Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors
Kevin Elliott


When Asking Y, Do We Ask the Right Questions?

Posted: 11/29/2012 12:16 pm

In light of Huffington Post Canada's ongoing series on, ahem, the trials and tribulations of Generation Y, those, roughly speaking, currently aged 18-30, we have a very advantageous opportunity to move forward given some unwelcoming statistics.

And yet, many analyses seem to merely entrap themselves in the dichotomy between labelling young people as "lazy" or as lacking "perspective" on the one hand, and on the other hand, (more admirably but still problematically) claiming that young people simply have an opportunity to reshape the world in which they live by, for example, engaging in new forms of innovation and entrepreneurship.

The only problem? Such a dichotomy stifles us more than anything. Although both perspectives premise themselves on plausibility, the former trivializes and the latter objectifies (at least the latter one strives for a more optimistic outlook). As a result, and also because they are merely opposite ends on the same spectrum, as both a society and a generation we cannot really get anywhere -- we remain stuck on that spectrum.

If the same charges are laid every two decades or so against the new generation, and if the same typical responses are constantly rehashed to compel the younger generation to adapt, then really nothing new changes at all. In analyzing a column that addressed the bleak economic prospects for young people in the U.S., former LA Times editor Tim Cavanaugh thought it amusing that it was his generation, Generation X, that was told throughout their youth that they in fact would be the first generation in U.S. history to earn less income than the previous generation. "I suspect if I had a time machine," Cavanaugh continues, "I could find newspapers in the 1960s saying the same thing of the baby boom generation."

What I must emphasize is the imperative that I think we all ought to tackle, that is, the need to initiate the kind of dialogue that gets us thinking about ways out of this debilitating cycle. I do not want to suggest that Generation Y's situation is not unique; in fact, for the very reason that it is unique is what will allow us to start articulating these kinds of dialogues.

What do we know about Generation Y's situation? We know that young people are suffering from both high unemployment and underemployment rates -- whereby not only are some finding it tough to land a job at all, but many are having to settle for low-paying jobs for which they are overqualified -- and historically high costs of education that burden them with almost unheard-of debt levels. Economist David Macdonald rightly expands upon these points, outlining how Generation Y has more systematic barriers than their predecessors to things like saving for retirement, a mortgage, and paying off debt.


Loading Slideshow...
  • Think you know your generation?

    The Huffington Post Canada and Abacus Data surveyed 1,004 Canadian millennials from across the country on a variety of issues. Here's what we found:

  • Biggest challenges?

    We asked 1,004 Canadian millennials to rank the biggest challenges facing their generation.

  • What's the biggest challenge facing your generation?

    2% rank the decriminalization of marijuana as No. 1 or 2.

  • What's the biggest challenge facing your generation?

    5% of millennials rank internet regulation and online privacy as one of their top two issues.

  • What's the biggest challenge facing your generation?

    7% rank bullying as the first or second biggest challenge.

  • What's the biggest challenge facing your generation?

    8% of millennials rank retirement security No. 1 or 2.

  • What's the biggest challenge facing your generation?

    11% of millennials say access to quality health care is one of the generation's top two challenges

  • What's the biggest challenge facing your generation?

    20% of millennials rank pollution and environmental protection as No. 1 or 2 of the biggest challenges faced by this generation.

  • What's the biggest challenge facing your generation?

    20% say affordable housing is in the top two.

  • What's the biggest challenge facing your generation?

    24% of millennials peg the cost of education as their first or second choice for the generation's biggest challenge.

  • What's the biggest challenge facing your generation?

    27% say the cost of food, gas and consumer goods are in the top two.

  • What's the biggest challenge facing your generation?

    32% of millennials chose "student debt and personal debt" as the first or second biggest challenge.

  • What defines a good citizen?

    We asked 1,004 millennials between the ages of 18-30 what it takes to be a good Canadian citizen.

  • What defines a good citizen?

    15% of millennials say it takes being active in political parties...

  • What defines a good citizen?

    28% of millennials say donating money to charity makes a good citizen..

  • What defines a good citizen?

    35% of millennials say that being active in social organizations is important to citizenship..

  • What defines a good citizen?

    63% of millennials say being informed about current events is important..

  • What defines a good citizen?

    64% of millennials say being able to fluently speak one official language is important..

  • What defines a good citizen?

    74% of millennials say a good citizen is someone who always votes in elections.

  • What defines a good citizen?

    81% of millennials say good citizens honestly pay their taxes.

  • What's the biggest challenge facing your generation?

