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S1E3 Unraveling myth

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In Episode 2, Farrah and Adam look at the misguided reporting on data that positioned Millennials as over-indexing on trust of government and leaders. In this follow-up conversation, they examine the split in the story, in which the media begins to look less certain that Millennials are the saviors of America’s future. The bifurcation of the original, straightforward story leads to the unraveling of the powerful myth spun in the early 2000’s. The narrative mirrors the shift from the optimistic end of history rhetoric to Great Recession nihilism, with one generation treated as the fulcrum.

In The Demo, a podcast about how stories of groups are created, subverted and destroyed. On the first season, we pursue the origins of the Millennial Myth. Farrah Bostic is the founder and Head of Research & Strategy of, The Difference Engine, a strategic insights consultancy focused on helping business leaders make decisions. Adam Pierno, author and brand consultant and managing director of brand strategy at Arizona State University. Our host is voiced by Eliza, a robot created by

Music by 0megaMan under the Creative Commons license. Learn more and find research and supporting materials at

Show outline (which is generated by another robot;

0:02 Introductions

1:52 Where did the story shift from optimistic to pessimistic?

6:20 Millennials are more trusting of government and large national institutions to do what’s right.

10:43 The myth that millennials are the next generation of the greatest generation.

16:50 The use of survey data as a means of predicting the future is not what it is.

22:09 Millennials are more confident in the government than ever before.

24:19 What’s the choice when you’re 18?

29:37 Harvard research suggests that an entire global generation has lost faith in democracy.

35:04 What’s the definition of clickbait?

39:44 What’s on your mind at the point in time?

Transcript here:

Eliza T Robot 0:02
Welcome to In the demo, a show about the stories that get told about groups how their stories got made, what those stories give wrong, and why it matters. You hosts Farrah Bostic is the founder and head of research and strategy of The Difference Engine, a strategic insights consultancy focused on helping business leaders make decisions. Adam, Pierno, author and brand consultant and Managing Director of brand strategy at Arizona State University. You are now in the demo.

A P 0:38
All right, I’m Adam Pierno I am Generation X.

Farrah Bostic 0:41
And I’m Farrah Bostic, I’m the Jordan Catalano generation.

A P 0:46
Of course you are. It is lovely to be back when we last spoke Farrah, you gave us an overview of some of the ridiculous names for Generation X. True. And we looked at together in some detail where we are today with the story about the generation known as millennials, the generation behind us. And with the conversation took us from their habits of moving back into their homes, their family homes, or staying within the nest their challenges saving money or making money or being a functioning part of the economy as they were prophesy to be. And the conversation turned towards when did that change? Because as you and I both recalled, early on, there was this optimism about 100 plus million people that were going to change the world. And now the narrative from newspapers and mainstream media outlets is can you believe these damn kids who by the way are in their 40s? So I know you had started doing some digging into that narrative and looking at it over time and how it shifted?

Farrah Bostic 2:00
Yeah, and I think it’s, it’s actually kind of surprising, because I think I would have guessed that the shift would have really been noticeable in the aftermath of the financial crisis, that kind of 2008 to 2010. Period. And, and it looks like it was on a lag. So like it may have started then like the kind of shift from super optimistic and feeling good about the future and thinking that government is a good thing. And all of that, like those that those things seem to kind of take a little while to sour. And so I think one of the things I started to do was sort of start with, you know, a little bit of going back and forth in time, I guess. But sort of where did we begin when they first started describing millennials to us as this next greatest generation that was going to change the world? And we’re so optimistic and felt so positively about institutions and government? And then kind of where are we now and then trying to kind of toggle back and forth until I could kind of figure out where the, where it all started?

A P 3:08
So were you Timeline Jumping? Or were you working linear path?

Farrah Bostic 3:14
So I started with 2000. And then I looked at 2020, ish, you know, 2020 to 2022, into those headlines we’ve talked about last time, exactly. And then I started going, well, maybe like, let’s just look into kind of five year increments and see what what what it looked like in 2005, what it looked like in 2010, what did it look like in 2015 or so, obviously, you have other kind of big turning points of like 2016 was a big year in the world. So there were a lot of things that happened around there. But I think, you know, the interesting thing is, you know, there’s a lot of first of all, there’s just a lot of surveying about this about kind of people’s attitudes to government in general. Yeah. And and what they think government is for and what it’s capable of doing. There are also kind of interesting things where you start to look at like, the story wasn’t always, you know, even in those looking back at those periods of time, even in 2000, 2002, there were some surveys that were showing millennials is actually deeply skeptical about government, but they weren’t getting all the press, the ones that were getting all the press was this, like the next generation next greatest generation. They’re amazing. They’re so happy. And

A P 4:26
that’s a conversation we will have in a future episode about how how does this Why does one story get prioritized over another story? And, you know, we I have some work to do on my own to figure get into that a little bit and understand, you know, what’s the what’s the trigger for one story getting picked up and another story being neglected or or chosen not to not to move forward? It’s probably more accurately the case.

