In defence of Gen-Y girls

5 October 2009

Written by: Lawrie Zion

‘Selfish, impatient, apathetic 25-yr-old female,’ my dating profile would read. ‘Obsessed w looks & Facebook. Unable 2 stay in job 4 more than 6 months. Seeking man 2 support voracious need 2 have it all, pref y’day. Call me.’

Who could resist?

Gen-Y is known as the ‘Me-generation’, a label I find both offensive and unfair. And according to Professor Alan McKee, a communications specialist from the Queensland University of Technology, it’s normal to feel angry about getting such a bum wrap. 

‘Public representations of groups that we belong to are not the same as our own personal experiences of ourselves,’ writes McKee. No group is happy about how they are represented, he says, ‘because there’s no group that is represented accurately’.   

Gen-Y women whose aspirations plateau at the Paris Hilton level obviously exist. But I’d like to tell you about another Gen-Y girl. She is someone I have met many times over. Let’s call her “Molly”.   

Molly is 24. She was brought up by baby-boomer parents in an inner-city suburb and never had to worry about money. She was an all-rounder at school and aced her final year. Her teachers and parents told her she could do anything she wanted with her life. ‘Just do what you enjoy,’ they said. ‘Follow your dreams’.  None of them thought to sit down with her and work out precisely what those dreams might be.     

So Molly enrolled in an arts degree. She thought that using her education to benefit people who hadn’t been so lucky seemed like the best thing to do. She learnt about the problems facing the world, and along the way she studied a language, traveled, volunteered locally and overseas, worked countless part-time jobs and finished with top marks. Charged with idealism, Molly was ready to contribute.

After months of unsuccessful job applications to community organisations, Molly became disillusioned. She took a part-time administration job and, not knowing what else to do, went back to uni. Her grandfather asked her what the point of learning was if you didn’t do something useful. Her parents looked at her in sympathy, wondering if maybe she wasn’t so bright after all.

This state of emptiness felt by Gen-Y girls has been named the quarter-life crisis. Abby Wilner, co-author of two booksa about this phenomenon, defines the QLC as ‘a state of panic and uncertainty that…accompanies the transition to adulthood’. Though it has always existed, Wilner says it is ‘a more significant and prolonged process today because of job-hopping and delaying marriage.’ And according to the experts, it ain’t getting any better.

Marcus Buckingham is the author of several books about happiness. ‘Over the last few decades, women, in comparison to men, have become less happy with their lives,’ he says. The older we get, the sadder we become. For Gen-Y women like Molly, that sadness may be to do with choice. Because our parents don’t need our financial support, our options are endless. ‘Choice is inherently stressful,’ says Buckingham, ‘and women are being driven to distraction.’

So next time you see a Gen-Y girl crying quietly at the bus stop, don’t assume it’s over a broken nail.

Isabel Robinson is a twenty-something Master of Global Communications student at La Trobe University.


Alan McKee, “The Public Sphere: An Introduction.” Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2005.

Alexandra Robbins and Abby Wilner, “Quarterlife Crisis: The Unique Challenges of Life in Your Twenties.” Tarcher, USA, 2001.

“Blue is the New Black,” by Maureen Dowd in The New York Times.

Who what Y?”  by Miki Perkins in The Age 

 “Breaking the Gen-Y stereotype”, by Mark Basile in upstart.

“What’s Happening to Women’s Happiness,” by Marcus Buckingham