Life

Bring Back “Yuppies”

“Millennial” has become synonymous with “well-off,” for no good reason. End the madness.

A man wearing a yellow shirt rides a bike past storefronts. On his back is a green Uber Eats container.
Apparently only the customer on the receiving end of this UberEats delivery counts as an urban millennial.
Sean Gallup/Getty Images

It’s the end of millennials as we know them. No, not the 73 million younger adults born between 1981 and 1996; they’re fine. But the death knell is tolling for the way we tend to overuse, and misuse, the literal term millennials. The latest peal in this requiem? A piece by Atlantic staff writer Derek Thompson suggesting that, given WeWork and Uber’s slow-rolling implosions, “the millennial urban lifestyle is about to get more expensive.” What exactly is the “millennial urban lifestyle”? According to Thompson, it’s waking up on a Casper mattress, working out with a Peloton before breakfast, Ubering to a desk at a WeWork, ordering DoorDash for lunch, taking a Lyft home, and then getting dinner through Postmates.

Basically, before the first meal of the day, this hypothetical urban millennial is already in the hole for almost $4,000, thanks to their $1,100 mattress, $500/month coworking space, and $2,000 exercise bike. Of course, there are payment plans as low as $58 a month for the Peloton, which might be what enables them to still spend on ride-sharing door to door and ordering out all their meals.

Thompson isn’t making an argument about the fiscal responsibility of millennials; he’s just using them as the stand-in customer. The main thrust of his piece—that all these venture capital–backed startups, previously capable of subsidizing the lives of their customers, will soon have to jack up their prices in response to the impending reckoning of investors looking to finally turn a profit—seems correct, and is certainly worth discussing. It just also takes for granted that the average urban millennial is willing to spend $100 a month on a Blue Apron subscription that only provides three meals a week.

The seductive logic of painting millennials with a broad generational brush is one that more writers than Thompson have fallen prey to, and he does better than most by narrowing his scope to urban millennials. But adding the word “well-off” would’ve made his point much more accurate. In fact, he could have just used a more accurate term: yuppie. While there are overlaps between these two groups—mostly because millennials are currently young—it takes but a second of thought to realize that yuppie better serves Thompson’s argument.

Here’s why the misrepresentation of millennials as a generation aimlessly spending money on having simple tasks done for them irks: On the whole, millennials ought to be defined by the ways our generation has been beset by skyrocketing housing costs, rising student debt, falling wages, and a difficult job market. We are, as my colleague Jordan Weissmann put it last year, “the brokest generation,” and also the one, along with Gen Z, that’s going to have to handle climate change.* We’re certainly not all living the lifestyle Thompson is describing, where all the petty annoyances of living life are solved with the swipe of a finger, even if we do live in a city.

There is, of course, a subset of millennials that is using these services, much in the way that, in previous generations, a subset of the richest individuals would most likely have had domestic help to avoid all those petty annoyances. But urban millennials also include those who are driving the Ubers and delivering the Seamless orders and cleaning the WeWorks once all those yuppies go home. And the pending venture capital reckoning surely won’t be great for them, either.

Correction, Oct. 16, 2019: This post originally misspelled Jordan Weissmann’s last name.