Farrah Bostic 4:49
Yeah. And I think some of it is like, you know, if you think back to that 2000 period, it was it’s before 911 It’s before the Iraq War. It It’s the end of that kind of 90s, massive economic expansion for the for the US. It’s peacetime. It’s the internet, it’s the rise of all these kind of new cool digital devices, that all starts to feel like destiny. And so that’s part of it. I think the other part of it is also a little bit of a reaction to Gen X, who had been so negatively cast as being, you know, pessimists and slackers and cynics and not participants, and being like, the products of, you know, divorce drugs and disease. And so this was, this was a chance to start over. And I think we talked about that a little bit. And some of our other conversations about literally, like, welfare policies, starting benefits for people born after 1982. And like, there was just sort of literally this moment work from it, well, that was a wash, We’re never getting those kids back screw, I’m gonna start over with the ones born like 82 on. So I think it was just some of that I think there was like an internal logic to the story that that made sense to people. And it was also just a hopeful story of like, this is this is the sea change. It’s the end of history, and everything from here on out is up into the right and see, we can see it in the kids. The kids are also so optimistic. And so you had, you know, a story in 2000. That’s like, you know, from from the book that we started with of millennials rising, saying that like nine and 10 of the teens they surveyed said they trust and feel close to their parents, that they are reporting less conflict with their parents half say they trust government to do what’s right, or most of the time, which was twice as much as older people have believed that the real problem was that their parents weren’t tough enough on them. Like, they needed kind of tougher rules against misbehavior in the classroom and society at large. And, but in general, we’re trusting of, of government and large national institutions to to do the right thing. If you ask them who’s going to improve schools, the environment cut the crime rate, they would say totally on ironically, teachers, government and police, you know, the people in charge, or we’ve chosen to be in charge? Yeah, exactly. Yeah. And they, you know, they’re, they’re thinking that, like, they’re going to be, you know, more likely to participate in civic life, they’re going to spend more time on careers, government and technology than on, you know, kind of religion or inner, inner world stuff, the stuff that the Boomers were being kind of, made fun of for. And they still also, exactly, yeah, some of those religions have taken a turn. And, you know, they really thought that later on in life, they would be keeping up with politics and voting more than their parents do now, which, by the way, hasn’t turned out to be the case. But

A P 8:00
right at any And how old were they? When the surveys were, you know, I know Millennials covers 50 years, depending on what, what survey you’re looking at, but for, for the meaty part of the curve, where they when they were given these types of responses, because this?

Farrah Bostic 8:13
Yeah, I mean, these are, these are surveys that are done in like, 99 2000. So they’re like 16 1718. Yeah.

A P 8:20
So when you’re, I think it’s important to talk about the idea that I have kids that are early teenagers, 12, and 14. And watching them go from like, oh, I mean, elementary school, whatever my teacher said is the gospel. I trust my teacher, the principal’s the authority to high school, where they’re a little bit more like, I don’t know about this guy. I don’t know about this person, dad, the teacher said this, is this, right? Can this be like I think there’s something wrong with this person? That sort of skepticism that creeps in as people get older and become independent thinkers. And when you’re getting survey data from high school students that are eager to get permission to vote? Yep, of course, it seems like you’re going to vote. Because honestly, why wouldn’t you until you have a job or until you have to take your kids to the dentist on that Tuesday or until whatever other 50 things comes up that you’re like, I don’t know, I don’t need to vote the local election, or whatever excuse you make or whatever real problem you have. So I think it’s interesting to that so many people sink their teeth into it, because we you wouldn’t have spent some time looking at those surveys for the generation ahead and the generation behind to,

