Not every kid-bond matures


Millennials taking a selfie PHOTO/CommScope

Millennial habits so often mocked and belittled in the press are the survival strategies of a demographic “born into captivity.”

On a recent visit to my parents, my mother asked me whether I want to have kids. Being 30 and single, an uncle to a niece and a nephew through both my siblings, I’ve started to get questions from older generations about my plans to reproduce. This began later for me than it does for women and is a fraction as oppressive, but to be honest I’d thought male privilege would shield me from it entirely. When this defense failed, I forestalled a line of inquiry from my mother by talking about climate change. Even as I said it, I knew it was an already hackneyed form of stonewalling. You can defend any uncertainty these days by evoking melting ice sheets and disappearing permafrost.

But she’d never heard anyone take this tack before—at least not since her own generation’s “population bomb” version of the same story. “That,” my mom said slowly, “is so heavy.” Over the course of the rest of my visit, she mentioned it to others my age for confirmation, to others her age in incredulity. “Gabe says nobody in his generation wants to have kids because of climate change. Did you know about this?”

How could the gap between us be so great? What seemed to me such a commonplace as to be evasive and impersonal appeared to my mother as a serious human quandary—which in fact it is. I’m more politically optimistic than my mother, yet I was taken aback to realize how much darker the future seems to me than to her. Then I remembered: she’s a boomer, I’m a millennial, and this is the song of the season.

There hasn’t been a generational divide this pronounced since the 1960s. The flareups that have occurred have been aftershocks of the 1960s—as in the 1992 confrontation between World War II veteran George H. W. Bush and draft dodger Bill Clinton with the wife who didn’t want to bake cookies. Generational analysis rarely got beyond generic psychobabble: The “greatest generation” were stoic, laconic survivors, boomers the spoiled offspring of Dr. Spock, et cetera. The actual “life chances” of the generations were not meaningfully different, and politics did not line up with the generations. Clinton’s best generational slice of the electorate in 1992 was the senior vote, but he performed pretty evenly overall, winning between 41 and 50 percent in every age category. Neither party enjoyed any significant preference from the young or the old in particular.

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