With a nod to PolicyMic pundit Susan Kraykowski's "5 Reasons Millennials Should be Excited to Eventually Turn 50," I'd like to offer reasons why Millennials can look forward to 40 as well. For the eldest of you, your 40s will be a time for rewarding phases of life; for the youngest of Millennials, you will see America emerge from its current age of crisis in your 40s.
If you want to raise a family, you're going to hit an amazing sweet spot in that journey by your forties. Maybe you'll live more simply or frugally out of necessity, but you'll do as the G.I. Generation (1912-1927) did and maximize your means while maintaining optimism. Research tells us that families are extremely important to you, and most Millennials intend to raise their own.
More good news: you might be running this country sooner than Gen Xers have. I'll explain.
Most Millennials have parents who are Generation X'ers. Gen X has about 46 million people, compared to Boomers at more than 70 million at their peak. Two interesting things are going to happen as a result of a small generation (X) being sandwiched between a large aging generation and a large generation of youth.
Firstly, Generation X will cooperate well with Millennials to face the crises over the next 20 years, because whether X'ers know they are outnumbered almost two to one or not, we're going to surely feel it. That's a striking difference from where Generation X found itself while integrating with Boomers — Congress is an appropriate example:
"The average age of Members of the 112th Congress ... is among the highest of any Congress in recent U.S. history," according to the Congressional Research Service. "The average age of Members of the House at the beginning of the 112th Congress was 56.7 years; and of Senators, 62.2 years."
Secondly, rather than puzzling endlessly over your optimism, we'll likely be inspired by it once we get used to you as colleagues, managers, public servants, and entrepreneurs. In the first half of our lives as Generation X, in time we found ourselves working better with Boomers in spite of our self-imposed disenfranchised punk, flannel grunge, Smashing Pumpkins, Nine-Inch-Nails, and Marilyn Manson backgrounds. Boomers accepted us because ultimately they had raised us, and we grew up and became a little less alien to them. Except Boomers raised Gen X with a very important difference to how Gen X raised Gen Y. This is complicated to explain but historically proven. Stay with me.
Boomers were children when the civic order was largely stable. As they came of age, they began to challenge their parents' lifestyle and institutions during what generational theorists Strauss and Howe identify as a "turning" — in this case an "awakening." Boomers were ready to reject the institutions they were raised to respect, and they acted upon it.
While we could spend time on the many important exceptions like civil rights, the Vietnam war, tumultuous 70s financial markets, a crash in the 80s, etc. we should acknowledge that that for the majority of admittedly "white" America, life was pretty good for young Boomers. As a generation they were shifting focus from bolstering the civic order, to examining themselves, seeking "personal authenticity," and focusing on their own "revolutionary" vision for America, as Strauss and Howe have explained. This meant that Boomers, while beginning to challenge institutions, expected that the civic order would treat their own children as they had been treated. They permitted themselves to explore new possibilities, and they ironically raised their kids as if the communities and institutions that had supported Boomers in youth would likewise ensure the well-being of their own children.
At large, Gen Xers grew up as disconnected latch-key kids and came of age during an "unraveling" of America's civic order. We responded as parents by raising what many call the "coddled" Millennials. This followed a distinct pattern of history for as long as America has existed and arguably prior: a high (1946-1963) followed by an awakening (1964-1982), followed by an unraveling (1983-2007), followed by crisis (now).
During this most recent unraveling, Generation X raised our young with special care in reaction to how we feel we were raised. Simply put, we wanted Millennials to be happier and better adjusted. Did we overdo it? Did we even get it right, taxiing our kids to multiple activities and handing out participation trophies? Doesn't matter. History will cycle and repeat itself as it has for a long time.
By raising Millennials with great attention to self-esteem and child-centrism, we have raised what Strauss and Howe termed a "hero" generation that is exceptionally confident, level-headed, and keen to social issues overall.
Millennials will address problems pragmatically as they gain institutional savvy and experience. Persevere or perish! And no American generation has chosen to "perish." Millennials will join and then surpass Generation X, whose once jaded view has evolved into grave concern and the understanding that we have to take a hit for the well-being of our offspring. An age of crisis has always spurred corrective action to lead to another high. That high should emerge in the 2020s, allowing Millennials to enjoy middle-age.
What about the American Dream?
People adapt. Think "Great Depression." Think "The Greatest Generation." Think "The Silent Generation."
While conservatives rail against the impact of the New Deal, they may not accept that it was a response, wrong or right, that ultimately led to a high period. Of course it's crumbling under its own weight and conservatives will be proven right to an extent regarding results (arguably not motives), but the fact remains that the New Deal gave America a few good decades. That's how history works: peaks and valleys. Will people hurt along the way as the civic order decays and must be reestablished? Damn right we will. Just as the Silent Generation suffered on it's way to building an America that allowed Boomers to ride a high into an age of awareness.
Millennials will redefine the American dream. Markets and systems will correct as a result of collapse or near collapse. Will the immense gap between the rich and middle class continue? Maybe, but Millennials believe in commerce that marries profits with social responsibility.
Millennials can expect to struggle through this age of crisis. But you should also expect to come out the other end in a renewed version of America that the elder lions of liberalism and bastions of conservatism may not understand and might even resent, but opposing attitudes will likely soften as we'll have one foot in the grave during a new Golden Age.