Farrah Bostic 9:37
to see right there. And that also was interesting, because obviously Millennials rising is looking at some publicly available survey data. They’re also doing their own survey data. And that was pretty, you know, I mean, a robust size sample, but in a very geographically specific place. So they were doing most of their research in and around McLean, Virginia. A particular kind of socio economic status, particular kind of demographic profiles. And so it’s possible, probable that they’ve got a certain kind of sample bias there. You also have, you know, a kind of ongoing survey that the Harvard Kennedy School Institute of Politics has done. They’re mainly serving college age students. So they’re a little bit older. But they tend to just they were running a little more, a little more skeptical than the millennials rising data was showing. And so some of that may be millennials rising is more looking at high school students at the time, as opposed to college students. And there’s just sort of a thing that happens when you are using critical thinking. Yes, well, and also, you’re not living at home. Right, right. You know, there’s, there’s just some kind of life stage changes that happen there. But it’s, it is interesting to see that kind of that that story really took hold that like, these were optimistic, trusting and, and kind of rule following people, and that they were therefore going to be ambitious and high performing, because they had been ambitious and high performing as children, and the whole kind of like, over programmed extracurriculars. You know, helicopter, parenting, baby on board, all of that stuff was going to carry on with them into their adulthood. And so that was sort of the claim that was staked in in 2000, was like, This is who they are as people, and that’s how they’re going to be most likely. And now, obviously, you know, in fairness to the authors of millennials rising, they did hedge a little bit and say, like, unless something comes along to knock them off course. They’re the next gen Greatest Generation.

A P 11:42
Yes, we should caveat like it is not fair to for the for us to expect that they could predict the future. To my knowledge, that’s not possible. Still not possible. So who knows? If you know if there is no 911 If there is Bubble if there is no great recession, if there is no 2016 If there is no pandemic, who the hell knows. Maybe the trajectory stays on this up and up course in America is the sunny day, every day. Sesame Street land. Yeah, no. The

Farrah Bostic 12:09
interesting thing, though, that I think happened in that period was that the kind of narrative about millennials didn’t immediately shift it didn’t shift away from them being essentially optimistic and trusting and and all of that. Instead, our interpretation, our like, the collective kind of media environments, interpretation of them shifted. So went from being The Kids Are All right, the next greatest generation to what a bunch of morons like.

A P 12:34
Yeah, and how much of that? Well, tell me tell me Give me the example of when when do you start seeing that?

Farrah Bostic 12:41
I think that takes that, to be honest. And that that is something we talked about in our last conversation. I think it starts to sour when the kids graduate from college and start to enter the workforce. Yeah. Were like this greatest generation. Gosh, they want an awful lot of attention.

A P 12:54
Yeah, that wave of media about quoting HR professionals, and yeah, what are they called? Sherm is the organization

Farrah Bostic 13:02
Yeah, yeah, that’s the big one. Yeah, that is

A P 13:06
doing surveys and doing studies and essentially selling information that says, whoa, we have this new type of workforce and this new type of person that’s coming into the workforce. And I know, we told you, they were optimistic, but that means they have high expectations. And that means if you’re a Boomer and you’re used to going this fast, you better change your expectations of them.

Farrah Bostic 13:26
Yep, yep, exactly. And I think again, it’s a story that’s much more about boomers than about millennials. Like it’s again, a story that’s like, Hey, you boomers, you were expecting these kids to be so well behaved. And but actually, they’re gonna ask you a lot of questions, and they’re gonna not walk into the job at 21 years old, knowing how to perform the job, which of course, I don’t know why anyone thought that was going to be otherwise. But But yes, I think, I think that was where it went from being Oh, you know, and I see it with my, I see with my own friends as they talk about their Gen Z and Gen Alpha kids of like, they’re gonna save us, and they’re just amazing. And oh, are they you know, are they wonderful. And it’s like, they haven’t moved out of the house yet. They’re generally good kids, they’re high performing all of that stuff, because you’re affluent and involved in their upbringing and their, their education and everything else. And this is going to shift when they decide that they need to move back in with you for a couple of years to save money, or when, you know, their career plan doesn’t work out or when there’s a recession or whatever happens. So right now, you’re feeling great about them. And in a few years, you’re gonna be like, gosh, when I was their age, I did things differently, and why aren’t they doing it like that?

A P 14:40
And every generation of parents has that experience. Everyone recognizing that My way was the right way and their way was wrong, even though when I didn’t know if I was doing I still don’t know if I’m making good decisions or not. Right, exactly, yes. But the idea that the articles are written for them At a consumer, which is predominantly boomers at that point, it’s implied but it’s not explicit. Right? So I’m thinking of a certain category of Forbes articles, or, you know, those types. Last time, we talked about the New York Posts. And there’s a thread that runs through those publications that is like, dear reader, you know, here’s, we know who you are. And here’s, here’s the information that it’s to your tastes and perspective. So it’s it, a lot of those articles about millennials in the workforce, for example, where that starts to shift are framed in that way, like, Whoa, this is a problem for you, dear reader. But it doesn’t that no, none of these authors ever explicitly say, there are places where they’ll say like, for older workers, just mean to that or that, but it doesn’t say like, and therefore we’re staring the entire editorial towards your perception and how it impacts you. And so part of the narrative shift has to be accounted for of like, who who do we want to be the receiver? of, you know, who are we writing for? And therefore, what is the story that they will most likely read? And this was pre like, clickbait.

