cough up.’
Most baby boomers will be retiring soon, which will put considerable pressure on our pension system. There’s a massive disparity between the number of working people and the increasing number of pensioners for whom those working people are footing the bill.
I think a simple and logical solution would be if everyone had to work for a period of time during their later years. And retirement should be linked to life expectancy. I’m skeptical about who decides what’s what when it comes to pensions. You only find older people sitting on the Pensions Commission, who no longer foot the bill themselves. We younger people have to hand out payments but aren’t given a say.
‘The biggest problem the baby boomers have left us isn’t that they haven’t grown out of their crap.’
The biggest problem the baby boomers have dumped on us isn’t that they haven’t grown out of their crappy habits: it’s the state they’ve in which they’ve left the future of our pension system. Pay-as-you-go financing, which has been successfully practiced for decades, will come under increasing pressure as more baby boomers leave the workforce and begin receiving benefits from the pension fund. This news comes as no surprise but politics has, so far, failed to make provisions for that day, when it comes.
Fewer contributors and more beneficiaries mean great challenges will be posed for the statutory pension for a good 15 years. How these challenges will be managed isn’t just a technical question. In fact, some are taking the opportunity – through scandalous inaction – to slowly chip away at the principle of solidarity when it comes to pensions and to privatize them. If all employees became contributors, we could increase contributions slightly and, if necessary, avoid shying away from tax subsidies.
‘We’ve inherited the baby boomers’ workaholic attitude and taken it to the next level.
The notion that Generation Y has no interest in professional success and thinks of the home office as synonymous with doing nothing is certainly not new – and unfortunately, it’s firmly rooted in the minds of many among the older generation. I actually believe we’ve inherited their workaholic attitude – always better, always more, always higher – and that we’ve taken what the baby boomers did and pushed it much further.
Whether among friends, colleagues, or in reports in the media – no other generation linked with topics such as burnout or partly unpaid overtime as often as ours. The demands on our generation when it comes to starting a career are enormous. You’re expected to have five years of professional experience after completing your studies as well as to nearly have finished your Ph.D. Of course, you can’t solely blame the baby boomers, but they’ve always stressed the importance of establishing a career and reinforced that it was the key to a successful and happy life. Although we’ve taken on this attitude, we’d actually do a lot better to leave it behind. Generation Y continues to work a lot, but having a private life is much more important than money: leisure and downtime shouldn’t be overlooked.
Our generation is on its way to achieving the ideal work-leisure balance and to putting the baby boomers’ workaholic madness to rest.
‘Too much emphasis on progress and performance is a key problem we’ve inherited from the older generation.’
A serious problem we’ve inherited from the older generation is this fixation on progress and performance. In our tireless efforts to push boundaries, whatever the cost, there’s usually little room to address the often serious consequences. There’s no doubt about it: constant growth and development do pay off and, as a species, we have to take certain risks every now and then in order to move forward and survive. But pushing boundaries mustn’t become the objective itself nor must it come at the cost that it currently does.
In order to steer us into a desirable future, we need those in decision-making positions to be sharp. They need both the courage to change yet the informed judgment to pick up on warning signs too. To ensure we don’t continue to deplete our resources, we need a clear plan that takes into consideration the effects of our actions. Otherwise, we’ll leave our future generations with more – possibly even more serious – problems than those we have inherited, whether they be nuclear waste, the bees dying off, or climate disasters.
‘Our education systems barely differ to those of the previous generation – and neither has the emphasis on grades and targets in the world of work, unfortunately.’
I’m firm on the notion that we owe much to those who came before us. Especially the generation born in 1968, who revolutionized so much and helped break down so many structures.
But one area in which far too little has happened in recent decades is education. Our education systems have barely changed from those of the previous generation – and neither has the emphasis on grades and targets in the world of work, unfortunately.
At the age of 10, our children are still “sorted” into schools – not based on their individual talents, but purely according to their grades. Applicants are still assessed according to their qualifications on paper far too often, and not by what they actually know. And academic degrees are still worth more than emotional education.
I still remember the look of horror on the faces of my first boyfriend and his parents when I announced I was leaving high school as soon as I legally could, to follow my heart and become a childcare worker.
But I think I learned more life lessons through doing so than I could have ever done at university.
