Recently Time Magazine ran an article called “Help! My Parents are Millennials!” that caught my interest. Since I am both a parent and (possibly) a millennial, I figured I’d take a look to see what exactly they were presuming my child would complain about.
I was particularly interested in how they were defining “millennial”, since Amanda Hess pointed out over a year ago that many articles written about millennials actually end up interviewing Gen Xers and just hoping no one notices. Time’s article started off doing exactly that, but then they quickly clarified that they define “millennial” as those born from the late 70s to the late 90s. This is actually about a seven year shift from what most other groups consider millennials, with the most commonly cited years of birth being 1982 to 2004 or so. Interestingly, only Baby Boomers get their own official generational definition1 endorsed by the Census Bureau: birth years 1946 to 1964.
I bring all this up, because the Time article include some really interesting polling data that purports to show parental attitude differences. Those results are here. Now it looks like they polled 2,000 parents, representing 3 generations with kids under 18. I DESPERATELY want to know what the number of respondents for each group was. See, if you do the math with the years I gave above, the only Boomers who still have kids under the age of 18 are those who had them after the age of 33….and that’s for the very youngest year of Boomers. While of course it’s not impossible to have or adopt children over that age, it does mean the available pool of Boomers that meet the criteria is going to be smaller and skewed toward those who had children later. Additionally, if you look at the Gen X range, you realize that Time cut this down to just 10 years because of how early they started the Millennials. I don’t know for sure, but I’d guess the 2,000 was heavily skewed towards Millennials. Of course, since we couldn’t even get numbers, we can’t possibly know which of the attitude differences they looked at were statistically significant. This annoys me, but is pretty common.
What irritated me the most though, is the idea that you can really compare parenting attitudes for parents who are in entirely different phases of parenting. For example, there was a large discrepancy in Millennial vs Boomer parents who worried that other people judge what their kids eat. Well, yeah. Millennials are parenting small children right now, and people do judge parents more for what a 5 year old eats than a 16 year old.
Additionally, there were some other oddities in the reporting that made me think the questions were either asked differently than reported, the respondents were unclear on what they should answer, or the sample size was small. For example, equal numbers of Boomers and Millennials said they were stay-at-home parents, which made me wonder how the question was phrased. Are 22% of Boomers still really staying home with their teenagers? My guess is some of them answered what they had done. Another oddity was the number who said they’d never shared a picture of their child on social media. I would have been more interested in the results if they’d sorted this out by those who actually had a social media account. I also am thinking this phrasing could be deceptive. I know a few Boomers who would probably say they don’t share pictures of their kids, but will post family photos. YMMV.
Anyway, I think it’s always good to keep in mind how exactly generations are being defined, and what the implications of these definitions are. Attitude surveys among generations will always be tough to do in real time, as much of what you’ll end up testing is really just some variation of “people in their 50s think differently from those in their 20s”.