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NEWSWIRE: 5/13/19

  • Happy Mother’s Day: More than one in five 23- to 37-year-olds (21.9%) still live with their mothers, accounting for more than 14 million people. As recently as the early 2000s, just 13% of this age group lived with Mom, but risk-averse Millennials scarred by the Great Recession see this living arrangement as a safe and practical option. (Zillow)
    • NH: None of our regular readers should be surprised at this finding. In 2016, according to Pew surveys, 32% of 18- to 34-year-olds were living with their parents or grandparents (and nearly all of these in their parents' home)--higher than any earlier year. In 2018, according to Census, 16% of 25- to 35-year-olds were living in their parents' home--also higher than any earlier year. Now, analyzing Census data ending in 2017, Zillow comes to a similar finding. Early in the post-GFC recovery, we disagreed with the often-heard assertion that Millennials would start "nesting" on their own again once employment and incomes really picked up. Well, we've been waiting for ten years now... and that "nesting" still hasn't happened. Indeed, one wonders what will happen come the next recession, which is almost certainly nearer to the present than the last recession.
    • Zillow also confirms that living with mom is more common for less affluent Millennials with higher unemployment rates than for better-off Millennials with lower unemployment rates. Still, unemployment has been trending down equally for both groups. The authors also point out that co-housing is commonest where the cost of housing is highest. No mystery there, either.
    • As we have often pointed out, this resurgence is co-living with parents reflects profound generational shifts that transcend the business cycle. On the one hand, first-wave Millennials are personally closer to their (mainly Boomer) parents than earlier youth generations were to their parents. This creates the opportunity for co-living. And, on the other hand, Millennials feel like they need to economize to have a chance at catching up to their parents' living standards. This creates the incentive for co-living. The last youth generation to experience such a high rate of parental co-living was the young G.I. Generation in the late 1930s. See last chart by Pew below.

Trendspotting: Millennials Don't Have to Travel Far for Mother's Day - May13 chart2

Trendspotting: Millennials Don't Have to Travel Far for Mother's Day - May13 chart3

Trendspotting: Millennials Don't Have to Travel Far for Mother's Day - May13 chart4

Trendspotting: Millennials Don't Have to Travel Far for Mother's Day - May13 chart5 