    43% of millennials rank the availability of quality jobs as their first or second choice.

  • Health Challenges

    We asked 1,004 Canadian millennials what were their generation's biggest health challenges

  • Biggest health challenge facing your generation?

    3% say pollution

  • Biggest health challenge facing your generation?

    4% say sexually transmitted infections

  • Biggest health challenge facing your generation?

    7% say disease

  • Biggest health challenge facing your generation?

    11% say poor nutrition

  • Biggest health challenge facing your generation?

    16% say obesity

  • Biggest health challenge facing your generation?

    17% say addiction

  • Biggest health challenge facing your generation?

    19% say mental health

  • Biggest health challenge facing your generation?

    26% say lack of physical activity

  • Relationship status

    Some views from 1,004 Canadian millennials on marriage and family..

  • Relationship status

    18% of millennials are in a common law relationship

  • Relationship status

    66% of millennials are single

  • Relationship status

    15% of millennials are married

  • Do you ever want to get married?

    63% of unmarried millennials say <strong>yes</strong> 13% say <strong>no</strong> 24% say they are <strong>unsure</strong>

  • Do you ever want to get married?

    65% of <strong>unmarried women</strong> say <strong>yes</strong> 13% say <strong>no</strong> 22% say they are <strong>unsure</strong>

  • Do you ever want to get married?

    61% of <strong>unmarried men</strong> say <strong>yes</strong> 13% say <strong>no</strong> 26% say they are <strong>unsure</strong>

  • Is marriage an outdated institution?

    33% agree 67% disagree

  • Do you have children?

    12% of millennials surveyed have children 88% do not

  • Do you want to have children at some point?

    64% of millennials say yes 12% say no 24% are unsure

  • More On Millennials

    Huffington Post Canada's series on millennials, Asking Y. <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/news/generation-y" target=blank>Visit it here</a>.

Presumably, given the assumption that young people's subsequent stress over the situation derives from a selfish sense of entitlement, the arguments that they are lazy or lack a sense of perspective are designed to encourage them to pick themselves up by their bootstraps and start taking responsibility for their actions, thus preparing them to effectively take on the real world, so to speak. However, if the opportunities exist for young people to succeed but not enough of them are taking advantage of those opportunities, why are we not also asking "What does this say about our society that creates these opportunities?" instead of only asking "What does this say about young people?"

The other argument in the dichotomy leaves us in the same helpless position. If the previous arguments are designed to encourage us, with whatever good intentions, to get active and conform to, or maybe even alter, the world around us, making the case that young people are active, and that it is all a matter of them seizing hold of their convictions to "brainstorm," "collaborate," and "create more entrepreneurship and public-private partnerships," also supposes that young people can make something of themselves by altering the world around them.

At the end of the day, all of these views, in their own way, compel young people to engage with the world -- but there needs to be a distinction between content and form. As young people, we can either decide to conform to or alter the content of our society, or we can go a step further and assume the courage to discuss ways in which the form of our society may be what is holding us back. Or else, we will be the ones writing in 20 years the same thing former LA Times editor Tim Cavanaugh is writing in 2012, as the next generation of kids has it even worse than us (and can you imagine even worse student debt?).

The form of our society is one founded on many contradictions. One could hazard that in this information age, never has knowledge been so easily accessible and in such vast quantity, yet overwhelmed by it all, Generation Y is all but programmed to be a jack of all trades and a master of none. Better yet is this example: it is true that youth have abundant opportunities for success, but they also have more systematic barriers than ever before to pursue such opportunities. It would be prudent of us then to seize hold of Macdonald's overview and parse through its implications, namely, the consequences a society creates as it individualizes and privatizes risk.

Encouraging young people to get a grip, go it alone, and seize hold of the opportunities before them will inevitably leave many people behind in the dust -- and it certainly does nothing to shed light on the form of our society that makes it less of a society at all, and more of a collection of individuals increasingly burdened with the sense that retirement, a mortgage, and tuition are nobody's problems but their own.

Loading Slideshow...
  • Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois

    <strong>Age:</strong> 22 <strong>From:</strong> Montreal He's the unofficial figurehead of the Quebec student movement that paralyzed the province, led to the downfall of some of Quebec's most powerful politicians and forced the government to back down on tuition hikes. Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois is a symbol of how the Millennial Generation may just be awakening politically, and changing our country in the process.