Farrah Bostic 16:17
But yeah, yeah. But it was kind of early days of what would become clickbait? I think, yeah, it’s definitely audience service to, you know, look, I think at that point in time, we’re talking about 2000 to 2010. These newsrooms are dominated by boomers. And so they have their own anxieties about it. And they are projecting that their Boomer audiences also have these anxieties. I think one of the other things that shifts is it goes from potential to actual, you know, when when their kids still when they’re not out in the workforce, when they’re still in college, or in high school. All of this is potential and at all, you know, it’s it’s all very sunny. It’s also like, Good job boomers, you raised the next greatest, greatest generation. And so it’s validating. And then it’s like, Oops, okay, well, now they’re actually in the workforce. Now, they’re actually a voting age. And now they’re actually thinking about their political and economic futures. And what, what kind of family building they want to do, and whether they want to be homeowners and what kind of active participants in the economy, they’re going to be, and all of that, and that’s where people start getting itchy. And, and I think you also see it, because, you know, we did have, you know, the 2000s and on have been periods of quite a bit of political tumult as well. And so trying to predict what this group of people that was 80 plus million people were going to be like, as economic and political actor was important. And I think this is actually a thing that isn’t really the subject of this podcast. But is the thing that I’ve been obsessed with for quite some time, which is the use of survey data as a means of predicting the future, which is not what it is. It’s just like a snapshot in time. What how does someone respond to some questions? And

A P 18:07
I’m okay with a tangent here. Because the amount of time that people take survey data, and try to use that as some sort of projection, even when the survey is about, how do you think you will? Or what do you plan to do is such a load of horseshit. I can’t even predict like, I brought a salad for lunch today. And there’s only a 5050 chance I’m going to go and get that salad out of the refrigerator and go downstairs and get a hamburger. Like, even with the best intentions on a short timescale. What people have freewill and weirdness happens all the time. So to take survey data of I don’t care how robust the sample is, and try to extrapolate that into going forward is really a scary. Yes, really. I mean, it’s maybe it’s the best data you have. But it’s not perfect.

Farrah Bostic 19:01
Yeah. And these surveys aren’t even asking people to project about what they think they’re going to do in the future. They’re literally just asking them, like, right now, what do you think about x? And then so then it’s like, well, this is who they are, as people, it’s cast and Amber, they will never be different. This is how they are. And I think that’s the other thing that I feel like, is, is fascinating about looking at the at the evolution of it, because it is at every point in time. It’s like, This is who they are, like, it is immutable. This is who they are. And then five years later, we ask the same or similar questions and their answers are a little bit different. And we just forget that. Okay. You know, they used to think this, and now they think this. So instead of reporting it as a trend of like, declining trust in government over a 20 year period, it’s like, we just forget that we ever said that they trusted government. Yeah. And so now all of a sudden, it’s like, oh, we woke up and ask some old Daniel’s questions and it turns out they think a military junta is a great idea. You know, whatever. Right? It’s like, first of all, no. And secondly, like that that story should be a story about a trendline on the decline as opposed to a trendline. On the on the rise. It’s also not terribly surprising, like, Yes, young kids living at home in an affluent suburb of the DC area, whose parents are probably government workers of one stripe or another and do pretty well for themselves. Of course, they think the government’s great the government is how they have food on their table until they have a roof over their heads. That’s where my dad works. Like, my mom works there. Yeah, so sure they feel good about it. Ask them 20 years later, when they’re on their own, and they’re not themselves government contractors, and they may have a different set of opinions. Gosh, I don’t know why. Like, just people change times change, context changes, all those things change. And, and so it is just very interesting, because there’s this like, well, they say they’re gonna vote more than their parents. It turns out, nobody votes more than baby boomers. By the way. Baby Boomers are the voting just group of people. And I’ll tell you what, I’ll tell you my theory for that. They’re the first group of people who got to vote at 18. So so like early, they started earlier. And it’s just that the greatest predictor of voting is registration. If you’re registered to vote, you’ll vote it’s like an 80% incidence. So it’s also the hardest thing is getting them registered. In the case

A P 21:27
of boomers. They also have, there’s a cohort that has more time they are retired, which, which many of them are able to be which as a Gen X, or maybe I will never retire. As a millennial, you almost certainly will not. So they have time on their hands to go on a Tuesday morning and vote, or write or do dandle, the mail order, whatever you’re doing.

