What value does the word \u201cmillennial\u201d actually have?\r\n\r\nAmericans have heard the term ad nauseum by now. In politics, public relations or marketing, it\u2019s a buzzword.\r\n\r\nBut millennial doesn\u2019t hold nearly as much meaning as Americans pretend it does. Here\u2019s why.\r\nIt doesn\u2019t mean what we often say it means\r\nA recent news story in Fox News was an example of a common problem \u2013 though any examination of news coverage would likely show that such a story is not unique.\r\n\r\nThe segment, which aired Sept. 12, featured a discussion about the teenage vaping crisis. A health expert asked, \u201cWhy is the attraction for the young generation, why the attraction for the millennial population that is using these products?\u201d\r\n\r\nSimilarly, my university students frequently say, \u201cWell, you know us millennials like or do \u2018x.\u2019\u201d I\u2019ll ask for clarification on who they\u2019re talking about. They\u2019ll say, \u201cI don\u2019t know, 18- to 24-year-olds.\u201d\r\n\r\nThe problem? The use of the term in such a context is wrong. The term millennials has become synonymous with \u201cyoung people,\u201d \u201ccollege students\u201d or the like.\r\n\r\nBut, while the term has arguably been used the same way for years, the generation is of course aging. While definitions may vary, according to Pew, one of the nation\u2019s leading research organizations, the term applies to those born between 1981 and 1996. As a new generation label is applied about every 15 to 20 years, millennials are now between about 23 and 38.\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\nIt\u2019s important to use the right term for the right group. A reference to teens or a typical college student is now a reference to Generation Z, not millennials.\r\nA big, diverse group\r\nOkay, fine. If you get the definition correct and use it properly, then you\u2019re good, right? Millennials are still this collective of young working adults, you say.\r\n\r\nNo. The term is often meaningless because of the group\u2019s size and diversity. As of this year, millennials have become the largest population group in the country, over 70 million. That\u2019s roughly equivalent to the number of Americans living in the Pacific and Mountain West time zones combined.\r\n\r\nLarge numbers of people \u2013 be it \u201cmillennials\u201d or \u201cAmericans\u201d \u2013 are put into categorical buckets to simplify and make sense of a large amount of information. But that may lead to troublesome characterizations in light of the diversity within such a big group.\r\n\r\nFor example, the generation is far more racially diverse than previous American generations, as it\u2019s just over half white.\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\nYou may have heard some of the stereotypes about millennials. They\u2019re broke college graduates loaded with school loans living with their parents after school. And they\u2019re all single and not having kids.\r\n\r\nPerhaps my favorite story that summarized these stereotypes was titled \u201cMillionaire to millennials: Lay off the avocado toast if you want a house.\u201d\r\nMyth-busting\r\nEven a surface-level review of the data busts many of these broad myths.\r\n\r\nWhile millennials are more educated than any previous generation, the majority \u2013 about 60% \u2013 don\u2019t have a bachelor\u2019s degree.\r\n\r\nIn the 2020 election, campaigns and news coverage focus on student loan debt among more educated voters, but data actually show that credit cards are the more common type of millennial debt.\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\nPew has shown that millennials with bachelor\u2019s degrees are actually doing quite well financially \u2013 to the tune of over US$100,000 household incomes. This number is just below Gen X and above late boomers with a similar education.\r\n\r\nMeanwhile, households led by millennials with a high school income are making less than $50,000. So income inequality based on education differences continues to be a major problem, just as it was with previous generations.\r\n\r\nWhile it is true that millennials are much more likely than other generations to live with their parents, 90% of those with a college degree do not.\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\nThe data are similar on the dating and family front. While there is again truth in the broader trend \u2013 fewer millennials are married or have kids than the previous generation \u2013 about half of millennials are already married or have children.\r\n\r\nAnd, let\u2019s think practically about the age range. How different is one\u2019s life between 23, or the start of the generation, and 38, the end of it? Be it home ownership, family life or job situation, broad discussions are often talking about people in entirely different situations.\r\n\r\nTrust me \u2013 as an older millennial who has spent most of my university career teaching younger millennials, this becomes clear rather quickly.\r\nThe takeaway\r\nSo, if use of such broad terms can be misleading or inaccurate, why use them at all?\r\n\r\nUse of a broad term in a proper context does allow one to make sense of a large group of people. There can still be meaningful trends that are accurate, such as the fact that nearly 60% of millennials lean toward the Democratic Party.\r\n\r\nBut, even then, that means about 30 million millennials are not in that category. In a world where tens of thousands of people can decide who is president, any broad summaries miss important points.\r\n\r\nI think that the further away industries \u2013 like public relations, advertising or political campaigns \u2013 can get from lumping people into generalized demographic buckets, the better. Otherwise, they\u2019ll continue to miss useful insights into the nation\u2019s largest group of people.\r\n\r\n[ Insight, in your inbox each day. You can get it with The Conversation\u2019s email newsletter. ]\r\n\r\nJoseph Cabosky, Assistant Professor of Public Relations, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill\r\n\r\nThis article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.