Why Don’t Millennials Feel Grown Up?


Frances Schwartz, 98

One of my best friends, Frances Schwartz, is 98 years young.

Until last year, Frances lived in her own apartment on Walnut Street near Laurel Village in San Francisco.  Now she lives in the Jewish Home. We have been friends now for over 10 years. I feel closer to Frances than to many people my own age, even though I moved away to Michigan in 2001.  She is still ‘sharp’,  mentally and verbally.  When I lived in San Francisco, Frances loved to take me to lunch at her favorite Chinese restaurant downtown. We would have the lunch special — three courses and a glass of wine, for $20, including white tablecloths, fresh flowers and deep carpet. She loves a good joke and See’s Candies. She hates George Bush with a passion. She always wants to know what I’m up to.  I want to know how she likes the food at the Home (it’s great).

Q: What does Frances have to do with Millennials? 

A:  Neither group feels their age. 

Frances has confided to me that she doesn’t feel 98, in fact she feels like the same person she was at 19. Maybe that’s why she doesn’t look or act her age?

The person behind my eyes is still the same girl I was in 1920. I don’t feel 98 years old.  I can hardly believe it’s true.

Blake Sunshine, wrote last month in her blog, “Do Millennials Feel Young?”  Drawing on Pew Research data, she concluded Millennials are the ONLY group that feels its actual age. (Other age groups all feel younger, like Frances). Today, Blake continued this line of thought with a thoughtful essay titled, “Millennials Are Having a Hard Time Growing Up“.  (Note how much Blake sounds like Frances!);

“I do not feel like an adult. I support myself, have a job and live 818 miles away from my Mom and Dad, but I still feel like a child most every day. And I know I’m not the only one. Millennials everywhere are having a hard time growing up.”

I am sure Blake is not the only Millennial struggling to take her place in adult society.  The economy has thrown Gen Y  a curve ball, causing many to delay the usual markers of adult life: job, marriage, mortgage, children. Living at home, no doubt,  undermines one’s sense of independence.

Yet Blake Sunshine seems to be getting at something deeper and more fundamental. Growing up requires letting go of options, narrowing those infinite dreams and choices to just a few.  For Millennials, this may be harder than for other generations, since they have been told from an early age that the sky is the limit. She also places some of the blame on parents.

“We still want to be astronauts- We don’t really all want to be astronauts, but we still do want to believe that we can do whatever it is we want to do with our lives. Millennials do not want to settle, and if you aren’t a grown up then you don’t have to settle. Which is why it’s hard for Millennials to grow up and try to discover what they really want to do with their lives. … I hate to blame our parents entirely for why we aren’t growing up, but they definitely aren’t helping us either. A lot of Millennial parents (not all!) are used to hovering over their children, and they only want them to be happy. And if that means not settling for a job that they don’t want, then many Millennials parents are happy to support their children for as long as they can. But this is a terrible thing, because we need the push from our parents to force us to grow up.”

I have a different hypothesis. Perhaps the real reason Millennials don’t ‘feel’ grown up is that no one ever really feels completely grown up.

For marketers of ‘grown up’ products such as investment services, insurance, furniture, automobiles and travel, this insight may prove more helpful than it appears. If Millennials aren’t feeling like grown ups – and don’t really want to feel that way— then positioning these products and services  as part of an adult lifestyle would miss the market entirely. They would feel like ‘posers’.

A better approach might be to position them as responsible steps for anyone to take, whatever their age.