Farrah Bostic 21:46
Yeah, exactly. And like that also has ever been thus seniors always have kind of turned out to vote in greater proportions than younger people, because they have the time. My high school economics teacher, Dr. Grecco, used to refer to them as the Gray Panthers. And he would say that they would get into their Buicks and roll down to the polls. Yes, it definitely painted as

A P 22:08
smell the interior of the viewer. You really can. Yeah. Smells like cigarettes. Yeah. Yeah. And wool. Yeah.

Farrah Bostic 22:16
So you know, like, they seem to kind of Potter along for actually quite a bit of time, like buy, even in 2010 surveys are showing that like at that point, since 2010 18 to 32 year olds, are giving the government more positive performance ratings strongly favor a significant role for government. They’re like, you know, and so then you have sort of reporting that that’s, that sums it up by saying something like this, this heart research associates survey from from 2010, millennials, distinctly pro government outlook, may well be a leading indicator of a nascent rebound in public confidence in government.

A P 22:54
Oh, yeah. That didn’t turn out to be true, did it? No.

Farrah Bostic 22:58
And yet, you’d also ask them about like, are you worried about whether the government is managed well, or spends money efficiently? And they would still say, actually, yeah, I think it’s often poorly managed and doesn’t spend money very efficiently. So like, you know, I think it’s, you know, so you’re asking kind of, and I mean, this in a positive sense, naive people, what they think is possible, and they’re saying, I think, like, Good things are possible. But I’m not unaware that they’re not always very good at their jobs. And so, you know, the groundwork exists for them to start thinking more cynically or more skeptically about government over time. And you have, like, you know, attitudes that sort of like in the same survey, 62% of millennials at the time, said, We, you know, we believe we need a strong government to handle today’s complex economic problems, and have thought that government should do more to solve problems, and, you know, significantly higher approval rating of the federal government significantly more confidence in the federal government’s ability to solve problems. And this was a real sort of generation gap and confidence. And so, again, you know, you look at that snapshot in time, they’re 18, to 32. And in 2010, and the belief and the narrative is, this is just who they are. They’re just so much more confident in government than everybody else.

A P 24:19
And what’s the choice? You know, when you are, it’s like a kid, being afraid of the boogeyman, but saying, Oh, but my parents are sleeping downstairs. That’s the I mean, that’s the only security you know, if you’re 18, and you say, well, the government is is responsible for handling these things. So I believe that even though maybe it’s not managed as well as it could be. It could be better and they could fix it. What’s the alternative? What are you gonna say? Like, oh, no, they can’t. We’re all screwed. It’s the world’s gonna end every single day. Right? Nobody in the framing of the questions won’t allow for that type of response anyway.

Farrah Bostic 24:55
Right. Well, and if you look at the age band, and you look at so let’s say it’s the 2010 In survey, these are 18 to 32 year olds, 32 year olds in 2010, may have mortgages and children they may have suffered during the economic crisis. But the 18 year olds, they were 15. You know, they, that wasn’t coming home for them in the same way,

A P 25:19
in the headlines that we looked at last week, there’s the undertone of millennials, who came of age during the Great Recession, and witnessed their parents lose at all, who X, Y, or Z, you know, like, it gets told as if they came through the Great Recession, like people came through the Great Depression, generations earlier. But you’re right, if you’re, if you’re 18, there’s a there’s a wide swath of people who felt some pain, but didn’t have a direct experience one way or the other. Because even though it was terrible, then the government did sweep in and and steer it towards, you know, less, less horrible outcomes for the majority of people once they once they got control of the wheel. Right. So I wonder if you look at the sample. And I haven’t looked at the data in this way. But I wonder if you could look at it. How many people were in that younger bracket versus the older bracket? And that accounts for the 62%? Versus the three? Is that right?

Farrah Bostic 26:16
Yeah. And I think you would have a lot more kind of texture around this, if you even just cut these generations into two chunks, like, you know, 20 year gaps, generally speaking, 2022 years, you know, have one group and the first 1011 years in one group or the second time 11 years, because like, it’s just completely different to be 32 than it is to be 18.

A P 26:38
And more worried about when you’re 18 is like, can I afford my books? Right? Yes. Which is scary when you’re 18. And legitimately sell. But when you’re 32, and maybe you have a mortgage or rent or a baby, right? Oh, crap, all of those problems feel more real.

