In which I am having trouble lifting stuff on account of this chip on my shoulder.

14 Oct

So, apparently people are abuzz with talk about the Millennials! This is relevant to my interests, on account of how I’m generally considered as belonging to that generation (1985). This article in the Chronicle of Higher Education talks about the practice of generational studies, which, like so much of academia, mostly seems to involve saying some stuff and then arguing about it with people who are saying slightly different stuff. It’s a pretty interesting article and definitely worth a read, and I’m now interested in adding the books referenced to my list of things to get next time I’m at the library!

I mostly wanted to say, though, dear Neil Howe and William Strauss, I have a hard time taking your study seriously when you base all your observations on a survey not only of one county and one alone, but of Fairfax County in particular. Now, admittedly, I have a bit of a complex about Fairfax County, being from the county everyone in Fairfax makes fun of: for instance, I once had someone from Fairfax, on finding out that I had grown up in Woodbridge, across the river in Prince William County, respond with “wow, I didn’t know that was something people admitted to in public” (this is why I feel a certain kinship with New Jersey, just FYI). But dudes, Fairfax County is hardly representative of the entire country in any way. As the article points out, in 2007 Fairfax “became the first county in the nation to have a median household income of more than $100,000, about twice the national average.” Admittedly, in the DC Metro area, an income of $100,000 doesn’t go as far as it would elsewhere in the country, because the cost of living is so high, but dudes, leaving aside the class issues, what about the regional differences? What about urban vs. suburban vs. rural?

Like, I am willing to hear out some talk of generational theory, at least insofar as it loosely corresponds to historical trends, but dudes. Seriously. The sample size is pretty good, but that is not much in the way of sample variety. Probably the funniest point, for me, comes in a discussion of an admissions officer’s doubts about this whole business:

He wondered if the sample of students in Millennials Rising had corrupted the findings. After all, most students do not apply to top-20 colleges.

Which pretty much sums it up right there. Oh, Fairfax County.

At first glance, this post probably looks like a thinly-veiled excuse for me to vent some spleen re: Fairfax County, but look closer! What I’m talking about is actually a pretty important thing to pay attention to when doing Serious Historical Research. Obviously, having grown up in the Northern Virginia area during the period Strauss and Howe were studying, I’m able to spot a lot more quickly that drawing conclusions about an entire nation’s worth of young people based on the teenagers in that county alone is stupid, because that county is very much exceptional. But you do need to be careful when faced with raw data, which these dudes seem to have forgotten: in the United States there’s tons of regional variation, and while this might be useful as a study of, say, Mid-Atlantic teenagers, or teenagers in busy, rich, suburban/urban areas, it’s not useful as a study of an entire nation’s teenagers.

In conclusion, though, seriously: FAIRFAX COUNTY, DUDES. SO TOTALLY NOT THE REST OF THE COUNTRY. If they were, I would probably emigrate.

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