For years, the world of business, and especially the wine industry, has pinned its hopes for increased growth on the millennial generation (roughly those born between 1980 and 1995).
With the number of those in this much-misunderstood cohort of now 20-somethings bypassing the number of baby boomers in the United States, this seems a reasonable expectation. However, given the psychological makeup of this maligned generation, no business should expect them to be frivolous or willing to pay excessively high prices for anything they buy. Here’s why.
The Great Recession Generation
Like the generation that endured their childhood during the Great Depression, the millennials have seen the cost of excess and will remain gun-shy when it comes to purchasing expensive goods and services.
Just talk with anyone who has grandparents who weathered the Depression to hear the stories of how this generation still pinches pennies. There are data suggesting that millennials are willing to pay a high price for wine, but again, look back to see forward. For about 10 to 15 years after the Depression, there seems to have been a period of jubilant spending, in part due to the war and in part, one might imagine, in celebration of surviving an economic disaster.
The millennials endured the Great Recession, which was the result of economic mismanagement, greed and factious politics, but they also have been the first generation to experience a mainland attack on the United States that resulted in years of an ill-conceived war and, again, economic mismanagement, when a government they had no role in electing spent billions, putting their own future economic security at risk.
At the same time that the older generations were going to war and mismanaging the economy, they and their parents were told that education was the only saving grace. Data were presented from older generations to this younger generation that their lifetime earning potential would be greatly enhanced with a college degree. The result is that now the millennial generation and some of their parents are saddled with more than $1.3 trillion in student debt, while at the same time this well-educated generation is struggling to pay back the loans and is now the poorest generation in recent memory.
The Great Recession, 9/11, $1.3 trillion in debt might only be a footnote to this generation that faces a world’s climate and environment that have been degraded by the generations preceding them to the point where the future health of the entire planet is in question. Couple the degradation with a population that continues to expand and they know — through their expensive and extensive educations — that they will be faced with cleaning up, or at least dealing with, the mess that has been left them.
And they know the details. For example, they know that half of the world’s plastic has been made in only the last 13 years and that less than 10 percent of it is being recycled. They know that temperatures are increasing and have already caused ominous changes in weather patterns. They know that cancer rates, the incidence of negative mental-health-related conditions and the cost of health care are all rising faster than in past generations. They also know that the older generations that caused most of these issues are certainly not the solution but the problem.
Artificial Intelligence and the coming storm
Beyond these sobering facts, the millennials are faced with an upcoming revolution of artificial-intelligence (AI)-run machinery that will put added pressure on their ability to obtain and retain jobs.
Some estimate that the number of jobs lost to AI in the next 30 years will reach 50 percent in some communities. They are told that those entering the future workforce will need to be smart, flexible and highly productive to compete for jobs. But what this young generation intuitively knows, and those telling them these vacuous things don’t, is that all of these qualities are ones that AI beats them on, hands-down.
Of course, there will be those in the millennial generation who will be well-off enough to spend $100-plus on a bottle of wine from a vineyard that has been around for a few years and made by someone who has a limited history in the wine business.
Special wines that are able to retain their wonder and history are likely to continue to prosper, such as the wines from Romanée-Conti, Franco Biondi Santi and Hyde Vineyards, but other wines that fail to meet ever-increasing scrutiny will fall by the wayside, many of them eventually to be found in the discount bins at Amazon’s Whole Foods stores.
Adding insult to injury
And now we have many in the same generation that caused the unprecedented mess for the younger generation chastising them for their delayed “adulting.”
A series of recently published books by authors such as psychologist Jean Twenge chastise the younger generation for not being prepared for adulthood. These books seem to lament over the fact that these younger people are just not having enough sex or taking enough drugs or engaging with the world around them in a way that is “adult” enough or familiar enough for the authors.
These books point to social media, cell phones and screen time as primary contributing causes to what has become an epidemic of depression and unhappiness in today’s younger generation. Such comments are sad but predictable responses of an out-of-touch generation that has largely been the cause of all of the trouble now facing these kids. And here you have authority figures telling them that if they just had more sex, took more drugs and put their cell phones down they’d be so much better off.
These children are not so foolish as to take much advice anymore. They are beginning to understand that the generations that made this mess will not be the ones to clean it up. They will do what they can, and if it takes them a few extra years of “adulting” to gain the courage and strength to face their reality, so be it.
What we should do as their elders is not throw more garbage in their direction through criticism and unwanted advice, but instead we should step back and listen to what they have to say. If we listen long enough, one thing they seem to be whispering is that they don’t need another expensive, self-indulgent product to consume; what they need is some time to think.