Tuesday 25 June 2019

Millennials have arrived. What new tyranny is this?

Relax fellow old fogies because politics, business, media, and even religion, will be renewed in this refreshing coming of age, writes Jody Corcoran

Jody Corcoran

Jody Corcoran

An interesting finding in the yearly vital statistics published by the Central Statistics Office last week is that in the decade to 2017 there has been a 12pc decrease in the number of registered births.

Another point which stood out, however briefly, is that the CSO still presents the vital statistics in two genders, male and female, notwithstanding the array of options available these days.

Indeed, I am given to understand that Facebook users can now choose from one of 71 gender options, including asexual, polygender and two-spirit person.

This is not to appear flippant about an issue which is serious to many, other than to point out that, as yet, we do not know precisely how many genders there are in this country; or, indeed, how barking mad the extent of it all may be.

It would seem that the CSO takes its lead from various institutions here, mostly hospitals, related to births, deaths, marriages and, actually, the fertility rate, comprehensive details of which were published last week.

This is something we can expect to see change in the years ahead as the millennial generation come of age; indeed as that generation already has, according to a series which began in the Financial Times last week.

Millennials, those aged between 22 and 37, is the generation which had an impact on the abortion referendum, helping the Yes side to a landslide victory without so much as a by or leave to the hang-ups of those generations before, including my own Generation X.

Lest you think this is a passing foolishness, let me assure you that it is not: the take-away finding in the FT series is that by 2020 global millennial spending power is set to permanently overtake Generation X.

This has led to businesses, having built brands around the tastes of baby boomers - who began to retire in 2011 - scramble to adjust to millennials becoming the driving force for economic activity.

"Meet the world's most powerful consumers," the FT piece was headlined, before going on to also refer to millennials as insecure and distrusting.

As with those before us again, Generation X also came with negative connotations attached; we were regarded as slackers, cynical and disaffected, but with entrepreneurial tendencies.

Otherwise known as "latchkey" kids, ours was a generation informed by reduced adult supervision, a result of increasing divorce rates and increased maternal participation in the workforce.

From the CSO's vital statistics, it would seem the millennial generation, among other things, will give rise to a population decrease, primarily on account of the economic crash and subsequent issues related to property, mortgages and finding a home in which to raise a family.

Of course, they also stand to inherit big-time: according to one estimate, there will be a transfer of at least $30tn in wealth from US baby boomers to millennials during the next three decades.

Should Leo Varadkar, who has missed the millennial threshold by three years, or any politician wish to curry favour with the world's most powerful consumers, he may be tempted to re-examine the niceties of inheritance tax in the years ahead.

Politicians across the board were taken aback by the margin of the abortion referendum victory, in no small part down to millennials and the #hometovote movement, and are now concerning themselves with how to tap into the phenomenon. Dad dancing, if you like…

While even millennials may allow themselves a little smile - perish the thought - at Facebook's acknowledgement of "two-spirit person", the results of a recent RTE poll in relation to attitudes towards religious practice were instructive all the same.

The poll found that overall, 74pc of voters here adhere to the Catholic faith but that falls back by 10 points for millennials: instead, 14pc of those aged between 24 and 35 describe themselves as "not religious" although they considered themselves "spiritual".

To refer to oneself as "spiritual", or as a "two-spirit person" is a noble belief (gender) to which to adhere. However, the description as "spiritual" has been around a long time, long before millennials seemed to take over the world.

What concerns me, though, is this insistent breaking down of structures which have, generally speaking, served well the global community, certainly Western democracies, and I refer not just genders to the point that Facebook now recognises 71.

The breakdown of such structures, or hierarchies, is evident all around, not only in relation to the Catholic Church, which, in fact, became more a tyranny on account of its unchallenged authority.

To emphasise this particular point, I urge you to read a recently rediscovered and uncensored account of a visit to the Tuam mother and baby home in 1955 by Dr Halliday Sutherland, a British physician.

Dr Sutherland had to seek the permission of then Bishop of Galway, Michael John Browne, and to receive it, he acquiesced to the censorship of his report by the then Mother Superior of the Sisters of Mercy which ran the home.

The following uncensored exchange occurred in relation to why so many unmarried mothers were crossing the Irish Sea to England:

Sutherland: English priests say that most of the Irish lose their Faith within six months of coming to England.

Bishop: Then why don't your English priests look after the Irish instead of throwing bastards in our face?

Sutherland: My Lord, no one is throwing bastards in your face.

That takes us back to the CSO vital statistics, which shows just over 62pc of babies were registered within marriage last year, and almost 38pc were registered as outside marriage or a civil partnership.

Furthermore, a total of 1,041 teenagers had babies in 2017, and of these 19 were to mothers under 16 years, which is statutory rape.

But, if history tells us anything, it is that as one tyranny falls another arises, usually in disguise.

While millennials continue to wage cultural wars, mostly related to the obsessions of the middle classes into which they were born - gender, pay, wealth and property - the wholesale deaths of predominantly middle-aged men continues, virtually without comment.

There were 1,315 deaths due to accidents, suicides and other external causes last year, with accidents accounting for 65pc and suicides for 30pc. Of these total deaths, over 70pc were male.

In the recent referendum we heard much about the use of abortion pills - three women a day - but suicide and self harm among men, which claimed the lives of 312 last year - almost three a day - barely registers with millennials, let alone a proper analysis of the reasons behind such an alarming statistic.

In some ways, hierarchies are naturally occurring and are a phenomenon of our capitalist system, or are certainly of conservative politics.

And, if the Financial Times series tells us anything, it is that this system will not only survive, but should thrive in the millennial era, perhaps more so than before, and hopefully as was intended - with an essential social conscience.

For example, global players such as Proctor & Gamble are eyeing up and, indeed, buying up the newer, edgier brands associated with millennials.

Is that not the strength or one of the strengths of capitalism though: an ability to be renewed or to renew itself, which is occuring in this disruptive era before and as millennials come of age?

The great disruption of the internet has been significant and is not yet at an end. We are all affected, none more so than the media.

All is far from lost, however.

For example, that RTE poll shows that there is still a high level of traditional media consumption among millennials, despite what the doom-mongers may claim.

While a third say they have never read a newspaper, around half do on one-to-three occasions a week, and the remainder also do, if less frequently so; television and radio are also doing well, or better than you may have been led to believe.

Furthermore, the level of trust in mainstream media greatly outstrips that in social media, including among millennials who have single-to-low double digit levels of trust in sites such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

All of this leads me to suspect that traditional norms in business, politics and, yes, also religion as well as trust in traditional media, will survive and in some cases thrive once reformed, refeshed and renewed when the disruption settles as our millennials come of age.

What the final shakeout will be is not yet fully understood, but must surely be embraced because profound change such as this is as inevitable as night follows day.

Or as inevitable as will be now ageing millennials followed by Generation Z, with its even more independent streak and strong entrepreneurial desire, and whatever follows that again. That's life.

So relax everybody. We are in good hands, right?

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