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The Young Gen Y Consumer - Generational context in ethical consumerism

Updated: Jun 13, 2021

At any given time, the living population consists of people from 3-4 different generations. But the current time is peculiar because first, the generation gap has become shorter. One single generation consisting of ideologies runs a span of only about 5-8 years or less than that. Earlier we could safely say that generations lasted from one parent to child era say about 25-30 years. It took that much time for ideologies to change. Now, it’s a matter of a few TV commercials and a few hashtags on social media and the ideology changes. This article only sets the stage in a long discussion we intend to undertake, about behavior change around consumerism that benefits the individual, the environment and the producers.

We are seeing a population of baby boomers, millennials, gen x and gen z all co-existing and comprising of hugely different value systems and goals. The one thread that can connect them all is the level of consciousness, or in our context, the level of awareness for mindful consumption, which you can uplift at any age. What we mean here is that personal values and choices have to be resilient in themselves and their meaning. It has to be agile enough to adapt to all kinds of situations and all kinds of people, still maintaining the integrity of its boundaries. That means these choices should be so fundamental that they hold their relevance in all eras. All challenges are valid in the context in which it is being evaluated.

What are the concerns behind the choices that we make?

More or less, the concern of individuals has remained the same, like health, wealth and relationships and status. However, the way it is understood and validated as success is different for each era. What is acceptable now, may not have been same as 100 years back. For understanding the context of current professional and personal issues, lets have a look at the unique characteristics of the current generation which most marketing evaluators fondly call as ‘millennials’. According to me, this word has become too generalized and over used and over rated. But it cannot be ignored. This can provide as an anchor to start the discussions. Those contexts can be built upon twigging the generational context.

According to a recent study by Deloitte, the number one factor that is lacking in this generation Y or Millennials is ‘TRUST’. This is a very unique generation because they are at the cusp of a very big transition on the planet. They have witnessed it all and are more stressed than anyone else in the previous times.

The journey of Millennials from 80's to the present.

Lets see how their journey has taken shape from the early 80’s. they were born to generation x which was a no frills generation. Generation x had more or less fixed frameworks of life, dictated to them by their parents, teachers and society. Take birth, go to school, get a degree, get married and have a family. Limited choices and less decisions to make. The word of the parent was law in most of the world which followed the world wars. People believed in destiny and luck for the way their lives finally turned out. Lets come to the Generation Y, when they were born, there were hardly any technology frills. The tradition to follow their parents advice on important matters like career continued. The set of parents itself had hardly any skills to deal with child psychology or a set framework for personal growth.

Because generation x was under constant pressure from their parents, they decided to give a breather to their own children. Millennials were praised beyond their capacities, were made to believe that they were the best and deserved all the good things in life no matter what. Paradoxically, there was lot of pressure to perform academically and choose a career which would be a status symbol rather than a passion. They were pressurized by their parents and their teachers at school equally. As I said earlier, there were hardly any personal development targets and things were tend to be left to chance. Every phenomenon was judged on the basis of black and white. A lot of grey was missing in the time when this generation was growing up.

Come to the teens and there was a sudden upward technology graph. It was fun initially with a lot of new video games around the corner. The earth was still cleaner and greener. Then there was change of the millennium and the dot com burst and the which brought upon even more expectations from the generation. Mobile phones became popular and many other gadgets where introduced into the market. They saw it all, they experimented with everything and build opinions about it all.

By the time they started working, industry was brimming with opportunities that new technologies had brought in. Skilled individuals had made elaborate plans to leave their hometowns and work for better opportunities elsewhere. Everywhere there was a positive atmosphere as digital economy picked up. When they were still in their very early career, the Enron crisis and the financial recession of 2008 hit the scenario. It was such a sudden volcanic eruption which is still picking up its pieces. Millions of people lost their jobs and hopes. This was the first step to make them skeptical in the financial sphere and shattered their trust. From a brimming economic condition to such a sudden downfall, was enough to shake their foundations. Thus, the struggle began to prove oneself beyond all doubts. There was a dwindling of the professional working systems which led to a work culture which was based on hours spent and show off more than actual output and efficiency. By the time they realized they had reached close to burn out, life responsibilities and loans had already taken over, making them overly dependent on their jobs and pleasing the boss for promotions.

Something was unique about them:

They were also great opinion leaders. This is because they had seen vastly different eras in a matter of a few decades. What better avenue could have been available to express opinions than social media. What started with as a tool to keep in touch with social connections, became the biggest source of FOMO or fear of missing out. So they wanted to be it all, do it all, show it all. Remember? their parents had told them they are the best and they can do anything. Result – A huge conflict between the self-image and the actual performance. Add to that – no specific tools available to manage self expectations. Another outcome – blame the fate, god, destiny. An utterly confused individual with all the resources, better than ever infrastructure but no clarity in goals and how to achieve them.

From the early 80s to the journey to Industry 4.0, it has been a roller coaster ride for most of the generation Y. Their parents had huge expectations from them, without an equally robust education system on how to learn. The system had judging mechanisms which would sometimes judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree. Now, research says that Industry 4.0 has made the millennials believe that they do not possess the technological skills to deal with this era. There is also a huge disconnect as to who is responsible for filling up these skill gaps for the generation Y. Like they always did, they somehow did not take responsibility for their own growth but blamed it on the economy, the system or the company they are working for.

This is also the time to realize the urgent need for climate change. Research also suggests that generation Y is the most aware and conscious generation who believes in ethical consumerism. They value social and environmental impacts of all their actions and ready to invest in products which are genuine in terms of their impact claims. This implies that the value system of the current times is very much strong and in place. There is a need to handle the communications differently in the current times. They most important change required is building of trust. Context sets the stage for success or failure, so it’s important to understand the mental makeup of the current working population, who is full fledged into the game currently. They are dealing with very real stress and conflicting issues at all fronts but still governed by their value systems which maybe outdated in some of the cases.

What is your take on the unique features of this generation and how do you think their skills and experience can be used for a circular economy?

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