And that’s exactly what our generation so urgently needs: lessons in life. More and more tasks are being taken over by machines and artificial intelligence. The skills Generation Y needs in professional life today are not obedience, authority, and academic knowledge, but empathy, flexibility, and problem-solving.
Our generation must adapt quickly to new circumstances, because the job you did yesterday may look quite different tomorrow. And the office is no longer about sitting at a desk from nine until five; it’s about working at a time and place that maximizes one’s quality of work, based on the individual.
That’s why I’m committed to ensuring our future generations get better human and digital education, so they make our world more human and each individual person can be as he or she is – and thus achieve their own best performance.
‘Those who monopolize most of the power are, on average, much too old.’
Today’s prosperity is probably the greatest legacy of the previous generation. We should definitely be grateful for it. But it’s not as though it’s being passed down to younger generations without its drawbacks. The downside is that his focus on prosperity means few provisions have been made for the future and we haven’t adapted to our current challenges.
Those who monopolize most of the power are still, on average, far too old. Our generation is still trapped in a gilded cage. At some point, young Germans are going to escape that cage and find that the country is no longer at the top of the list of industrial nations.
This power needs to be handed over to the younger generation at an early stage. We’re ready to take on the responsibility and start restructuring things.
‘The older generation knows little about what constitutes a healthy and balanced diet.’
The abundance in food and convenience have featured heavily in the kitchens of the post-war generation. Where meat had previously featured rarely on the dining table, it was almost a compulsory, everyday part of meals in the 1950s. But it had to be simple, fast, and cheap.
It’s becoming increasingly clear that this kind of practice can’t go on indefinitely for future generations.
Due to this abundance and a lack of true appreciation for food, some among the older generation have little idea about what constitutes a healthy, balanced diet. What’s more, over the years a lot of marketing-driven pseudo-sciences – which, simply put, is often wrong and sometimes even dangerous – have persisted.
Questions like: “Where do vegans get protein from if they don’t eat meat?” or the myth that milk consumption is good for the bones (when the opposite is true) are still firmly anchored in their minds and will only be shifted with a lot of effort.
We try to set a good example and show that vegan life is anything but boring, that we don’t just live off salad or tofu – that the kitchen can be a place to have fun. We’re trying to show that cooking with friends, either alone or in pairs, is not another tedious chore; it’s the best thing you can do.
‘Politicians must take us and our ideas seriously.’
The baby boomers, our parents and theirs, have been instrumental in ensuring we grew up with high living standards. I’m grateful for that but we’ve also inherited a few problems, one of them being the pension situation. Like many in my generation, I don’t assume I’ll be provided for in old age. The level of baby boomers being paid for by us is ever increasing while there are fewer of us to foot the bill. It’s great that people are living longer but the subsidy for the pension system is already the largest item in the German budget.
At the same time, less and less is being invested in the future: for example, in education, and in infrastructure. My generation is outnumbered. But those who focus only on large voter groups are putting the future of our country at risk in favor of short-term electoral success. Politicians must take us and our ideas seriously. Ultimately it will help not only one generation but the whole country.
‘We know humanity has power over the Earth’s biophysical systems, thanks to our predecessors.’
For some time, we’ve known humanity affects and has control over the Earth’s biophysical systems more than any other force of nature – knowledge we’ve attained only thanks to our predecessors. It is both a blessing and a curse for our generation.
Never before have so many people been able to inhabit our planet and never before have commodities like regular holiday flights been so easy and readily affordable.
At the same time, hurricanes, floods, and heatwaves have threatened to destroy (and, in many cases, have destroyed) the lives and homes of millions.
My personal goal, through a more responsible approach than previous generations, is to help our generation ensure this power sticks around long term, instead of putting it at risk by inviting irreversible climate disasters.
‘Older generations aren’t prepared to take risks.’
Setting up a business in Germany is far too complex; it should be more straightforward. Other countries are well ahead and we should be moving on as soon as possible. The tax system in Germany is also massively outdated and makes it extremely difficult for those looking to get started with a business.
Start-ups could be much better supported with tax reforms so the start-ups could focus more on taking care of their business. Singapore has attracted startups from all over the world with its simple control system and has become the hub of the crypto scene. Our political structures are also too slow to change and aren’t able to keep up with innovation. Things have to change on this front.
