Millennials in Canada

The millennial generation (also known as Generation Y) refers to a cohort of people born roughly between 1980 and 1996, though some have a more restrictive definition (see Population of Canada). Most millennials are children of members of the baby boom generation, a term which refers to those born immediately following the end of the Second World War. Millennials are often compared to and defined by the ways in which they are both a product of, and a challenge to, their parents’s generational traits.



Lilly Singh

 Lilly Singh (born 26 September, 1988) at the 2017 American Music Awards held at the Microsoft Theater in Los Angeles, USA on November 19, 2017.

Xavier Dolan, 2009.

Xavier Dolan (né Xavier Dolan-Tadros), actor, director, writer, producer, editor, costume designer (born 20 March 1989 in Montréal, QC).

Drake

Canadian music artist Drake (Aubrey Drake Graham, born October 24, 1986). A rapper, songwriter and music producer, Drake first gained recognition as an actor on the television Degrassi: The Next Generation in the early 2000s. Photo: jacobmiller6, Flickr.

Avril Lavigne

Avril Lavigne, singer, songwriter (born at Belleville, Ontario, 27 September 1984). Pictured here at the 2007 American Music Awards, Nokia Theater Los Angeles, CA. 

Background

The term “millennials” was first coined by William Strauss and Neil Howe, authors of the 1991 book Generations: The History of America’s Future, 1584 to 2069. The term refers to the start of the second millennium (the year 2000) which, for many in this generation, coincided with their entry into the workforce as young adults (see Labour Force; Labour Market).

Debates about what characterizes the millennial generation are ongoing. However, members of this generation are often defined by two distinct traits: their approach and expectations related to the workplace, and their relationship with digital technology ( see also Technology). Most millennials joined the workforce during a period of rapid globalization and economic privatization both in Canada and internationally. This has shaped their collective expectations with regards to career path and economic security. Millennials are also the first generation to have grown up with the Internet and digital technology. As such, they are considered the first generation of “digital natives.”

Millennials and Baby Boomers

Many trends that marked the baby boomer generation have had a significant impact on the development of millennial adults. For example, millennials grew up during an unprecedented rise in the divorce rate, as their parents broke with earlier social conventions and brought divorce and blended families squarely into the mainstream (see also Marriage in Canada; History of Marriage and Divorce). Divorce rates in Canada peaked during the 1980s and have since dropped to roughly 38 per cent.

Women joined the workforce in unprecedented numbers during the 1970s. This meant that many millennial children attended daycare while their mothers worked. Millennials also grew up during a period of relative economic prosperity in Canada, during which the rate of home ownership grew steadily year after year until 2011, when it began to decline for the first time in 45 years. Thanks to both the relative stability of their parents’s working conditions and of the economy in which they came of age, millennials are often characterized as having attitudes of entitlement to a certain degree of privilege, particularly in the context of their experiences in the workplace.

Millennials and “Entitlement”

The millennial reputation for entitlement may be understood in relation to the social and economic contexts in which they were raised. Their baby boomer parents, having themselves come of age during the 1960s counterculture era (see Hippies), were arguably more oriented toward personal growth and the development of self-esteem than previous generations. Some suggest that millennials raised with this encouragement and praise for effort from their baby boomer parents have grown into a generation of adults who are “spoiled” and expect praise for work based on effort rather than on a successful outcome. Millennials were the first children of so-called “helicopter parents,” a term that refers to parents who hover anxiously over their children, hindering independent development. This phenomenon has also contributed to the popular notion that millennials have an attitude of entitlement. However, it is important to note that the narrative of the entitled millennial is far from being accepted as fact.


Millennials in the Workplace

Millennials are the most highly educated generation in Canadian history, having pursued post-secondary degrees in record numbers. The level of education attained by millennials is thought by some cultural critics to have contributed to their sense of entitlement, given the high expectations millennials had for their career paths and the disappointment they suffered as they came of age during a period of dramatic corporate downsizing both in Canada and abroad.

