The Average 29-Year-Old, Cont'd

Editor’s Note: This article previously appeared in a different format as part of The Atlantic’s Notes section, retired in 2021.

Derek joined NPR’s “Here and Now” yesterday to discuss his recent piece breaking down the millennial stereotypes perpetuated by the media:

A 29-year-old reader responded to Derek’s piece via hello@:

I, too, am often baffled by the average Millennial description touted in the media and statistics. I, myself, do not meet the demographic aside from the age. I do not have a college degree—just a high school diploma. I work as an office manager at an electrical contractor making an average of $48K a year. My husband is 30 without a degree, works as a bookkeeper making $25K annually. We own a home and have two children. (We afford this as we live in Texas)

Many of my generation have not yet attained this typical suburbanite lifestyle and may feel behind. On the other side of it, I have mixed emotions on whether I have “lived” enough compared to my peers. We have traveled very little. We do not run off to the festivals (SXSW, Coachella etc). We do not document every moment of our lives via social media. We haven’t jumped on the bandwagon of whatever flavor of the week counter culture movement. (Not because we’re conservatives; we just don’t have the time to spend “defining” ourselves.) We live simply and quietly.

We just need to stop lumping all of us into the same box. We are individual people and not a collective unit.

Other readers made some great points in the comments section about how members of the mainstream media have become more and more isolated from the rest of the country. This reader quotes Derek:

“To be fair, being a reporter in Des Moines or rural Nebraska, while it provides a better view of Des Moines and rural Nebraska, doesn’t offer a universal window into the average experiences of all Americans, either.” No, it doesn’t ... but at least in the old days, reporters in NYC and Washington, D.C., grew up and began their careers in places like Des Moines, so they had some understanding of the nation as a whole. Today, too many journalists come from wealthy East Coast families, attend the same handful of universities, and move directly to web-based “reporting” in NYC or DC without ever learning the ropes from some grizzled old city editor in Stillwater, Okla., or Akron, Ohio.

Another reader makes a related point:

Cuts to education funding have turned elite public universities into the preserve of upper-class kids from the Northeast and California. For example, students from Michigan are now a minority at the University of Michigan. This not only undercuts the point of state-supported education but transforms these schools from great equalizers—where the children of auto workers could rub shoulders with trust-funditarians from the coasts—into places where privileged kids can network with other privileged kids in novel places like Michigan or Texas.

I wasn’t sure about the reader’s claim that students from Michigan are now a minority—but he’s totally right:

When the fall 2014 semester started at the University of Michigan, more than half of the students at the Ann Arbor campus were from outside the state. It was the first time that had happened in at least 15 years. Of the 43,625 students enrolled in undergraduate and graduate programs, 21,514, or 49.3 percent, are from Michigan.

Nearly 2,500 students are from China, making it the most well-represented region outside of Michigan. [CB: Cue Trump outrage.] Among other U.S. states, California, with 2,428, was the one that sent the most students to Michigan; 2,170 students are from New York, 1,978 are from Illinois, and 1,1118 are from New Jersey.

The crux of the economics at play:

Tuition for undergraduate in-state students during their freshmen and sophomore years is $13,158. For an out-of-state undergraduate at the same class level, the cost balloons to $41,578, or more than three times the cost of what in-state students pay.