The Millennial in the Media:

“Buy Your Own House”

It has become somewhat antagonistic to use the description of the millennial. Some twenty-somethings refuse to be defined by it and resent the generalisation of experience that comes with it. The label can, however, be a positive thing. Overlooking the eye-roll-inducing headlines, the label can create a shared identity of a group of working professionals who, perhaps due to changes in the workplace, have common experiences. 

In their contorted efforts to relate to the concerns of the young working millennial, however, the majority of media misses the mark. Articles that generalise the impact of millennial ethics on the workplace are indicative of how the majority of the press serves the interests of the employer rather than of young working people. The press does not address millennials but talks about them as a fictitious entity instead of a group of people with a very present voice in the workplace. In this the press of 2018 is simply continuing the practices of the mid-Victorian British Workman. Both attempt to regulate the behaviour of working people. Even the formats of many of the pieces are remarkably similar.

Amongst suggestions of preserving good health through good morals, exercise, and washing well, an article from 1856 entitled ‘How to Live Long and Live Well’ encourages ‘Work for two hours before breakfast; rest for two hours before sleep”. The motivations of these ‘rules to live by’ are to create a healthy working population. This list format is not unlike the array of clickbait articles that offer, for example, the ‘10 Best Pieces of Career Advice for Millennials’ Both the 1856 and the 2013 pieces inform the reader on how to conduct themselves, for even if the British Workman piece claims to be about “How to Live Long and Live Well” in the context of the magazine that advice is really about how to work most effectively.

A clear parallel between the content in The British Workman and current press is that neither is primarily produced by the average worker. This is incredibly important to acknowledge when understanding the material and what ideas and sentiment it perpetuates. As I’ve written previously, when an article from the British Workman claims that “working-men, who are striving, by their industry and frugality, to live “rent-free,” … are building or buying their own homes” – by saving pennies, this is exactly like an article by upmarket estate agent Strutt & Parker that “prove” that millennials could save for a deposit on a house of they gave up coffees and takeaways.  Despite the incentive to provoke shock reaction to such statements it demonstrates that there is a continued relationship between the association of work and home ownership as markers of success.

Read next: The Role of Language in Creating a Community of Work in the Press