The impact millennials are having on workplace culture may become their defining generational feature. According to Dr. Jean Twenge, professor of psychology at San Diego State University, as millennials entered the workforce in the early 2000s, they became known for being tech-savvy, having high self-esteem and exhibiting “individualistic tendencies.” They displayed a broad preference for flexible hours in the service of “work-life balance,” and personally meaningful, potentially creative work. Whereas previous generations sought satisfaction in stable, predictable jobs, millennials reported a willingness to trade stability for professional fulfillment. This willingness was part of what brought about the expansion of the “gig economy,” which is defined by a prevalence of short-term freelance contracts.

Studies in both the United States and Canada have found that millennials prefer workplace cultures that place less emphasis on hierarchy and more on communication and transparency. They tend to expect frequent feedback from managers, a quality that has been linked to their reputation for needing encouragement and guidance more than previous generations.

These preferences have had a transformative impact on company management strategies across Canada. As millennials have struggled to fulfill their professional aspirations in a competitive free market economy, the model of “flexible work” has come to dominate Canada’s professional landscape. Flexible work describes short-term contract labour in contrast to positions offering long-term job security. It is often paid without benefits, such as health, dental or life insurance.

Those working in the “flexible work” paradigm make up part of the global “precariat,” a term used to describe workers who function in a permanent state of economic precariousness thanks to short-term contracts, a highly competitive labour market, and little if any paid time off. Many in this generational cohort report high rates of professional burnout, with social media use frequently cited as a contributing factor.

Millennials and Technology

Canadian millennials have grown up with the Internet and digital technology. They were early adopters of smartphones, tablets and streaming services as these technologies appeared around the turn of the millennium, but in the decade that followed the digital habits of older Canadians began to align with those of millennials, making generational distinctions around the use of this technology less clear cut. Millennials were the first generation to embrace social media use; in 2018, 91 per cent of Canadian millennials had at least one social media account, compared to 81 per cent of all Canadians.

Millennials and Family Life

Millennial women are having children later in life than women in previous generations. In 2010, for the first time in Canada’s recorded history, the birth rate among women in their 30s surpassed that of women in their 20s. The average age of a first-time mother in Canada in 2016 was 30.8. This gradual ageing of first-time mothers reflects some of the economic challenges faced by millennials. Many tend to take longer to complete their education, due to working while enrolled in school. Establishing a steady and reliable income likewise takes longer than it did a generation ago. Millennials are the first generation to come of age after the 2005 legalization of same-sex marriage. They embody a generational shift in attitude around same-sex marriage, with one 2017 CROP study showing a higher percentage of millennials (58 per cent) saying they “totally agree” with granting full marriage rights to same-sex couples than was found among Canadians in general (45 per cent).

Millennials and Money

Overall, millennials are making more money in their mid-20s to mid-30s than Gen-Xers did, but they carry much more personal debt. Along with higher educational attainment have come higher educational expenditures. In 2016, 24.4 per cent of young millennial households (members aged 30–34) carried student debt, with a median value of $12,000. By comparison, only 14.8 per cent of Gen-Xers carried student debt a generation ago.

The wider trend of growing income inequality in Canada is reflected in wealth statistics (see Income Distribution). Wealthy millennials are making more money than previous generations, but the income spread between the richest and poorest millennials is much wider than was the case among previous generations.

In 2016, a reported 43.6 per cent of millennials in Canada owned homes. However, studies have shown that millennials’ incomes are on average significantly lower in relation to the cost of real estate than their parents’s incomes were, which makes saving for a down payment much more difficult without parental help. A widely cited 2019 report on generational home ownership in Canada reported saving for a down payment takes millennials an average of 13 years, while it took homebuyers in the 1970s 5 years ( see Housing and Housing Policy). 



Further Reading

  • Sean Lyons and Lisa Kuron, “Generational differences in the workplace: A review of the evidence and directions for future research,” Journal of Organizational Behavior vol. 35, no. S1 (2014).

    Jean M. Twenge, Generation Me — Revised and Updated: Why Today's Young Americans Are More Confident, Assertive, Entitled — and More Miserable Than Ever Before (2014).

External Links