Millennials Are Behaving More Like Their Grandparents

CC BY 2.0. Gabriel Garcia Marengo -- Even film is in, digital is out (kind of).

Young people's interest in 'healthy, clean living' has them cooking, crafting, and counting their pennies in ways that baffle their Boomer parents.

Young people are not the wild whippersnappers they used to be, according to an amusing article in the Wall Street Journal. While their parents would have been chugging beers, microwaving pizzas, and watching soap operas, this next generation of adults is more inclined to sip non-alcoholic beverages on a Saturday night, eat fennel instead of fries, and participate in hot yoga and terrarium-building classes for entertainment.

It's a curious change in habits for an age group that has long been associated with rebellion and pushing limits, but one that Alison Angus, an analyst for Euromonitor, says reflects young people's desire "to assert control and find comfort in an unstable world." Angus said:

"They feel they can make a difference, and this influences their spending choices. This means more saying no: no to alcohol; no to unhealthy habits; no to animal-based products and, increasingly, no to unmeasured or uninformed spending."

Indeed, these are all themes that I write about frequently on TreeHugger and that I see reflected in my own social circles, which are mostly 25- to 40-year-olds. I think the WSJ's analysis is bang on when it comes to the prioritization of healthy, clean living, though I suspect it has less to do with seeking stability in uncertain times and more to do with young people not wanting to follow in their parents' footsteps. Our Baby Boomer parents, whom we love dearly, did a lot of things that we don't want to do.

Take health, for example. Millennials are often mocked for their addiction to fitness and fine food, but the alternative we've seen is ending up like many of our parents -- overweight with chronic health problems, low energy, and achy joints. So, we've responded by eating our vegetables with gusto:

"Consumers aged 18 to 34 increased their annual per capita consumption of vegetables by 7% last year over the year before, according to market research firm NPD Group. Meanwhile consumers aged 55 to 64 decreased their vegetable consumption by 13% over the same period."

When it comes to young people's newfound frugality, this could be a reflection of having watched our parents fill their homes with pointless stuff -- all of which we will have to declutter and get rid of when the time comes. This, together with the visibility of social media, has driven many young people to seek experiences, rather than products. We've become an experiential generation rather than a consumerist one.

The WSJ pokes a bit of fun at young people's obsession with pour-over coffee and cites Chris Hillman, VP of marketing for Melitta, which has replaced many of its electric drip machines for simple porcelain devices in recent years:

"There’s nothing more minimalist than a pour-over cone on top of a cup with a filter and coffee and pure water poured on top of it. It’s a very Zen-like, ritualistic process."

But, as a coffee lover myself, there's more to this than the ritual. It's about ethics I've embraced after learning about fair-trade coffee, and it has to do with wanting to minimize waste and save money. My parents didn't think about these issues because they weren't talked about twenty years ago, but I'd feel guilty if I made a huge pot of cheap grocery-store coffee, half of which got dumped at the end of the day.

Finally, many of my friends grew up in households where little food was cooked from scratch. As the WSJ wrote, "Because many of their parents didn't cook meals from scratch, they might not have learned recipes or how to follow recipes." They've grown up feeling the physical effects of a poor diet and noticing the lack of flavor, and now want to regain lost food prep skills; hence, the growing interest in cooking meals, baking bread, preserving seasonal foods, and even gardening.

Children will always choose a different path from their parents, but in this case it's curious that many of these habits exhibited by Millennials are a return to the ways of their grandparents. This suggests that perhaps the Boomers' and Gen Xers' wild ways were more a deviation from the norm. My 30-year-old friends and I, with our knitting nights and board games dinner parties, are simply returning to the way things once were.