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NEWSWIRE: 1/22/19

  • Op-ed columnist Noah Smith pinpoints what he sees as the root of the Millennial burnout problem: the economy-wide scarcity of careers as opposed to mere jobs. Smith is onto something: For all the talk about their embrace of the informal gig economy, Millennials truly thrive in secure, full-time roles with defined opportunities for advancement. (Bloomberg Business)
    • NH: Older generations may see references to "Millennial burnout" as an invitation to a pity party, roll their eyes, and then move on. But the phenomenon is real. The American Psychological Association's annual "Stress in America" survey finds that, for several years running, Millennials (their definition: age 22-39) have been America's "most stressed" generation--and by a growing margin. (See also: "The Next Big Thing: The Young and the Anxious.")
    • What's driving the burnout is very much at odds with the Millennial stereotype. It has nothing to do with being entitled or unmotivated or whiny. Rather, it's the outcome of being raised since early childhood to behave, to achieve, to optimize, to risk manage, to fit in, and to please others. Millennials, accordingly, have prepared for and taken vastly more exams than any prior generation. They have overloaded themselves with the sorts of educational credentials they earnestly believed older people wanted--mortgaging their future in the process. They leave vacation days unused due to work shame and their mobile phones on during weekends in case the boss calls (see: "Trendspotting: 9/4/18"). They skimp on sleep, turn "adulting" into a menu-driven checklist, and cram free time into overlapping bits (giving rise to entirely new product lines, like "athleisure"). What the older edge of this generation wanted in return was pretty modest: Just the same expectation of career security and advancement that their Boomer parents had at the same age.
    • But of course that's not what they're getting. Hence, burnout. The best single book on Millennial burnout and its causes is Kids These Days: Human Capital and the Making of Millennials by Malcolm Harris (himself a Millennial). Perhaps the best single article is "How Millennials Became the Burnout Generation" by Anne Helen Petersen. “We are encouraged to strategize and scheme to find places, times, and roles where we can be effectively put to work,” writes Harris. “Efficiency is our existential purpose, and we are a generation of finely honed tools, crafted from embryos to be lean, mean production machines.” To this, Petersen adds: "Yet the more work we do, the more efficient we’ve proven ourselves to be, the worse our jobs become: lower pay, worse benefits, less job security. Our efficiency hasn’t bucked wage stagnation; our steadfastness hasn’t made us more valuable. If anything, our commitment to work, no matter how exploitative, has simply encouraged and facilitated our exploitation. We put up with companies treating us poorly because we don’t see another option. We don’t quit. We internalize that we’re not striving hard enough. And we get a second gig." True enough. The gig economy is part of the problem, not the solution.
    • Burnout afflicts young women more than young men, perhaps because women choose less remunerative jobs or are more burdened by the pleasing-others ethic and almost certainly because they are more burdened by family responsibilities. But it equally affects both young educated professionals and young noncollege workers. To be sure, Millennials aren't the first generation to face declining upward mobility relative to parents (that honor goes to late-wave Boomer cohorts: See this study I coauthored for the Federal Reserve back in 2015). But unlike Xers or Boomers, Millennials truly want the system to work. So they may become the first to try to do something about it politically, if a national leader offers them a plausible way forward.
  • A new op-ed contends that Fortnite may transforming childhood and destroying family relationships. Parents' worries over the gaming habits of their young kids fits in line with the broader, societywide “tech-lash” outrage over the growing role of devices and screens in kids’ lives. (The Wall Street Journal)
    • NH: "Battle royale" video games, last-man-standing contests that combine hunting and scavenging (think: Hunger Games), have been a growing trend for several years. With Epic Games's Fortnite, released free-to-play last year on mobile, that trend has truly taken off: Fortnite generated $2.4 billion in revenue last year, has an estimated 40 million players playing at least once a month, and currently dominates traffic on Twitch. "Friday Fortnite" competitions draw up to 8.8 million live viewers--which easily beats any network TV audience (comparison: season premiere of Westworld brought in 2.2 million viewers). Privately owned Epic Games, 40% owned by Tencent, has a market cap last estimated at nearly $15 billion.
    • Unlike more traditional console first-person shooter games, Fortnite is drawing in players of all ages and both genders. Still, there's no question that the heaviest players and viewers are young males. That is creating plenty of tension between boys and their parents--who don't necessarily think that spending endless hours playing Fortnite, often at the expense of sleep and homework, is a good idea. Even major league sports teams are reporting this problem with their incoming rookies (see: "Trendspotting: 8/13/18").
    • American parents desperate for help might look with envy at Chinese parents, who get heavy backing from their political leaders. Xi Jinping decries youth addiction to video games. And he has directed the government to require that Tencent (creator of the popular game Arena of Valor) to put strict limits on the time kids are allowed to play: 13- to 18-year-olds get no more than two hours per day; and 12-and-under get no more than one hour per day. To foil users from getting around this restriction by using phony names, kids are now required to register their names with the local police. By all reports, this government-instituted tech-lash has helped to trigger a recent plunge in Tencent stock. Luckily, Tencent can cushion the damage with its large return from Epic's success in America.

