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Misperceptions: Goldfish & Young People

Estimated read time: 7 minutes

Hands up who is sick of hearing the same old buzzwords and clichés about young people? Yep, us too. Thankfully, Hype Collective found Simon Lucey is here to help bust some myths – over to Simon!

Stereotypes are often grounded in some sort of reality. At Hype Collective our Creative Director is Welsh. Come 6 Nations you’ll see him trawling the streets of London, inflatable daffodil in hand, either swearing at the English or singing bread of heaven at the top of his voice. It is safe to say he conforms to the stereotype.

But some reputations are not grounded on such hard facts. Here are some fairly unanimous stereotypes around young people:

  1. Job hoppers – every week a new LinkedIn article surfaces debating how we keep a millennial workforce engaged.
  2. High spenders – they are more frivolous than previous generations (probably on easyJet, Uber and Avocados).
  3. Have short attention spans – infamously comparable with goldfish.

Well I’m here to dispel these myths.

Firstly the job hopper issue. A current 21 year old is more likely to change jobs than a current 45 year old. That seems pretty obvious. Young people are finding their feet, potentially moving city or figuring out what they want to do. In order to see if today’s millennials or Gen Z are actually more likely to change jobs it seems fairer to compare them to their parents at the same age.

The truth is that today’s millennials are actually 25% less likely to change jobs than their predecessors (Gen X) were at the same age.

Ironically, millennials appear more loyal than their predecessors were at the same age, or potentially, scared of changing times in periods of insecurity. Whatever the reason, this actually harms millennials fortunes since the average job-to-job switch results in an 7.8% pay rise. With less job-hopping, millennials are getting fewer pay rises. (If you don’t switch jobs, chances are you’ll get a 1.7% pay rise this year – so go on, do your CV up…).

Secondly high spenders. In my opinion this narrative has dominated due to a prevalence of nostalgia amongst older people. When baby boomers were young there was no Uber or easyJet (were there even avocados?!) – it seems like there are a lot more things to spend your money on these days.

The truth is millennials and young people don’t spend more when you compare them to current older people.

Consuming Forces, a report for the intergenerational commission has tracked spending across different generations since the 1960’s. To put it simply all people spend more than they did in 1960 this isn’t a trait of millennials – but older workers are spending far more comparatively than younger workers.

Consuming Forces report that there was a boom in young people’s spending between the 60’s and 1989. So a young person in 1989 comparatively was spending a lot (11% more than older workers) compared to a similar amount as older workers in 1963.

However this has reversed since 2000. Young people today spend roughly the same as older workers do, a similar ratio to that in 1963.

This is further exacerbated when you remove housing from the equation – typically young people’s biggest expense. When you do this, young adults consume 15% % less than older working-age people.

In truth, the easyJet generation is actually those aged 55-64, the cohort who have increased their spending most on travel since 2000. And as for avocado-on-toast? Well it seems all people are spending more on eating out and less on eating in. The biggest increase in eating out since 2000 though? You guessed it – the baby boomers. Not the millennials as it is so often reported.

So what does this mean? Simply – everyone is spending more, but young people’s spending has gone up a lot slower than older people’s and they aren’t the ones with big increases on luxury treats like eating out or holidays.

Finally – the attention spans. Originally I put a gag in here about how only the older readers will make it this far in the article, but I’ve disproved my point. So young and old read on…

You’ve heard the stats. Due to smart phones/social media/Netflix young people struggle to stay focussed. They say the average attention span is down from 12 seconds in the year 2000 to eight seconds now. Famously less than the nine second attention span of a goldfish. I’ll defend the goldfish later.

The actual data from this is very hard to track down. According to the BBC it came from a report by the Consumer Insights team of Microsoft Canada, referencing another report which references some other shady part of the internet. It transpires that this report is just fake news.

The experts the BBC spoke to denied all possibility of a reduction in attention span. Indeed Dr Gemma Briggs a Psychology Lecturer at the Open University told the BBC, the idea of “an average attention span” is pretty meaningless. “How we apply attention to different tasks depends very much about what the individual brings to that situation”. Multiple Psychologists have supported this argument, but I suppose it doesn’t make such a good headline.

Finally – I said I’d defend the goldfish too. It turns out there is no evidence they have a poor memory. Indeed they are often used by scientists in research pieces about memory because their memory is so reliable.

All stats come from the Resolution Foundation – Intergenerational Report 2018 unless otherwise stated.