Q&A: Meet Gen Y, The Sherpa Parents


When it comes to Gen Y, demographers tend to be a little unkind: "Entitled" and "impatient" are words that come up often. But as these Millennials face major life changes -- with the leading edge moving into parenthood -- it's time to rethink some of those labels. Nancy Robinson, VP/consumer strategist and insight director on Millennials for Iconoculture, a trend-watching firm in Minneapolis, tells Marketing Daily how this crowd is changing.

Q: So many older people still look at this generation as pretty self-absorbed. Do you think that's inaccurate?

A: Well, Millennials see themselves as having a sense of purpose -- and words like discovery, ambition, adventure, individuality, fun, self-expression, diversity, romance and sensuality all ranked higher for them than [they did] for other generations in Iconoculture's Values & Lifestyle Survey. And I think it's easy to misread their sense of entitlement. They think, "if it's good for me and for my friends and my family, then isn't it good for everybody?" It's still within that universe of Me, but they don't see it as selfish viewpoint.



Q: How will that shape them as parents?

A: Millennials are in the process of entering parenthood, and are about to take over as the main group of parents from Gen X, a shift that will happen in the next three to five years. We can already see differences in the way they parent -- they are more fueled by this sense of sharing. They don't worry about technology -- they see it as a tool, not a teacher. They're not Helicopter Parents, they're more like Sherpa Parents -- their sense of sharing will shape them. It's not about having Baby on Board, it's more like, "Here we all are at Lollapalooza." For Gen X, a baby was something of an accessory -- you're not going to see these kids parade their babies around in "Mother Sucker" onesies.

Q: What about marriage?

A: They're not against it. In fact, there's lots of evidence that they value the tradition, even though they're avoiding it. And they're certainly not against partnering. But they don't want to do it unless they are absolutely sure it will work out. And since the idea of living together isn't abhorrent to their parents, or anyone else in their world, they think, what's the rush? I predict they will marry -- in a big blip -- in the 36-to-38 age range, and it will be a major celebration.

Q: We are hearing so much about how young people are fueling the seismic changes in the Middle East. Is that having an impact on American Millennials?

A: Absolutely. But it's different -- their parents went and studied in places like England when they traveled, or some place where they knew the language. Today, they want to go everywhere -- the Middle East, Asia, Africa. They're not afraid of the world. They don't feel the need for a safety net.

Q: How about their attitudes about work -- we heard so much about them wanting a promotion the second day on the job. Any sense that the recession has dampened that?

A: We think if anything, the recession has intensified their commitment to seeing themselves as entrepreneurial, even if they have a regular job. They really see themselves as working for themselves. And they see their careers as much more horizontal than vertical -- they don't feel climbing the corporate ladder necessarily worked out so well for their parents, and the recession did increase that, I think. But they really aren't so different: Ten years ago, people had between three and five jobs before they turned 31. Millennials have upped that a little, but not by much.

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