Today's millennials are the New Victorians

At some point, every word used to describe a generation wears thin. It happened with "millennial" a while ago. Like all such constructs, the millennial does not really exist, if it ever did, except as a kind of handy shorthand for "them". The trouble is: if your instinct is to dismiss a whole age cohort as a homogeneous group, with large data allowances, it becomes all too easy to miss what is really going on.

Like all such constructs, the millennial does not really exist, if it ever did.

Far from being feckless dreamers, young people today are practically Victorian. They are interested in rapid social progress, and the preservation and growth of personal wealth. They have old-fashioned values: millennials believe in marriage and in loyalty to their employers (that's one of the reasons why they struggle to get pay rises).

They are abstemious. Countless studies have shown that they don't drink or take drugs or have sex as much as previous generations. The latest viral internet icon, a rapper called Jimothy Lacoste, raps not about bling but about wanting a housewife, and asking why people have to "do so many drugs".

This presents a nagging question for older generations: what if they aren't, in fact, the conservative ones? What if their alcohol-centred lifestyles, without protein shakes or beach body readiness, turn out to have been worse than the new way being pioneered by this stricter younger generation?

Young people work away with Scrooge-like industriousness. The sickie is on the wane, perhaps in part because everyone is less hung-over. According to the Chartered Institute of Personnel Management, 86 per cent of firms reported people coming into work even if they are ill over the past year, up from 26 per cent in 2010.

The new icons are not rock stars, footballers or actors but Mark Zuckerberg and Zoella; self-made titans who have wreaked havoc on ageing business models. Is it possible, too, that these businesses are more exciting than those that defined previous generations? The Victorian era was not dissimilarly defined by massive creative destruction and innovation. We may be fully signed-up members of the consumer society, but modern consumerism was born in the 19th century.

There is a downside to this fresh spirit of Victorianism, of course. There is a new prudishness about, defined by no-platforming, safe spaces and the dreaded "snowflakes". Are we headed back to an age of calling for smelling salts, covering up table legs lest they offend anyone, and banishing from society anyone who talks the wrong way about sex? Censoriousness was the great Victorian flaw (well, that and invading everyone). For all the progress made, they were morally overconfident. The New Victorians may be industrious but, like their historical predecessors, they can be prissy, too.

The snowflake spirit is not as widespread as is made out to be, however. Even at university, most students are not involved in campaigns to destroy free speech and hound out people with whom they disagree: they are too busy working to justify the thousands in fees they are paying for their education.

And you need only look at the enormous success of Jordan Peterson, the Canadian psychologist and intellectual – whose advice for young men includes the rather quaint "stand up straight" – to see that the young are hardly a wishy-washy liberal monoculture. On the contrary, in fact. On Twitter you might still be shouted down for unpopular opinions, but millennials are turning their back on the platform, because they have more important matters to focus on.

Telegraph, London

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