Trendspotting: Would Better Jobs Solve Millennial Burnout?  - Jan 21 chart 1

  • A recent NYT analysis examines just how much consumer location data is gathered by smartphone apps—and the results are disquieting. Anyone with access to the (anonymized) raw data can identify a person without their consent—which disturbs consumers like Lisa Magrin: “It’s the thought of people finding out those intimate details that you don’t want people to know.” (The New York Times)
    • NH: You surely already knew this, at some level, but just tried not to think about it. If you carry your smartphone around with you and if you have not exhaustively disabled every location-based app on your phone (almost no one does), then data on your exact whereabouts, every hour of every day, is almost certainly being stored somewhere. Some 70 companies are involved in the deciphering and marketing of this location data to business clients. And yes it's a significant source of revenue for most apps. Most clients use this data for location-based marketing. This may include, e.g., a personal injury law firm targeting ads to individuals who end up in a hospital emergency room. Because the data can tell where your phone "sleeps," it knows a lot about you demographically, down to your exact Census tract. Without much effort, a data user could find out your personal identity. While that's something that no user claims to be interested in, there are no clear laws penalizing such activity. Growing awareness of personal-ID data mining is one more tech-lash blow hurting the prospects of mobile-based social media firms (see: "The Next Big Thing: Google-Facebook: It's Not Over").
  • Fully 52% of Americans, including a majority of independents, are against the country becoming more politically correct. This finding, which is in line with past polls on P.C. culture, represents a thorny dilemma for Democrats, whose support for cultural sensitivity resonates with those under 30 but few other groups. (NPR)
    • NH: Of all the issues that Donald Trump campaigned on, his opposition to "political correctness" was surely the most popular--and it no doubt still wins him some support even from those who disagree with him on most substantive policy questions. The authors of this report are correct: Political correctness is a problem for many Democratic candidates (e.g., Kamala Harris and Kirsten Gillibrand) because they are drawn to its logic despite the fact that even most Democratic voters don't like the implicit judgment it imposes on how they speak. The NPR survey is kind to P.C. because it frames the question in a way to maximize support: It implies that P.C. means "people being more sensitive about others." Well, who doesn't want to be more sensitive about others? In fact, as Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt point out in The Coddling of the American Mind, P.C. censorship does not promote sensitivity; rather, it promotes resentment and polarization. And most Americans understand this. For a more objective survey, see the one conducted by More In Common ("Trendspotting: 10/16/18"), which concludes that large majorities of every age, gender, racial, and political group consider political correctness "a problem in our country."
  • Claremont McKenna associate professor Frederick R. Lynch thinks that Democrats can win Boomers’ hearts in 2020 by emphasizing Medicare and Social Security. But that’s easier said than done: Once-safe issues like protecting entitlements can’t be pitched in tandem with strategies that would alienate one side of the growing divide between older whites and nonwhites. (The New York Times)
    • NH: This is a strange argument. The author believes that Democrats can win over Boomers by emphasizing that they want to preserve Medicare and Social Security. But Boomers are no more supportive of these programs than younger generations. (This isn't the G.I. Generation of New Deal seniors any more.) What's more, no current GOP leader is advocating touching either of these programs. To the contrary, Trump is using the preservation of Medicare as a battering ram against an emerging new idea among many leading Democrats, which is Medicare for All. Trump's case (for better or worse) is that such expansion is unaffordable. As Trump likes to put it, “They say ‘Medicare for All’ until they run out of money, which will be the third day, and it will be Medicare for nobody.” Which suggests that Republicans, not Democrats, are more likely to raise the preservation of senior benefits in the next election cycle.
  • An emerging fashion trend is breaking the Internet: “modest fashion.” Social media influencers like Maria Alia and Halima Aden are attracting vast Instagram followings at a time when Millennials are rejecting overtly sexy brands in favor of a more conservative, thoughtful approach. (Bloomberg Businessweek)
    • NH: Social conservatives don't often approve of ideas introduced by non-Christian foreigners. But here's one they should be enthusiastic about: modesty in dress. Spearheaded by an emerging generation of Muslim youth around the world, the notion that "covering up" is a safer and happier lifestyle than "competing to reveal" is beginning to win over American Millennials and Homelanders. (See: "Trendspotting: 3/26/18" and "Trendspotting: 12/4/18.")