Farrah Bostic 26:53
Sure. And so it should come as no surprise that in that 2010 survey, 17% more millennials than non Millennials were inclined to favor governmental involvement in making college affordable. Yep. There you go. Because there’s this paying tuition. Yeah, exactly. So. So you know, but in general, even in 2010, even with, you know, all of the things that have happened in the 2000s. And, and all that they were feeling pretty good about things. Now, some of that may also be like, the Obama effect, right, that sort of younger millennials were feeling like, okay, the the Bush years were rough. The financial crisis was rough Iraq war was rough, but, you know, hoping changed and, you know, first black president. So maybe that’s part of what’s like keeping things aloft here. Hard to say. But I also think some of it is just life stage stuff they have not the whole cohort hasn’t aged into full adulthood yet. Yeah. And so you’re still talking about kids, and, and bless their hearts. They tend to be optimistic.

A P 27:55
We need it. We do it, but you can’t plan for it to continue in perpetuity.

Farrah Bostic 28:00
Exactly. So then you start to see the decline first getting reported in like 2015. And it really just goes from being like, generally pretty optimistic, pretty positive to it’s a bit of a mixed bag. And so now you’ve got the this is where like, the Harvard Kennedy School survey is interesting. And they started asking people about how confident they were in the US judicial systems ability to quote fairly judge people without bias for race and ethnicity. 18 to 29 year olds were split. So 49% said they had not much or no confidence, and in equal proportion, so they had some or a lot. So now you start to see things splitting now again, it’s 2015. So 18 to 29. is on the younger end of millennials at that point, I think we start at let’s see, what is it go 82 to 2002. So by 2015. Now, that’s still kind of the middle of the of the younger end of millennials at that point in time. It’s kind of kind of right in the middle of the millennials. So then you look at like, their, their their trust, and other things, though, had started to improve. So they had slightly increased trust in the president, the military, the Supreme Court, the UN. But there were lower levels of trusting for the federal government and Congress. Weirdly, like trusted Wall Street had rebounded trust just in the media was about flat but a little bit up. And so like it’s it’s less rosy than we’d been seeing before. It’s much more of a mixed bag. And then we get this survey from a different part of Harvard, conducted by someone who I think is extremely problematic Yasha monk and I mean that

A P 29:49
the blue, that doesn’t help all the different sources within sources within sources that doesn’t help the narrative.

Farrah Bostic 29:55
Yes, they did. So this he’s at Harvard at the time. And this other Roberto FOA was at University of Melbourne. They did a study that they published in the Journal of democracy in 2016. And they did it in North America, Western Europe, Australia and New Zealand. And they discovered some alarming things. Now, without having gone, whole hog reading through the survey instrument and all of their analysis, they come back with 19% of millennials, only 19% of millennials in the US believed that a military takeover isn’t legitimate in a democracy, whereas older citizens it was 43% believed that that was not legitimate in a democracy. A third of us Millennials saw civil rights as absolutely essential, compared with 41%, among older Americans, a quarter of us millennials, didn’t think that free elections were that important to democracy.

A P 31:02
Yeah, I mean, so the headline of the article in which this data is shared? Yes. It’s wild, isn’t it? Harvard research suggests that an entire global generation has lost faith in democracy. And the and the analysis by the author Gwen Guilford, at these surveys and the way they’re written, are always shocking, because it will say things like, let me see if I could find a quote here. They are cynical wears that. They are more cynical about the value of democracy as a political system less hopeful that anything they might do that they do might influence public policy is a quote from the, from the white paper itself. And they didn’t say that. You ask them a series of, of Likert scale questions and yes or no questions. And in some cases, you have to admit they may not even understand what their answers add up to, or the narrative that it could contribute to. But it gets projected out in this way. That is, what year is this? 2016? Yep. 2016. Yeah. So this is clickbait time. Yes. Yes, it is. And so that headline is like, Oh, I have to read this article. And exactly, that’s, that’s where the narrative gets shocking. All of a sudden, right?

Farrah Bostic 32:25
Exactly. And the things that they’re doing is saying, like, okay, they’re much less likely or much more likely than older age cohorts to say these things. But they’re still like, it’s, you know, it’s still small proportions of people. And the other thing is that the age breaks are like 16 Plus, so it’s like 16, to 2425 to 3435, to 44. But by 2016. You know, 16 to 24, I guess is the, the bottom, the youngest Millennials you can talk to, and so they’re the most likely to say that having a democratic political system is a bad or very bad way to run this country. And you know, okay, so once again, my qualitative tendencies showing my reaction to that is to go, did they understand the question? What do they think that means? What is a democratic political system in their minds?

A P 33:19
And do people on that entire age spectrum understand that questions the same way with the same text, especially across all those geographies? And what your experiences with quote unquote, democratic system and what is actually a democracy are varied in that subset?

