Science

Does Research Confirm that Millennials Are Soulless Monsters?

Small surveys with leading hypothetical questions can safely be ignored. But if we’re going to talk about this one, here are some suggestions.

Grid of four millennials.
Millennial voices.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by Unsplash.

A survey conducted by Comet Financial Intelligence has made a minor splash with its revelation that millennials care about money more than love. Among other things, the 20- to 36-year-olds surveyed said they’d delay marriage by an average of seven years for a life-changing promotion, or put off having children if it meant a raise of $67,000; judging by the headlines, publications seem particularly drawn to the finding that almost one-third of respondents said they’d end a relationship in exchange for a “significant raise” of around $37,000. This offered a refreshing change of pace from the usual assertions about Generation Me—now millennials can be “cutthroat and selfish” instead of “lazy and selfish”!—which may explain the media attention. One outlet deemed the results “ice cold,” and a spokesperson from Comet claimed that “This study shows that most Millennials are willing to make huge sacrifices in order to get ahead in their career,” going on to speculate that this might be in part because millennials are “still young and haven’t yet learned the value of those things they’d be giving up (love, family, relationships).”

The source for these sweeping statements, and for millennials’ apparent upgrade from lazy narcissists to naïve automatons, is a survey of 364 “employed single millennials without children,” as recruited from Amazon Mechanical Turk—so, not exactly a representative sample of the population. The fact that all are single also means questions about relationships are purely hypothetical, and the questions offer no indication of how serious the imaginary ties being forgone are supposed to be. Respondents may well be overestimating their willingness to dump a partner—or, conversely, to follow them to another country should it come to that.

Ultimately, being told to put a price on a nonexistent romance is about as helpful as asking whether you’d disown your family for fame, yet people still want to know what those wacky millennials have to say about it all. If the results were reflective of reality (which, again, they’re not), they’re more likely to be indicative of necessary self-advocacy on the part of a generation saddled with stagnant wages and skyrocketing debts. But if this insubstantial survey is going to be used as evidence of how callous and self-involved millennials are, we might as well consider the bigger picture. Here are a few alternative headlines people looking at the data should consider:

1. Some Millennials Willing to Delay Their Participation in an Outmoded Patriarchal Institution if You Pay Them an Average of $64,000, Which Sounds Like a Pretty Good Deal, Actually

2. Forty-Six Percent of the First Generation Where Living With a Parent Is the Most Common Young Adult Living Arrangement Willing to Prioritize a Career Over a Relationship

3. One-Hundred Forty-Nine Young People Said They’d End an Imaginary Relationship for a “Life-Changing” Promotion, Which Tells Us Nothing About the Future of Humanity, Funnily Enough

4. Generation Burdened by 300 Percent More Student Debt Than Their Parents Would, in Fact, Like to Pay It off at Some Point

5. Millennials Answering a Survey for Literal Pennies Could Really Use Some Cash

6. Statements From 0.0000482758 Percent of Millennials Used to Make Sweeping Claims About Their Generation

7. One-Hundred Percent of Millennials Trapped in Absurd No-Win Hypotheticals by Their Predecessors

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