  • Sarika Cullis-Suzuki

    <strong>Age: </strong>29 <strong>From: </strong>Vancouver, B.C. The youngest of the Suzuki clan, <a href="http://sarikacullissuzuki.com/">Sarika Cullis-Suzuki</a> is already adding her voice to the conversation around the environment, conservation and the health of the world's oceans. With climate change a looming political issue for decades to come, expect voices like hers to gain more influence and relevance.

  • Ruth-Ellen Brosseau

    <strong>Age: </strong>28 <strong>From: </strong>Hudson, Quebec One of the fresh-faced rookie MPs who swept into Parliament on the NDP's Orange Wave, Brosseau became a punchline when it was revealed she spent part of the election campaign vacationing in Vegas. The 28-year-old former campus bar manager has since turned her profile around to become a well-liked MP.

  • Brigette DePape

    <strong>Age:</strong> 23 <strong>From: </strong>Winnipeg Whether you agree or disagree with her, ex-Senate page Brigette DePape became a symbol for the disaffected angry Left with her simple but effective silent protest during the 2011 Throne Speech, where she disrupted Gov. Gen. David Johnston's speech by walking onto the floor holding up a 'Stop Harper' sign. DePape then went on to field a job offer from Michael Moore, and earlier this year also held a similar silent protest as Wildrose Party Leader Danielle Smith cast her ballot in Alberta's April election. Canada has not seen the last of Brigitte DePape.

  • Danielle Fong

    <strong>Age: </strong>25 <strong>From:</strong> Halifax Born and raised in Halifax, Fong dropped out of middle school and started at Dalhousie University when she was 12, and then headed to Princeton for her PhD by 17. Today, Fong is the founder and chief scientist at <a href="http://lightsailenergy.com/">LightSail Energy,</a> a much-buzzed-about renewable energy startup in California that focuses on efficient energy storage using compressed air. Her company just recently secured $37.5M in funding to further their efforts. You can <a href="http://daniellefong.com/">read more of her insights on her blog.</a>

  • Kunal Gupta

    <strong>Age: </strong>27 <strong>From: </strong>Toronto GQ, Vogue, CBS Sports, CTV, The Wall Street Journal -- just a short list of some of the brands that Kunal Gupta's <a href="http://polarmobile.com/">Polar Mobile</a> has worked with over the last five years. It's not news that Generation Y is hooked on their cellphones. Gupta, who started Polar Mobile in 2007, just figured this out before anyone else. The company provides media firms with a platform to launch branded mobile apps across smartphone and tablet devices, with more than 400 publishers, broadcasters and media brands in 12 countries counted as clients so far.

  • Xavier Dolan

    <strong>Age: </strong>23 <strong>From: </strong>Montreal At an age where most of his generation struggle to make their rent, Xavier Dolan picks up awards at the Cannes Film Festival. <em>J'ai tué ma mère</em>, his debut film about coming out, was a critical success, winning him three prizes at one of the world's premier film festivals. Dolan was 20 at the time, and he has since won subsequent acclaim for his sophomore effort, Heartbeats, and new film, Laurence Anyways, which tells the story of a man who wants to become a woman.

  • Picnicface

    <strong>From: </strong>Halifax It's no surprise that this generation's Kids In The Hall would emerge on YouTube. <a href="http://www.picnicface.com/">Picnicface</a>, the Halifax-based comedy troupe won mainstream attention with a number of videos first posted to the online video site, including the satirical ad <a href="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qRuNxHqwazs">"Powerthirst"</a> which got them more than 25 million views. The group turned this online success into a TV show with the Comedy Network, a book deal, a movie and more.

  • Drake

    <strong>Age: </strong>26 <strong>From: </strong>Toronto Who would've thought that one of the most successful rappers in the world would be a Canadian boy. The Toronto-born-and-raised superstar (also known as Aubrey Graham) has sold more than five million records, and is regularly mentioned in the same breath as rappers like Kanye West, Lil' Wayne and 50 Cent. Yes, he even brought us the hilariously millennial acronym YOLO (that's 'You only live once' for the uninitiated).

  • Sidney Crosby

    <strong>Age:</strong> 25 <strong>From: </strong>Cole Harbour, Nova Scotia The youngest-ever NHL captain to win the Stanley Cup, Sidney Crosby might be the best hockey player of his generation. Canadians will of course remember Sid the Kid for the goal. You know, the one that won Team Canada the gold medal at the 2010 Winter Olympics -- the <a href="http://www.thehockeynews.com/articles/32079-Sidney-Crosby-donates-20000-gold-medal-bonus-to-his-charitable-foundation.html" target="_hplink">bonus</a> from which Crosby donated to his Sidney Crosby Foundation, which supports local charities in his hometown of Cole Harbour. A subsequent concussion sidelined Crosby for months, which may have finally forced the NHL to try to come to terms with the plague of head injuries in the sport.