A survey by U.S. News showed Germany was in first place in the “Entrepreneurship” category, ahead of Japan and the USA. It’s clear Germany is at the forefront despite the clear room for improvement.
Work has also changed: people used to stay in the same job their whole life, which is why it used to be feasible to work without constantly developing and learning. Today we seem to switch jobs every year or two. I think it has a lot to do with the Internet.
We always need to be ready to learn new things and take risks. And many opportunities and possibilities arise with the Internet if you’re open to it – cryptocurrencies are something I’m currently heavily involved in and open to, and I realize older generations aren’t.
There’s a conflict simply because older generations always advocate stability and safety over risk-taking, which they aren’t prepared to do. I can only speak for myself but if I’d never taken risks, I’d never have learned. We have to learn through trial and error that you can’t make money from anything and everything. Failure has become a valid part of working life, even if older generations still don’t want to admit it.
But older generations are starting to accept the start-up scene for what it is: it’s fast-moving, involves risk-taking, and isn’t always lucrative.
‘The older generation has left European peace in a fragile state.’
The rapid rise in greenhouse gases, the dramatically worsening climate crisis, the question of nuclear waste disposal, the irreversible death of countless plant and animal species – these are just some of the many consequences of failed climate and environmental policies from previous generations. Because they haven’t relied on sustainability, they’ve dumped the consequences of and responsibility for their actions onto future generations. We’re now having to face a mammoth challenge together: to keep global warming below two degrees to give future generations the chance to make mistakes.
As for Europe, our younger generation has inherited the task of establishing European peace, a project which the older generation has left in a sorry state. The continually rising rate of youth unemployment within the EU, austerity policies, Brexit – all of these things have greatly weakened the notion of the “European community” and reinforced right-wing nationalist and populist forces in Europe. I myself have close ties with Greece, and over the years I’ve witnessed the destructive effects of austerity there, and have also seen growing disillusionment towards the EU. We have to stop this in its tracks and do it now because lasting peace between us all is the most basic of prerequisites for taking on the many challenges ahead and finding solutions for tomorrow.
Where justice and gender equality are concerned, the older generation has set us on a path of clear progress, particularly as regards legal equality between the sexes. While we have to defend this success, we also have to continue fighting for 100% equality between men and women, whether in family and work, pay or pension, and the end of sexual violence towards women and girls.
‘Digitisation is largely a generational issue.’
Being digital means being online, networking, being open to new business models – and being young. It seems to be a largely generational issue: older people are less likely to be online than younger people, which is a pity because digitization opens up many new possibilities, especially for people who are aging. It can simplify and enrich everyday life. I hope people of all ages will greet digitization with open arms and optimism, but obviously not without a healthy dose of skepticism. Networking is at the heart of the digital world and could contribute to a better level of understanding between young and old. And it would help us learn much more from older people and vice versa.
‘Pension plans are a big disappointment.’
The subsequent drop in birth rate as a result of the rise of the contraceptive pill among the baby boomers is exacerbating demographic change. This has resulted in a shortage of specialists and labor in all areas of the economy. We young entrepreneurs and managers in particular are suffering from this as employers. Moreover, our country’s pension plans are a huge disappointment for our generation and an attack on intergenerational justice, particularly in view of demographic changes. The question of billions of funding for the “maternal pension” that’s been proposed in Germany remains open.
What can be done to increase employment rates and to mitigate the consequences of demographic change, as well as the pensions package? We need to look at options for flexible retirement. The statutory retirement age should be done away with. And working time law needs to be fundamentally reformed.
‘Climate change presents us with challenges that will dictate the opportunities of future generations.’
We’ve inherited a lot of problems to do with CO2 in the atmosphere. Climate change today presents us with a task – and how we manage this task will directly determine the opportunities available for future generations. That’s why I’m fully committed to limiting climate change as much as possible. We will only succeed with a market-based climate policy in which politicians set clear targets for reducing emissions. Other bans and regulations are unnecessary and provide false incentives. If we succeed in building a global emissions trading scheme with ambitious goals, which is as broad as possible for all economic sectors, I’m convinced we can limit global warming to an acceptable level.
‘We’ve been left with a society that revolves around profit rather than sustainability.’
