EDMONTON—At 38 years old, Matthew Schneider is technically a millennial.
Born a year earlier, he would have belonged to generation X, but being so close to the line had him questioning which camp he belongs to, so he looked it up online.
“The fact that I went to Wikipedia to look up what the label means probably suggests a little bit more of a millennial,” he said.
Millennials are often considered whiny, entitled, 20-something narcissists, responsible for the decline of everything from big-box stores, to breakfast cereals and the beloved beer brands of boomers.
The birth years that define a millennial vary depending who you ask. Though some see it as narrow as 1980 to 1982, the Pew Research Center marks millennials as those born between 1981 to 1996, a timeline that is widely accepted.
Any way you look at it, the oldest members of that generation are now on the cusp of 40, embarking on a new chapter in their lives. They’re buying homes, starting families and settling into stable jobs — all the things the baby boom generation expected them to do a decade ago.
It’s a turning point that’s left some wrestling with what it means to be a millennial.
“The term can be used as a catch-all for ‘youth’,” Schneider said. “and I think it can wind up causing a lot of confusion.”
There may be at least some cause for the concern many feel. Lisa Strohschein, a professor in the sociology department at the University of Alberta, said that even though millennials are clearly growing up, the popular perceptions of the group as a whole will be hard to shift.
And she has at least one explanation for those who feel out of tune with how the group is perceived.
Generational labels, Strohschein said, are often defined by those born in the middle, making some of those born on either end outliers.
While earning a PhD in English, Schneider long imagined a career teaching.
A generation earlier, an advanced degree might have allowed him to secure a stable post-secondary job as an academic. But today, he faces a highly competitive job market, which isn’t ideal for starting a family.
Instead of moving into a teaching job, Schneider, who learned to code as a hobby, landed a steady job as a web content developer with the University of Alberta. Last year, he and his wife had their first child, like a lot of their similarly aged friends.
“We’re all starting life a little bit later, and there’s this confusion sometimes that we let things slide and we weren’t keeping on top of our lives,” Schneider said. “For us, we see it as this complex interweaving of world changes — like financial crashes and marketplace changes — mixing in with the education that we have. A lot of things that may traditionally… have been seen as earlier life goals became later life goals for us.”
But instead of shrinking from the term millennial, he embraces it.
“I see it as a very appropriate label,” he said. “It helps make sense with where I was in life by being able to look at other people in that millennial generation and seeing how they’ve had to kind of renegotiate the values that their parents held for them.”
Matt Nodge isn’t so sure.
Nodge, who is 38 and works in communications in Edmonton, barely considers himself part of the generation. He was 25 years old when he first heard the term used.
“So when we started talking about millennials, I was already sort of an adult,” he said.
He does acknowledge that he does identify with some of the generation’s characteristics, since he never considered himself part of generation X either.
“I can relate to the generation in that I can consider myself quite technologically savvy,” he added. “I grew up right with the advent of the internet and right with the connectivity of our modern world.”
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Although Nodge bought a home pretty early on, he is in no hurry to start a family. He is also very cautious when it comes to the amount of information he is willing to share online — a trait he associates with gen X.
“I tend to get an idea that millennials are usually pretty unconcerned with their online presence and the information they are willing to give out to the world … I think I’m a little more cautious in my presence online,” he said.
According to Strohschein, older millennials will, in a way, prove a litmus test for the rest of the generation’s future. They could also help evolve the group’s definition going forward.
“Have those delays (in starting families and buying houses) had an impact on their lives? What are the consequences for pensions? Will they save enough?” she asked. “These are the things that we don’t know yet, but will be really interesting to follow.”