Ironically for a generation that’s often characterised as wanting the world handed to them on a plate, millennials don’t have it easy. A recent major study confirmed that British adults currently in their 20s and 30s are likely to experience a significantly lower standard of living than the generations that came before us – the first time that’s happened since WW2. Combine crippling student debts with an impossible housing market and increased job insecurity, sprinkle it with the pressure to present a perfect life over social media, and you’ve got the recipe for a generation plagued by uncertainty, anxiety and depression.
All things considered, it’s easy to look at baby boomers - the generation born straight after WW2 up until the ’60s - and feel more than a twinge of resentment. Unlike millennials, baby boomers enjoyed free university education, often receiving maintenance grants. Unlike millennials, the majority of them owned their own homes by the time they turned 30. And unlike millennials, many of them voted for Brexit.
But before you start vowing a plague on their (mortgage-free) houses, it’s worth remembering that things weren’t always so good for baby boomer women – and there are lots of ways in which being a millennial woman is actually pretty great.
We asked British women in their 50s and 60s to share why being a baby boomer wasn’t always all it’s cracked up to be – and what millennial women should appreciate about being young today. This is what they said…
“Yes, we saw all the great bands for peanuts and had student grants. But, in the ‘70s, only 5% of us went to university – the rest worked in factories or as secretaries. We worked hard during the holidays in post offices, factories or on the land, and the men got paid more than we did.” Barbara, 62
“Young women today seem to have a really strong understanding of the value of women’s friendships. They appreciate and nurture each other to a new degree.” April, 56
“People are prepared to talk about mental health today. I was terribly depressed when I was younger and it just wasn’t talked about. My nieces are all in their late twenties and they seem to really talk about that kind of thing with their friends. It’s wonderful.” Angela, 66
“Women in their 20s and 30s have far more opportunities to travel and see far-flung places than we ever did.” Helen, 58
“Millennial women are far more in control of their lives than my generation. When I was 29 I remember going to see a bank manager to request an extension on an overdraft so I could buy a second hand car, and he asked me if was really going to spend it on ‘more dresses’! He refused to give me the loan and asked to see my bank card, then took a pair of scissors from the drawer of his desk and cut it in half saying: ‘That will make you think about what you spend your money on in future.’ I was furious, but there was no one to complain to – he was the manager.” Francine, 59
“I love the fact that young women today have the option to engage in casual relationships without fear of being judged, in a way that we just didn’t when I was growing up.” Clare, 59
“I cherish the open, easy relationship I have with my daughters. I respect their independence and privacy but know they feel at ease to discuss anything with me, and my opinion is valued but not depended upon. I never had that relationship with my parents. Once you left home – in my case at 18 – you were on your own. I would never have asked my parents for their advice, as I was living in a world they had no experience of.” Jenny, 62
“Millennial women seem to have more confidence than we did – and they’re much better groomed than I ever was! To an extent, I’m also envious of social media and smartphones, although I think they are a mixed blessing. There’s also much better education and career advice available today, as well as more diversity in career options for women.” Corinna, 55
“We didn’t have Lycra or all the amazing fabrics you have now. We just had cheesecloth and brown corduroy. It wasn’t fun, let me tell you.” Kate, 59
“Up until about 1980 if you went to the doctor there was a 90% chance you would see a male GP or a male gynaecologist. Now I can choose to be seen by a female doctor if I so wish. There was no such choice when I was younger and many of the older male doctors were extremely patronising and assumed you didn’t know anything about how your body worked!” Mary, 59
“Thanks to technology, you’re able to stay in touch with friends and family so much more easily than we could. I used to have to send my mum an air mail letter once a week!” Clare, 63
“I envy the amount of young women who are able to go to university and the career opportunities they have – and the fact that men have so much more respect these days for women’s careers.” Nicola, 57
“One of the things I think is a major plus for your generation, as opposed to my generation, is the fact that men and women can be friends. In my day, there was a girl camp and a boy camp, and either you had a boyfriend or you just didn’t really speak to the boys at all. There wasn’t the opportunity for these really strong, supportive, nourishing friendships that I see my sons having with women. I’m in awe of it, because I think a lack of understanding and communication between men and women has stunted my generation in terms of our relationships with each other.” Jane, late 50s
“There's a growing recognition of gender and sexuality as non-binary and fluid, so people have more opportunity to be themselves.” Jan, 56
“Although I was a typical 1970s feminist I could not comfortably go into a bar alone or even with another female friend and order a drink in my early twenties. I was either ignored or even turned away from pubs outside of London. There was an unspoken assumption that ‘nice girls’ did not buy their own drinks. You would have to go in and sit quietly in a corner until your (male) friend arrived and bought the drinks. Unbelievable now!” Fiona, 60
“Women are visibly involved in politics, and women’s health issues are talked about openly. Neither of those things were true when I was a young woman.” Kathy, 60
“Rents were affordable when we were young, but accommodation was awful – no central heating, sharing bedrooms, lying in bed watching your breath cloud out. And we grew up fast. You left home at 18 – unthinkable to go back – and you really went away. No Facebook, mobiles or computers, and few calls home.” Sally, 61
“When I was growing up we didn’t have so many fashion magazines to show us what was out there, and no hair products except hair spray! I had a huge perm that had to sit in curlers for hours until it had set, and wasn’t told how to look after it – it ruined my hair and took months to grow out. Appreciate your hair straighteners.” Eileen, 60
“Sexism, racism and homophobia, and all of those things that most people consider totally unacceptable nowadays, were widely considered ‘OK’ when I was growing up in the ’60s and ’70s. We’re far from a perfect society today – Brexit has shown us that – but let me tell you, we’ve come a long way.” Joan, 66