Have faith, dear audience. A moratorium on our use of the term "millennial" as a point of reference to describe housing markets, customer segments, or trends you should keep track of cannot be far off. It's a matter of when, not if.
Although the nature of post-digital society deplores a meme vacuum, and we gravitate to massively oversimplified narratives to spare ourselves the time and care it takes to truly understand how things work, let me say this.
The word millennial worked ably enough to describe the early-years cobbling of birth years, technology trends, and social behaviors to describe 77 million people born during the years 1981 to 1997. That work is done. There's little more for marketers, manufacturers, investors, planners, even politicians to gain from using this organizational framework--a generational cohort--to try to understand people's values, attitudes, preferences, and ultimately, behaviors.
Yes, millennials as a cohort served consumer goods and services, and especially home, game, social network, and tech companies well as a construct--allowing some to build empires around the spending power they unleashed during their coming-of-age years.
But now, you see, as an emerging sequence of post-secondary education adults, the usefulness and opportunity in the notion fall apart. One nice simple proxy for almost 80 million people would be a nice way to build and sustain business models, but anybody who's tried doing so with the notion of Baby Boomers recognizes the fallacies and myths in an assumption that people behave generationally.
We may tend toward and like short cuts, but sometimes there are none. Sometimes, to keep business going, we keep having to do all the work to persuade someone to be a customer, to ask them to hire us for the value we can provide, to get permission to address their needs.
Sometimes, neither a business cycle nor a generational cohort tidal wave can guarantee us a ticket to the dance.
So, it's amusing to see this just-released analysis from the economics research mill at Fannie Mae. It seems that millennials, in the eyes of the housing finance giant, are now more than one cohort. Here's how a new Fannie "Housing Insights" report phrases it:
The cohort analysis shows that homeownership rate gains for young adults aging through their late twenties and early thirties accelerated significantly during the early housing recovery, a sign that the oldest Millennials have begun to mount a homeownership recovery and close the homeownership attainment gap with their predecessors.
In other words, older millennials--ones who've shed some college debt, perhaps gotten a job promotion or two, maybe hooked up with a partner--have stopped "behaving like millennials" and started behaving like proper young adults, forming households and buying homes and building a better world for themselves and their communities. If they stop acting like Millennials, are they still millennials?
When should the moratorium on the word begin? January 2017?