Is Optimistic Gen Y Totally Delusional?

Last Updated Oct 28, 2010 8:04 PM EDT

Recently my fellow BNET blogger Penelope Trunk pointed out the Gen Y, in general, is less worried about the lousy job market than older generations. Trunk sites young people's flexibility, already lower expectations, concern for family over financial security, obsessively cultivated self-esteem and willingness to work in the service sector (personally, I'd like to see some evidence of this one) as the root causes of their optimism.

Of course the flip side of this, which Trunk plays down, is the reality that older workers have more financial responsibilities to fret about, have accumulated more job skills in their sectors and therefore have more to lose by switching, and generally have the experience to know that financial security and stable family life go hand in hand. (Within reason. No one is saying you need to be a millionaire to raise kids well, but not stressing about paying the mortgage can do wonders for a marriage.)

But the question Trunk raises is a good one -- exactly how bummed out about the terrible economic climate are young people? And how worried should they be? Recently, Knowledge@Wharton tackled the issue with an article and the video below, in which Gen Yers speak about their outlook for their careers. As Trunk predicts, the interviewees tell of their more modest ambitions and changing plans but hardly sound completely defeated or depressed.

But what do the experts at say? Wharton Professor Matthew Bidwell sums up the worries of economists, saying, "it's not looking particularly good for Gen Y." Numerous studies, says Bidwell, find that those who graduate in a recession never completely recover from the hit when it comes to future earnings.

Not everyone feels that the cautious optimism voiced by Trunk and Gen Yers themselves is misplaced, however. Dale Kalika, a senior lecturer at the W.P. Carey School of Business agrees that young people's flexibility will serve them well:
One thing they have going for them: They are already prepared with the knowledge that they will have many jobs -- probably 12 to 15 throughout the course of their professional lives, and they will have multiple careers. They know that there is no such thing as job security.
And Peter Cappelli, another Wharton professor, feels that graduating into a the recession teaches better life lessons than starting your career in boom times.
We saw that people who graduated during the boom of the late 1990s... had a hard time adjusting to the downturn. There is something quite important about entering a labor market in a downturn.... It shapes your worldview. It makes you more modest and more realistic.
How well do you think Gen Y will fare in the long-term after getting such a rocky start to their working lives?

(Photo courtesy of Flickr user skippyjon, CC 2.0)
  • Jessica Stillman On Twitter»

    Jessica lives in London where she works as a freelance writer with interests in green business and tech, management, and marketing.

Comments