  • Op-ed writer Karl W. Smith calls on America to “Soak the Boomers to Save Capitalism.” He argues that leveling the generational playing field will restore Millennials’ faith in capitalism—however, by the time any meaningful entitlement or tax reforms are enacted, it may be Gen Xers, not Boomers, who take the brunt of the blow. (Bloomberg)
    • NH: Bloomberg columnist Smith is joining quite an army of pundits who are giving voice to generational discontent. Whose discontent? The Millennials'. Yet it's instructive how the Millennial argument against Boomers is not personal at all (unlike the very personal invective hurled by young Boomers against their own midlife parents). Millennials personally like their moms and dads. Rather, the argument is systemic. Boomers represent a gigantic roadblock of entrenched economic and political privilege, largely undeserved, that is standing in the way of a better future for the rising generation. It's also instructive how few Millennials make this case themselves. They let others--Gen Xers and even "gray champions" among the Boomers themselves--make the case for them.
    • So how do we wield the hatchet against Boomers "come the revolution" (to paraphrase a question Boomers themselves used to pose)? There are a number of obvious options--some of which Smith mentions--such as jacking up tax rates on the wealthy; instituting a wealth tax or an estate tax that really bites; means-testing entitlement benefits; and shifting to a consumption-based tax like a VAT (which hits the elderly harder because they are still consuming even after they are no longer earning).
    • Smith rightly points out that first-wave Boomers (born in the mid-1940s) experienced a lot more economic privilege that late-wave Boomers (born in the late-1950s). But he could have taken that logic further and pointed out that the Silent Generation made out best of all--soaring above earlier- or later-born birth cohorts by every measure of generational progress. (See my piece, "The Silent Generation, 'The Lucky Few'" in Forbes).
    • The cruel historical irony is that, by the time Millennial voters push through these confiscatory measures, they are not likely to be fully effective until Gen X is entering old age. A similar swing at rich elders was made in the New Deal--which ultimately missed its target and ended up hitting Lost Generation seniors in the 1940s and 1950s. The Lost, who had already been wiped out in midlife during the Great Depression, bore this burden without complaint. Admit it, Xers... you already feel it coming, don't you?
  • Walmart is testing out a new employee-friendly workplace framework featuring pay raises, skills training, and nonmonetary accolades. The initiative may eat into Walmart’s already-slim margins, but company executives believe the investment in employee well-being will pay off: “We will compete with technology but win with people.” (Bloomberg)
    • NH: A quick read through these new HR guidelines sounds like a "How to Manage Millennials" handbook. Walmart, like every other employer, is getting the message. Keep the teams small. Make the leadership hands-on. Create a purpose-driven ideology. Provide plenty of structure and constant feedback. Spell out clear promotion paths. Celebrate every worker's progress--even the smallest of milestones--with gold stars and other tokens of recognition. "Great Workplace" is a name that will set Xers' eyes rolling. But for Millennials, it works.
  • Indicators of despair—depression, suicidal ideation, drug use, and alcohol abuse—are rising among Americans in their late 30s and early 40s. When this trend took hold among Boomers, it was attributed to low-income, rural whites—but researchers found that despair has increased regardless of race, education, or geography, which could presage rising mortality among Xers (and early-wave Millennials) entering midlife. (American Journal of Public Health)
    • NH: The growth of "deaths of despair," a phrase made famous by husband-and-wife team Anne Case and Nobel laureate Angus Deaton, is a worthy topic for investigation. (See "The Next Big Thing: All the Lonely People" and "The Next Big Thing: A Nation Hooked.") Unfortunately, this study focuses longitudinally on only one cohort group (basically, late-wave Xers born between 1978 and 1981), which means we cannot really compare it to other cohort groups. It would be great to know, for example, whether the depressive attitudes and behavior experienced by this group at a median age of 37 are stronger or weaker than those experienced by older cohorts at the same age. Until we know that, it's impossible to distinguish between generational and life-cycle effects. Which means we can't use it to make a forecast.
  • Op-ed columnist Christine Emba discusses the “profound sadness” of the Jordan Peterson phenomenon. The viral self-improvement guru has attracted a following of disaffected young men who have found their spokesman—a sad indictment, she says, of the growing divide between society’s haves and have-nots. (The Washington Post)
    • NH: Jordan Peterson, the Canadian clinical psychologist and self-tutored polymath, is a fascinating figure. He's hugely popular among Millennial men--including, oddly, my own son, who ordinarily never reads these "psychological" sorts of books. He made me buy and read 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos, a mega best seller. I actually enjoyed the book, though I confess I have not yet dared to start Peterson's earlier and intimidating Maps of Meaning: The Architecture of Belief. No other serious author approaches Peterson in online popularity. His total YouTube views are about to hit 100 million. And these include some very challenging lectures, like his erudite two-and-a-half hour riff on the meaning of the first chapter of Genesis (1.9 million views).
    • NYT columnist David Brooks calls him "the most influential public intellectual in the western world right now." I don't know if that's true. But he does have a unique way of integrating science and meaning, logos and mythos. A huge fan of both Karl Jung and Martin Heidegger, he represents a totally postmodern conservative (much like Camille Paglia, an admirer of Peterson). In Generations and The Fourth Turning, Bill Strauss and I suggested that Millennial men, by the time they start entering midlife, are likely to gravitate around a rising masculinism and come to challenge the dominant feminism of their Boomer and Xer parents. (The last time we saw this happen was with the G.I. Generation in the 1940s and 1950s.) If this ever happens, one has to think that Jordan Peterson will loom large among the intellectual godfathers of this trend.
    • Although Peterson's 12 Rules for Life is entirely apolitical--it's basically a self-help book--he does imply that gender differences and social hierarchies constitute archetypal categories of the human condition. And for this reason, he enrages the mainstream media along with the academic blue-zone orthodoxy. The NYRB reviewed it under the headline "Fascist Mysticism." The NYT (apart from Brooks' favorable column) gave it this headline: "Jordan Peterson: Custodian of the Patriarchy."
    • And now we read this WP essay, whose author expresses "profound sadness" that so many young men are attracted to Peterson's perspective. But she also admits she sympathizes with these young men and understands Peterson's appeal: "Do we not have parents anymore? Do we no longer have friends? Peterson’s pronouncements all used to be common wisdom — how did it disappear?"