We have much to thank the previous generations for: no generation has grown up as carefree and with as many possibilities as ours. However, it’s come at a price: we’ve been left with a society that revolves around profit rather than sustainability, where material prosperity counts more than individual happiness.
My professional field, science, is set up for the short term: there are many temporary contracts, focusing on trendy topics. But this profit-focused society has left its mark everywhere. The environment is riddled with pesticides, exhaust gases, plastics, and much more. People are stressed and it seems they would sooner pop pills than demand the time to live more healthily. Hardly anyone stops to breathe.
We, all generations together, can define new goals and break out of this established cycle, that’s exploiting human and environmental resources. Instead of sitting passively in front of the television and getting worked up about company bosses, we should all be taking responsibility and consuming both more sustainably and consciously. And we should be asking ourselves from time to time what actually makes us truly happy.
‘We’re still teaching as though we’re in the 19th century.’
Living in the 21st century, teaching 19th-century style: this is what seems to be at the core of our schooling.
I’ve tried myself to fend this off with learning methods that combine critical thinking and communication with creativity and teamwork, as well as the use of digital media. My students shouldn’t just be learning content and facts; they should be learning how to obtain new facts, how to share work effectively and efficiently, and how best to absorb and apply what they’ve learned. In this way, they develop openness, a willingness to learn, and also a certain degree of independence. The teacher becomes more of a companion for learning and a moderator.
My school is open to digital media and supports me in my creative work. I almost always use QR codes or get foreign-language authors, into the classroom via Skype.
Yet, due to a lack of technical support, training, time, and security, few teachers can organize something like this on their own initiative. On my page “Toller Unterricht” I publish lots of my ideas as well as tried and tested lesson plans, with materials included.
Politicians have made promises to digitize schools. In addition to the lack of qualifications teachers have, there also seems to be a lack of equipment. I’m glad my school has some projectors and smartboards I can use for my lessons, but some don’t even have Internet access.
Data protection is currently being taken to ridiculous extremes: new data protection regulation makes the use of private computers difficult, so some are being advised to use paper and pen. This won’t work within the frame of a digitization strategy for Germany in 2018.
Therefore, comprehensive reform is needed. Only then can we equip all our students with the skills to prepare them for life and learning in the 21st century.
‘It’s as if the parents think schools are responsible for raising children.’
The older generation has paid far too little attention to sustainable development. Sustainable development means empowering children to form their own opinions and encouraging them to act sustainably. Sustainable development means the current generation is developing, not compromising the next generation, but actively considering it. Children haven’t been sensitized to this at all.
I think there’s a very different tone in schools now. I get the sense that kids are becoming less and less respectful. Manners are disappearing and, unfortunately, you rarely see a boy holding the door open for a girl. It’s as if parents think schools are responsible for bringing children up.
Some children are only interested in who has the latest, highest-end mobile. The children who do not have a say in this are outside the picture – and I think that the generation above us is responsible for instilling different values.
‘We’ve inherited a toxic political style from the generation before us.’
We’ve not inherited generational conflicts; we’ve inherited a toxic political style from the generation before us, which has dealt little with political change or shaping the future and has been more focused on how everything can remain as is. One only has to look at how Merkel’s government dealt with a climate crisis and how it’s always been ignored and fought against by one commission or another. This political style has disappointed our generation and rightly so: it’s clear to young people that a little isn’t enough to answer the hard questions. For example, how can we still find well-paid and permanent jobs in 20 years’ time in spite of digitalization?
‘The older ranks of conservative politicians are afraid of change.’
As an activist for a united Europe, I’m always reminded of how much of the older ranks of conservative politicians fear change. While young people are almost unanimous in their commitment to a united Europe, the older generation is still resistant to it, although though the United States of Europe has been on the agenda of previous German political figures such as Franz Josef Strauss himself.
While old politicians are practicing against the left by remaining on the right, today’s young people are already focusing more on the spirit of the European Parliament, namely by looking for solutions.
In the 21st century, it is no longer about just having ideas, but about collaborating for a shared future. For example, the campaign #FreeInterrail – a free Interrail ticket for all Europeans as soon as they turn 18 – was devised by the youth for the youth. Ideas like these will secure our peace and cohesion in the long term.