Farrah Bostic 33:35
Well, and the other part of it is even comparing like us to Europe, which is one of the one of the charts that’s presented in the piece works is fascinating, too, because like, a democratic political system in the US is pretty much unique. The only other country in the world that had a constitution, like ours was the Philippines. No joke. And that’s because we wrote it for them. So no one else has our constitutional system. Nobody else likes leaders the way we do. And so a democratic political system in the US is just fundamentally different than in a parliamentary system, or in a constitutional monarchy, or any of these other kinds of systems in Western Europe. Right. So we’re comparing apples to oranges. And so seeing that, like Europeans are more, you know, less likely to say it’s a bad or very bad way to run this country. also speaks to the fact that they live in coalition style governments. They have more explicit rules about representation. They have, you know, they have social services and social safety nets. You know, they’re not as heavily militarized. Like there’s a bunch of things that make their systems different than ours. So I’m not terribly surprised to see the US a little less democratically inclined than then than Europe, for example, but we’re not talking about the same systems like run this country. They’re talking about the countries they live in. Not about democracy in general, not globally,

A P 35:02
just the concept of democracy. Right? Right. We don’t have an agreed upon definition of No. It’s like pornography, right? It’s like I know it when I see it. Well, and how

Farrah Bostic 35:12
many of those 16 year olds are like going to school where they were told that it’s not a democracy? It’s a republic, and you know, all of that kind of that kind of stuff? Like, do they again, do they even know what they’re answering? But this was massive clickbait in 2016. I mean, this particular piece came out right after the the election. It was the year of of both Brexit and the the Trump election, and there was just a void into which people felt that they needed to pour their explanations for why these unexpected things happened. When like, you know, one of the simplest answers for why Brexit happened is extremely low voter turnout.

A P 35:50
Just people just didn’t think it was gonna happen. They didn’t care. They didn’t show up.

Farrah Bostic 35:53
Yeah, disinformation and low voter turnout.

A P 35:56
There’s also one happened. This This piece is also maybe so I want to be fair to the researchers. And like, I think maybe what they

Farrah Bostic 36:05
you can be fair to the research. Well, I don’t think that this is acting in good faith. But

A P 36:11
that’s fine. You’re probably right. But this, this article, in particular, doesn’t represent data, survey data the way we normally would. So they do that thing, like ad agencies are guilty of this all the time. It says only about a third of us Millennials see civil rights as quote, absolutely essential in a democracy. And what that means is on a five or seven point scale, normally how that would be presented is you would take top to box, you would take absolutely essential or somewhat essential or whatever the second choice, right, and you’d factor both of those together, knowing that there’s some variants and people’s comprehension. But what this article does, which I think is bad faith, is they just take that top answer because it’s a lower number, or more shocking number to make their point that they’re constructing again, for a particular audience type a reader of quartz, that they want to have a takeaway. Now they’re they’re not just reporting they are, they’re sculpting a narrative. And that’s where that’s where it’s like, how much did you write how much how fair? Can we be to the researcher when it’s presented in this way?

Farrah Bostic 37:15
Right. And I think the thing that they did I mean, when you when you click into the actual article, that monk and follow up, published, they also tended to take top box, and only top to box if it told the story they wanted to tell, which was that there was increasing support for authoritarianism in the US, particularly among young people. And I think, you know, there’s, you know, look, I think they’re trying to explain something that’s happening in the culture and looking for evidence when they see it, and it isn’t. It isn’t not alarming has those that are double negative, like it is sort of like, well, that’s a that’s more people than you would like, yeah, who we all? Yeah, yeah. Yeah, for sure. And, you know, and so that I think that that moment in time that the 2016 kind of crises, political crises in the US in the UK, shifted the story officially, like that became like the real pivot point for the media about thinking about whether young adults have trust in government or not. So then when we get to 2020, Pew Research is showing young adults saying being just sort of pessimistic about lots of things like in general, seeing others as selfish, exploitative, and untrustworthy, you know, 73%, of 18 to 29 year olds in 2020. Although, if that’s 2020 Yep. So it’s still still millennials. Most of the time, people just look out for themselves. 73% agree with that statement. And they’re more pessimistic than their older millennial CO, or it’s as well as young, young Gen Xers and Boomers, boomers are actually the least likely to say that most people can’t be trusted, which is interesting. You wouldn’t think that from their political behavior, but also their their confidence in military, religious and police and business leaders is generally speaking lower than older cohorts across the board until you start getting into scientists, journalists, and college or university professors. So younger people have still a bit more kind of trust in experts, I guess I would call those people but much less, you know, 22% deficit for the 18 to 29 year olds versus 30 to 49 and 50 plus for the military, for example. Much less than 21% deficit on religious leaders 18% of police officers 60 non business leaders, so you just get this like, you know, change in which institutions they trust. And I think that probably a lot of that has to do with as I will continue to say until I stopped saying things, context and life stage. What a surprise