  • A new piece discusses the origin of the “Baby on Board” decal—and explains its resurgence in popularity. The Millennials for whom these decals were designed are now having kids of their own and adorning their cars accordingly: “If a silly sticker would ensure my children are cared for during a traumatic and dangerous event, I’ll just add it to the ongoing list of stuff that makes me less cool.” (The Washington Post)
    • NH: The renewed popularity of "Baby on Board" signs is a perfect example of a generational echo effect. The same first-wave Millennials for whom these signs were originally employed (in the mid- to late-1980s) are now themselves having babies. And they want to impart to their own children the same sense of wantedness that they themselves recall as infants. Sure, the moral panic over kids--so palpable in the 1980s--is over, so the sign no longer feels at all cutting edge. As they are in so many other aspects of the culture (yoga, natural foods, athleisure), Millennial parents are comfortable following the path of their Boomer parents.
    • A similar echo, BTW, will soon affect kids' TV programming. These new Millennial parents were also the original audience, as small children, for the "renaissance" of Disney cartoons in the late 1980s and 1990s (Little Mermaid, Lion King, Aladdin, etc.). They will also want to pass that experience on to their own kids. And they will do so with an intensity that new parents from the late '90s to the early '10s (mostly Gen Xers) seldom experienced. That is one reason for my bullish long-term take on DIS (see: "This Generational Trend is Bullish for Disney").
  • New research suggests that access to broadband Internet has a positive effect on fertility. The suggested reasoning is that broadband Internet access breeds work-from-home opportunities that can help women better reconcile work and motherhood, a finding that should drum up support for remote-work initiatives. (MercatorNet)
    • NH: Wow. This research gives academic support to the whole "Netflix and Chill" thesis. Could a serious pronatalism agenda include subsidies for broadband? The authors suggest that the effect is strongest for college-educated women and is negligible for the least-educated. Well, it turns out that, according to Christopher Poliquin at UCLA, broadband also works to increase earnings inequality. In an interesting study that examines Brazilian firms that introduced broadband between 2000 and 2009, he finds that rising wage inequality by firm matched very closely the date of introduction. Poliquin's thesis: Broadband enabled the most skilled workers to be more productive relative to the less skilled.
  • In an interview, Northwestern professor Shalini Shankar discusses her book Beeline, which examines Homelanders’ generational traits through the lens of competitive spelling bees. Though she focuses on South Asian-Americans, what she observes applies broadly: stealth-fighter parents, more camera-ready kids, and far more emphasis on emotional self-regulation. (New York)
    • NH: If anyone thinks kids today are getting dumber, please compare the winning National Spelling Bee words from prior decades to those of today. Winning words back in prior decades: "intelligible" (1935), "psychiatry" (1948), "condominium" (1956), and "abalone" (1968). Now look at a few of the most recent words: "appoggiatura" (2005), "cymotrichous" (2011), "stichomythia" (2014), or "marocain" (2017).
    • Such comparisons offer support for the Flynn Effect--the finding that successive birth cohorts are registering progressively higher IQ scores at any given age, especially on tests assessing fluid intelligence. They also may just point to the rising hot-house competition among groups of parents and children (especially among Americans of South Asian descent, who today pretty much dominate these contests) to score high on televised national events.
  • Stanford University is offering one of its most popular M.B.A. courses to everyday business executives who want to beef up their emotional intelligence. The course, which teaches attendees how to build interpersonal connections and get in touch with their feelings, is a hit among high achievers aiming to round out their skillset. (The Wall Street Journal)
    • NH: Millennials are a generation of left-brained achievers--so much so that the alarmism about rising rates of "autism disorders" is probably due to in part to the rising need Millennials feel to demonstrate their mastery of highly structured curricula. On the other hand, Millennials are also a generation that prioritizes fellowship, sociability, and community. Challenge: How does the Millennial right brain get better acquainted with its other half? Expect to see more of these "touchy feely" courses (that's literally what students and faculty call the class) in higher education.
  • A new piece explores an interesting theory: Are married Millennials less likely to cheat than prior generations? The increased selectivity of marriage and their aversion to risk point to yes—but today, less infidelity doesn’t necessarily imply monogamy, given the rise in open or otherwise polyamorous relationships. (The Atlantic)
    • NH: IMO, polyamory is much more talked about than acted upon. Indeed (see: "Trendspotting: 4/22/19"), the most conspicuous trend among Millennials is not that they're having sex with the wrong person--but that they're not having it at all. In that piece, we pointed to GSS data showing that the number of lifetime sexual partners, adjusted for age, was dropping for Millennials (and was dropping faster for men than for women). See (below) another graphic based on GSS data showing a similar plunge in admitted extramarital infidelity.
    • One possible contributing factor is the steadily advancing age of marriage, especially for lower socioeconomic groups--who are increasingly likely never to marry, whether or not they ever have kids. What this means is that, increasingly, marriage may be "self selecting" those who are older, more mature, and more conscientious (to speak in terms of basic personality traits). In other words, the sort of married person who, in a prior generation, would be unfaithful in a relationship is today a lot less likely to get married in the first place.

Trendspotting: Millennials Don't Have to Travel Far for Mother's Day - May13 chart6


The Rise of “Everything-as-a-Service.” On their face, subscription services seem like an easy way to save money. After all, what’s a few dollars per month compared to hundreds in upfront costs? But new research shows that the boom in services may have gone too far: Tech consulting firm West Monroe Partners finds that the average American now spends $237 per month on subscription services, with 84% underestimating the amount they spend monthly. The list of must-have subscription services has expanded far beyond television into clothing, toothbrushes, and even doorbells. Quite simply, according to subscription guru Tom Dibble, “Nothing is off limits here.” What’s going on? Thrifty, cash-strapped Millennials have powered the growth of these services. But many are realizing that costs can quickly add up: A three-year subscription worth $15 a month would amount to $540 in three years’ time. So what can people do to cut back? Easy: Subscribe to another service.