Millennials vs. Gen X

What do young people do with our free time?

Zameen Datta, Intern, Malaysiakini

25 November 2016

1. We spend far too much time online

Whether it’s chatting with friends on Facebook, watching funny cat videos on Youtube or spending hours playing LoL, we’re always doing something on the internet. Having access to free, instant entertainment is simply too tempting to pass.

2. We eat

Because even if you may not be able to afford a new house or car, pizza will always be there for you.

3. We work out

We understand that staying fit is important, so it’s important to go out and exercise regularly. Being healthy is not just about losing weight – it’s about trying to have a longer, happier life.

4. We travel around the world in 80 days

Well, maybe not all around the world, but every year more and more young people are going on trips abroad and drawing the envy of their friends by filling up their facebook pages with hundreds of pictures.

5. We give something back

Volunteering to spend an hour or two at a charity may not seem like much, but it can make a world of difference for someone less fortunate. Helping out at a local charity doesn’t just feel good either – it gives you something useful to add to your CV.

When discussing how millennials spend their free time, it’s important to remember that there are several factors that strongly affect how they act compared to the previous generations.

Many millennials have to contend with expenses that their parents did not have to worry about. The cost of education has risen sharply over the last few decade – in 2015, around 70% of American university students had debts to pay off once they graduated, forcing many of them to take low-wage jobs in order to start paying off their loans immediately. Even in the developed world, young adults are earning about 20% less than the national average. For the first time in decades, pensioners in wealthy countries have more money to spend than their younger counterparts.

Millennials have very limited spending ability compared to their parents and grandparents.

Many of them cannot afford large expenses such as cars or houses, meaning that any hobbies or leisure activities they wish to do regularly must cost as little as possible.

Enter the internet.

For many young people, the internet is a godsend. Free, unlimited entertainment, right at their fingertips? It’s no wonder why so many young adults seem to be addicted.

In fact, a recent study suggested that millennials in 2014 spent an average of 27 hours online each week. Whether it’s playing games, chatting with friends, or simply watching cat videos on Youtube, no matter who you are or what you’re interested in, the internet is simply so huge that you’re bound to find something to do online.

Another effect of the millennial generation’s lowered spending ability is the rising popularity of food fads. Even if they don’t have a lot of money, many people can afford to splurge on a good meal every now and again. Whether it’s gold-glazed donuts or monster milkshakes, people love to eat foods that look and taste different from the norm.

However, while everyone likes tasty food, there are a growing number of people who want their food to be, above all, healthy. Organic and health food diets are becoming increasingly popular – at least 21% of young adults in the Klang Valley say they have a vegetarian diet of some kind.

In fact, health and fitness in general is more important to the young generation than ever before. With all the information available to them, millennials are generally keenly aware of how easily sickness and disease can ruin their lives and as such tend to be more interested in trying to have a healthy lifestyle. Nowadays, being healthy is not just about losing weight or looking good – it’s about having a longer, happier life than you would otherwise have.

Millennials are more likely to have an active and health-conscious lifestyle. A report by the International Health, Racquet and Sportsclub Association found that in 2013 around 27% of people aged 21-30 belonged to a fitness club of some kind. Even those who haven’t joined a fitness club are likely to do some form of exercise.

As of January 2015, there were 50,000 health and fitness apps available in the Apple App Store.

The millennial generation’s desire to be fit also ties in with another popular leisure activity: travel.

Over the last few years, more and more young people have taken to travelling overseas – a survey by Topdeck Travel found that 94% of people who had travelled overseas at least once in the past year were aged 18-30; at least 30% of them travelled solo rather than with family or friends. However, before you assume that they are all wasting time and money on expensive holidays, it might be useful to understand why millennials travel so much.

For millennials, travel isn’t just about fancy hotels or lounging on the beach – it’s an opportunity to learn more about the world and experience things that they might otherwise never have the chance to see. 86% of millennial travellers said that their primary motivation was to “experience new cultures”, while 69% said that “eating local foods” was at the top of their lists. In contrast, things like partying (44%) and shopping (28%) are usually considered to be much less important.

In other words, young people don’t want to be locked into the normal tourist experience – they are willing to step outside their comfort zone and immerse themselves into new cultures and experiences. 78% of millennials say that they want to learn something new while travelling. For them, travelling overseas isn’t about leisurely holiday trips. Instead, they see it as a chance to meet new people and learn skills that might be valuable to them in the future while relaxing and unwinding.

Another way that millennials try to expand their experiences is through charity work. Despite the stereotype of millennials being lazy and self-centered, the truth is that many of them are far more generous than you would expect.

In general, young people tend to be more civic minded compared to the previous generations and are more passionate about changing the world.

A study found that millennials are very enthusiastic about helping others within their community and even abroad. 70% of college students believe that “it is essential or very important to help people in need” – the highest level since 1970. It’s not just talk, either; 83% of millennials have donated to a charity in the past, and nonprofit organizations received 1.3 million extra volunteers between 2007 and 2008.

For millennials, charity work is not just a way to feel good about themselves. They genuinely want to make a difference. While some are content to simply donate money regularly, many others prefer a more hands on approach – they’d rather go to a village to help build a house themselves than pay someone else to do it for them. This is partly because of finances (most millennials don’t have much money to spare), but also because young people want to know exactly how their donations make a difference.

Many of them also take the opportunity to spiff up their resume. Charity work gives young people a chance to meet new people and get involved in exciting projects, giving them new skills and experiences that they can add to their CVs. While many volunteers chose to donate their time because they genuinely wanted to make a difference, this gives millennials – many of whom may have trouble finding a good job – an extra reason to volunteer.

To sum up, the millennial approach to leisure activities may seem strange to older people because they have been shaped by the unique circumstances that millennials grew up in. Their low economic prospects and lack of financial freedom has caused many young people to avoid overly expensive activities. And when they do decide to spend a lot, millennials want to feel that they have gotten something more than the standard holiday experience.

Despite – or perhaps because – of their circumstances, millennials are at their core brightly optimistic. Even if things are difficult for them in the present, they work and strive to better themselves, always reaching for the future as best they can.


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