A P 39:59
In all the research that I did, about millennials, when I, you know, in the 12 to 16 range, it kept coming back to that same idea where it was about life stage, it was about what are the problems they have in front of them. It is not about a age range that is spans 14 years and covers every part of the country or world in some of the global research. It’s about like, No, I have a newborn. No, I have I just have a mortgage. No, I’m, I need to pay my rent. No, I need to afford my books and tuition. Right. Those are the problems people have. And that’s how they answer these questions.

Farrah Bostic 40:38
Yes, it’s not a function of what you know, again, it’s not a function of when you were born, it’s a function of what you’re going through right now. Yeah. And what your experience is right now.

A P 40:47
And that’s how that’s the frame you have for any any survey instrument, even the most carefully crafted and reported one. It goes through the filter of humans, which makes them Flog. Yes.

Farrah Bostic 40:59
Well flawed, but you know, I think even it’s, it just is it’s highly contextual. It’s like what’s on my mind at the point in time that you asked me, and this is this is always sort of the, you know, one of the things that, that I learned when I was working on SOPA operas, is that like, the weather in a market might indicate might be a predictor of whether people watched a soap opera. So like, every day, yeah, on a rainy day, you’re not outside with your kids or outside walking or outside doing the shopping or whatever else you’re doing, you’re inside folding laundry. And so that’s what’s on TV. Yeah. So it’s

A P 41:35
not necessarily severally a representation of the result of the writing or the casting or the storyline. It’s just like it rained. This is a with football and baseball ratings. You know, like you could see in cold weather places, the ratings are higher in LA, they’re lower, because I can be outside at the beach. Right? Right. Why would I want to be in a dark room watching a football game? Well, and that

Farrah Bostic 41:55
was when I just I just learned yesterday that statewide races like in Texas, they do their debates on Friday nights.

A P 42:03
Yeah. I don’t want people to watch him. Yes. Because everyone’s

Farrah Bostic 42:08
you’re watching high school football, you’re not watching at home watching Beto debate. Greg out, you know, whatever his name is Greg Abbott. So like, so much of this is just like if you it’s almost like it’s the NPR recording, recording, you know, sound testing? What did you have for breakfast? Like, it’s almost like you should ask people, how’s your day going? And just get them to score like, this is a bad day, it’s a good day. And then then ask them the rest of the questions.

A P 42:35
That’s not a bad idea. Actually, yeah. And then you could filter by like, oh, having a bad day, I can at least look at it for people that are having a pretty decent day, you know, it’s like an NPS for your day, right? More than eight are better.

Farrah Bostic 42:46
Yes. filtered the data through that. And then you might actually get some some interesting ways of sorting it that isn’t just solely about like, Oh, this is just who they are. And because they were born in 1982. Therefore, this is where they will be forever. But I think it is, it is interesting, because what, what I think frustrates me about this whole thing is just that it is a story of a trendline. It is a story of people growing up and going through various life stages, and experiencing different things. And the economy changes and politics changes in society changes, and they change with it. And so it’s never this, like cast in stone thing that millennials are like this, and so shall ever be this way. And this is why I constantly say it’s, it’s astrology for marketers. And it’s about as useful as that like,

A P 43:35
never the same river twice. No, not ever. I think, you know, we started with current headlines. And this was a great look at the pivot point in that narrative. And I think when we next get together, we should go back. Talk about the, or text, the source of this, the beginning points of this narrative, and take a deep dive into that wonderful. What we think is the the source text for the narrative that was birthed about millennials, millennials rising, what do you think?

Farrah Bostic 44:10
I think that’s great. I also have a few theories about like, what fed their narrative construct, because there were some things happening right before that are definitely worth noting.

A P 44:22
Excellent. Well, until next time.

Farrah Bostic 44:24
All right. Sounds good.

Eliza T Robot 44:26
On the next episode of, in the demo, Farrah and Adam find what they believe to be the source text behind the great American Millennial myth. Could this really be it? I’m your robot host, Eliza. Please be kind. In the Demo is produced by Farrah Bostic and Adam Pierno, with support from The Difference Engine. Music by 0mega Man, under the creative commons license. Go to in the demo podcast dot com for behind the scenes research and supporting information.

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