  • Christine Sinclair

    <strong>Age:</strong> 29 <strong>From: </strong>Burnaby, B.C. Forget the NHL, one of the best and most memorable sports performances of 2012 happened on the Olympic soccer pitch in London. Christine Sinclair, the captain of Canada's women's soccer team and one of the best women to play the game, almost took Canada to victory in the Olympic semi-final game with her three-goal performance against the United States. A U.S. goal at the last minute dashed the team's hopes for gold, but Sinclair's performance earned her place in history, and although she was recently suspended for four games for her comments to the FIFA ref during that Olympic game, she remains a living national hero, all before the age of 30.

  • Hannah Taylor

    <strong>Age: </strong>16 <strong>From:</strong> Winnipeg Ok, technically she's younger than Gen Y, but we had to include Hannah Taylor. At 16, <a href="http://www.ladybugfoundation.ca/who-we-are/hannah-taylor-founder/">the Winnipeg native</a> is barely old enough to hold down a job. But that hasn't stopped Taylor from raising millions for the homeless and shelters across Canada through her <a href="http://www.ladybugfoundation.ca/">Ladybug Foundation</a>, a charity she founded when she was eight. Taylor has spoken to groups around the world, advocating for the homeless and hoping to inspire other young people to take up the fight.

  • Bryce Williams

    <strong>Age:</strong> 23 <strong>From: </strong>Vancouver A surprise election win suddenly made Chief Bryce Williams, 23, one of Canada's native leaders to watch. Chief Williams will help the <a href="http://www.tsawwassenfirstnation.com/">Tsawwassen First Nation</a> navigate a series of potentially lucrative land deals that could see millions flow into the band's coffers. Williams will also have to ensure that the TFN remains a leader in native governance and a model for other First Nations bands seeking a more equitable relationship with various levels of government.

  • Ta'Kaiya Blaney

    <strong>Age: </strong>11 <strong>From: </strong>North Vancouver, B.C. One of the most visible figures opposing the Northern Gateway pipeline is so young we weren't sure we could include on a list of millennials. North Vancouver's Ta'Kaiya Blaney scored a minor online hit when she recorded 'Shallow Waters,' a song about the dangers of oil spills off the coast of B.C. The pipeline debate isn't going away anytime soon, and judging by her age, neither is Blaney.

  • Claudia Li

    <strong>Age:</strong> 26 <strong>From: </strong>Vancouver One of the founders of <a href="http://www.sharktruth.com/">Shark Truth</a>, Vancouver's Claudia Li has been an important voice in the fight to have shark fin sales banned in that city. Since 2009, Li's group has raised awareness about the practice of finning and she estimates they've saved thousands of sharks from being served up in B.C.'s banquet halls.

  • Devon Brooks

    <strong>Age: </strong>25 <strong>From: </strong>Vancouver At 25, Vancouver's Devon Brooks has a growing empire of blow-dry salons and is seen as one of the savviest young marketers/entrepreneurs in Canada, having been featured in Profit, Marketing Magazine, Chatelaine and more. Brooks also does a substantial amount of work raising awareness about violence against women, and speaks openly about her own experience of being raped at age 18 and terrorized by an ex-boyfriend, in an effort to normalize the conversation about the trauma women fight, face and survive in their lives.

  • Helene Campbell

    <strong>Age:</strong> 20 <strong>From: </strong>Ottawa Diagnosed with idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, a rare disease that destroyed her lungs, Ottawa's Helene Campbell waited for months for a life-saving transplant. In the meantime, she blogged about her wait and her struggles with her disease, all in an effort to raise awareness about organ donation. The turning point came when Campbell tweeted to Justin Bieber and asked the pop star for his help to spread the message. Bieber didn't disappoint. In the coming months, Campbell, still waiting for her transplant, became the poster child for an often-ignored cause and a symbol of hope for those waiting for a transplant. Campbell's story ends on a happy note. Earlier this summer, she got her double-lung transplant. But she's not done: Campbell says she'll be writing a book and continues to promote the cause of organ donation. These days, she's known for her joyful dancing (<a href="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uO6e_0svHBo">shown in the video</a>), and her seemingly tireless campaigning.

What do you think about this story? Join the conversation below or tweet us @HuffPostCanada with the #AskingY tag. We may feature your comments in an upcoming post. You can also check out our Tumblr, or our dedicated page for more from the Asking Y series.