"OK Boomer" - Growing Rift in Values

“OK Boomer” – having attained a meme-like status, it is a short statement that often gets tossed around in casual jokes between millennials and especially on social media, from where it came to be. Much to the ire of older generations, “OK Boomer” has essentially become a catchphrase among youths. Though it is used quite loosely, mostly as a general response towards adults (baby boomers) in a mocking manner, it deserves serious attention for reflecting a growing rift in values between the older and younger generations. 

Originating from Tik Tok, the phrase attracted significant criticism from, not surprisingly, older generations, who deemed it as offensive; one even went as far to decry it as the “N-word of ageism.” From the perspective of the baby boomers, the term can be felt as ageist for it nonchalantly challenges an entire generation. However, it is unfair to treat the phrase as a mere meme or shallow complaint coming from millennials. 

Unlike the baby boomers, millennials have long been undergoing heavy socioeconomic woes, particularly high living costs, tough learning standards, and an increasingly competitive job market. While baby boomers managed to seek employment via the condition of a solid four-year college degree, millennials have to accumulate additional merits such as language skills, awards, affiliations, etc. in order to heighten chances of earning a job. Not forgetting to mention the array of pre-employment tests that further challenge millennials. At the same time, there is the long-standing roadblock that many a millennial must face: education costs. Student debt has become a deep-rooted problem – a student must earn, borrow, or already have enough cash to pay for the direct costs (tuition, fees, books, etc.) as well as living costs (food, housing, healthcare)

To make matters worse, earning a bachelor’s degree does not necessarily guarantee a sustainable income. Despite being more educated than previous generations, millennials have slightly less wealth than Boomers did at the same age. Under economic recessions, they also have been somewhat slower in forming their own households – demonstrating the declining birth rates that are affecting developed countries. Hampered by student debt and little savings left, millennials frequently rely on their parents even after becoming adults. The traditional belief that a college degree guarantees employment no longer stands true in recent times. 

Another defining characteristic is the millennial value of experience over material wealth. Struck by the reality of strenuous education, working conditions, as well as crimes committed by corporations against the environment and human rights, millennials are increasingly questionable of the concept of capitalism itself. Influenced by their generation’s deep economic and environmental anxiety, they consider what is truly worth pursuing. Having witnessed economic disasters and the high barriers that stand before the supposed "ideal" lifestyle their parents have cherished for long, millennials are simply enjoying experiences over things, access over ownership.

In essence, “OK Boomer” is a cumulative cry of millennial frustration and angst. Disillusioned by the teachings made by previous generations regarding wealth, millennials are realizing the unpromising system of capitalism itself. Increasingly tired of the baby boomers’ inability to comprehend their struggles, millennials express pent-up stress in the form of humor or memes – thus the explosive popularity of “OK Boomer.” No matter how much the phrase may incite anger among baby boomers, it is necessary to understand that they have already gone through their adulthood tribulations of college and employment. If they were to undergo current educational and job-hunting challenges, it is highly likely that they would experience a great deal of difficulty. Perhaps another reason why baby boomers feel attacked may be due to the fact that the methods or values they have long embraced – the work ethic of working hard though education all the way to owning property – are being challenged. 

With an increasingly unstable global economy, the conflict between millennials and baby boomers may continue to sour. Unless the older generation understands that conditions have shifted over time, hopefully there would be a more collective approach to pave way for fundamental socioeconomic changes.