The Sunday Magazine

What we get wrong about millennials

Author, journalist (and millennial) Malcolm Harris rebuts the conventional wisdom about the members of his generation.
Author, journalist (and millennial) Malcolm Harris rebuts the conventional wisdom that members of his generation are struggling because of smartphones, selfies, or a bad work ethic. (Little, Brown and Company; Malcolm Harris/Twitter)

There have been gallons of ink spilled trying to explain millennials. But the more you read, the more contradictions you find.

Millennials grew up with easy access to free porn and can find a date on Tinder with the swipe of a finger … and yet, are having less sex than preceding generations.

They are going to college in record numbers … and yet, despite the promise that more education would lead to better jobs, many struggle to find secure, well-paying employment.

There has been a litany of complaints about their supposed laziness … and yet, research suggests millennials are actually hyper-productive workaholics. More and more of them are choosing to take advanced classes in school, and they are less likely to use paid vacation days than their older co-workers.

Malcolm Harris argues the media has used these conflicting ideas to tell a story about millennials that is "right on some of the details, misguided on the rest, and totally wrong on why."

Younger people tend to be more anxious, more depressed, less trusting... and some ideas about young people being self-focused, narcissistic, are correct in some ways as well. But what we get mistaken is the role of millennials and where these attitudes and where this character come from. It's not out of a cracked iPhone screen; it's from history.- Malcolm Harris

In his new book Kids These Days: Human Capital and the Making of Millennials, Harris throws conventional wisdom about smartphones and selfies out the window, focusing instead on the seismic cultural and economic shifts that have produced the modern-day millennial.

Born in 1988, Harris is a writer and editor for The New Inquiry. He has also written for Jacobin and n+1 magazines, and was an early Occupy Wall Street protester.

The New Yorker calls his book "the first major accounting of the millennial generation written by someone who belongs to it."

He spoke to Michael Enright about how intense competition, precarious employment and the divergence between productivity and compensation have shaped members of his generation.

Click 'listen' above to hear the interview.