Trendspotting: Would Better Jobs Solve Millennial Burnout?  - Jan 21 chart 2

  • Schools across the nation are incorporating mindfulness exercises into their daily routines. School administrators are realizing that, rather than competing with other classroom activities, mindfulness provides a good foundation for classroom instruction by helping relieve students’ stress and prepare them for high-level thinking. (American School Board Journal)
    • NH: Time will tell if this just one more passing educational fad in K-12 schools. But there's no question that mindfulness training, a once-marginal practice that has been popularized by Boomers as they have grown older (see: "The Next Big Thing: The Aging of Aquarius"), has indeed become a mainstream practice in management coaching, workplace training, and professional sports. The article suggests that, even if the results in changed student behavior aren't always compelling, the K-12 teachers and administrators love it.
  • Adults under 40 rank being able to retire, owning a home, and travelling the world as higher priorities than marriage and kids. This report rolls several Millennial trends into one neat summary: their view of marriage as a capstone, their love of new experiences, and the significant role financial challenges play in shaping (and constraining) their big life decisions. (Bank of America)
    • NH: Millennials are all about menu-driven prioritization in an age of economic scarcity. It's not that they don't want to get married. (The vast majority do, and that share has not declined appreciably over the decades.) It's just that they believe that they need to get everything else "in place" beforehand. Whereas young Boomers focused on "the now," regardless of the probable consequences, Millennials are regrowing behavioral habits based on delayed gratification. Go talk to Boomers about young couples trading FICO scores on their second or third date. Every one of them will shake their head in utter disbelief.
  • Xer Choire Sicha, who runs the Times’s work advice column, recently advised an earnest new hire eager for more responsibility to enjoy the time she gets to do nothing on the clock. What the letter-writer frames as boredom, Sicha sees as “a gift,” an apt illustration of the differences between Millennials and Generation X. (The New York Times)
    • NH: The earnest Millennial in question has clearly never seen Ferris Bueller's Day Off. Or, if she has, she just didn't get it!
  • The Murphy bed, once the exclusive domain of sitcoms and comedy routines, is back. Fueling the resurgence has been the rise of micro-apartments and multigenerational living, which has forced interior designers to look for ways to save space by any means necessary. (The Wall Street Journal)
    • NH: We wrote a bullish piece on micro-apartments back in 2013 when this trend was just underway.

                              DID YOU KNOW?

                              Gray Hair Goes Glam. Once upon a time, women went to the hair salon at the first sign of gray locks. But now, gray has gone mainstream. Social-media site Pinterest recorded an 879 percent jump in the search term “going gray” from 2017 to 2018. This surge was perhaps inspired by the spate of A-list celebrities, from Lady Gaga to Kim Kardashian, who have sported some variant of gray in recent years. Why is gray in style? Some women find that gray locks make them look younger by contrast. Rhiannon Gardier, a 38-year-old mother who recently went gray, testifies that, “Every time people give me a compliment, it’s always followed with, ‘You have such a young face—you look like you’re 20.’” The more important driver may be society’s embrace of aging. Boomers have always set the cultural standard—and with this generation entering its golden years, gray hair and other markers of old age have come to inspire a sense of reverence. As ad agency executive Colleen DeCourcy asks, “What nonsensical piece of logic in society says that women should always have hair that looks like they’re 26?”