I swapped out 'millennials' in headlines for something better. It made a huge difference.

Ah, millennials...

At once destroyers of worlds and lazy slackers who won't move out of our parents' houses, we're all-purpose punching bags for society at large.

We're also ferocious killers. Did you know that we're responsible for the death of consumerism, the American Dream, Applebee's, marriage, boobs, beer, home ownership, the oil industry, and the future of humanity itself? Not bad, right? With so many contradictions, we're what Winston Churchill might have described as a "riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma."


With no clear start and no clear end, the term "millennial" has mostly become a stand-in for "youths" in angry "kids these days"-style news stories.

There's just one major problem: We're not kids.

Pew Research defines a millennial as anyone born between the years 1981 and 1996. In 2018, that's most everyone age 21 to 37.

Other sources might have slightly different start and end dates for the qualifying range, but the point is, we're not pre-teens. And yet, the way the label of millennial is used, it certainly gives that impression.

"Have millennials killed the political primary system?" JK JK JK this is Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez celebrating her primary victory in New York's 14th congressional district. Photo by Scott Heins/Getty Images.

When AL.com asked readers if we should elect more millennials to Congress, responses demonstrated just how much people misunderstand what the term means.

While those in favor of more millennials in Congress mentioned the benefits of having more diverse representation, those opposed clung to tired and factually inaccurate stereotypes.

"No! F--- no! Not until they get some life experiences! If this past presidential election taught you anything, it should've taught you millennials don't have life experiences to know how to vote. Living off of your parents doesn't give you life experiences," wrote one Twitter user.

(According to Pew Research, only 13% of people aged 30-34 live with a parent.)

"Until you are working on your own, off your parents health insurance, and paying real taxes I don't think you should be able to to be elected to Congress," wrote another.

(Parental health care expires at age 26, and anyone whose income meets a certain minimum must pay taxes regardless of age.)

"Not until they learn personal responsibility at least," wrote a third.

In all three of these examples, it's clear respondents don't have an accurate demographic understanding of what a millennial is.

Author Summer Brennan came up with a really interesting idea aimed at getting people to accurately understand the term "millennial."

Every time you see a headline that mentions "millennials," she suggests, consider whether it'd sound any more ridiculous if you replaced it with "adults under 40." In the examples above, for instance, the implication that adults under 40 don't have their own health care, pay taxes, or have any life experience sounds a little absurd.

Your reaction to the experiment might help determine whether or not you're viewing "millennial" as a group of young- to middle-aged adults with diverse views and experiences or as a buzzword loaded with years of negative press. (And yes, yes, I know, Pew's classification puts the cap on millennials at 37, not 40, but as I said, this can vary.)

Let's take a look at what a few other "millennial" headlines would look like if we used Brennan's trick. Do they seem a little silly?

The Economist recently asked why millennials weren't buying diamonds. Think about it rationally, and you'll realize it could have something to do with the fact that we entered the workforce at roughly the same time that the entire economy was in total free fall and haven't really recovered.

When you swap the headline to read "adults under 40," this becomes much more clear:

GIF via The Economist/Twitter.

Inc. put together an explainer for people trying to understand why millennials are so "entitled." Swap in "adults under 40," and suddenly that headline just looks poorly thought out.

GIF via Inc./Twitter.

The Guardian told its readers that La Croix sparkling water was virtually a religion to millennials. Reframing that headline reveals it to be an odd, unfounded claim.

GIF via The Guardian/Twitter.

This thought exercise can be applied to all sorts of issues, not just debates about whether millennials are the worst.

The way we frame conversation plays a big role in how we view the world. If specific words and phrases didn't have the power to change minds, marketing firms would have no reason to exist.

For instance: In 2009, political strategist Frank Luntz wrote a memo encouraging Republican members of Congress to change their vocabulary in order to derail Democrats' efforts to pass health care legislation. Luntz found that the public generally favored health care reform, so in order for Republicans to successfully oppose it, he urged them to instead refer to health care reform as the "Washington takeover" of America's health system.

While the Democrats' law was eventually passed, Luntz's rhetoric generated a lot of confusion around the health care debate that year. That confusion made it a political liability for Democrats and ultimately led to a thrashing during the 2010 midterm elections.

Frank Luntz in 2009. Photo by Neilson Barnard/Getty Images for Tribeca Film Festival.

The same concept applies to the immigration debate. When you replace innocuous terms like "undocumented immigrant," "asylum-seeker," or "refugee" with far more loaded words like "illegal immigrants" or the even more dehumanizing "illegals," the debate shifts again. As pundits switch out adjectives for buzzwords, it becomes harder to remember that these discussions are about actual human beings.

The "millennials" vs. "adults under 40" trick is a doorway to untangling a lot of the learned rhetoric we've been taught to use on a number of issues.

Next time you read a story that evokes a powerful emotion, take a deep breath and mentally swap out buzzwords to see if you still feel the same.

True

When Sue Hoppin was in college, she met the man she was going to marry. "I was attending the University of Denver, and he was at the Air Force Academy," she says. "My dad had also attended the University of Denver and warned me not to date those flyboys from the Springs."

"He didn't say anything about marrying one of them," she says. And so began her life as a military spouse.

The life brings some real advantages, like opportunities to live abroad — her family got to live all around the US, Japan, and Germany — but it also comes with some downsides, like having to put your spouse's career over your own goals.

"Though we choose to marry someone in the military, we had career goals before we got married, and those didn't just disappear."

Career aspirations become more difficult to achieve, and progress comes with lots of starts and stops. After experiencing these unique challenges firsthand, Sue founded an organization to help other military spouses in similar situations.

Sue had gotten a degree in international relations because she wanted to pursue a career in diplomacy, but for fourteen years she wasn't able to make any headway — not until they moved back to the DC area. "Eighteen months later, many rejections later, it became apparent that this was going to be more challenging than I could ever imagine," she says.

Eighteen months is halfway through a typical assignment, and by then, most spouses are looking for their next assignment. "If I couldn't find a job in my own 'hometown' with multiple degrees and a great network, this didn't bode well for other military spouses," she says.

She's not wrong. Military spouses spend most of their lives moving with their partners, which means they're often far from family and other support networks. When they do find a job, they often make less than their civilian counterparts — and they're more likely to experience underemployment or unemployment. In fact, on some deployments, spouses are not even allowed to work.

Before the pandemic, military spouse unemployment was 22%. Since the pandemic, it's expected to rise to 35%.

Sue eventually found a job working at a military-focused nonprofit, and it helped her get the experience she needed to create her own dedicated military spouse program. She wrote a book and started saving up enough money to start the National Military Spouse Network (NMSN), which she founded in 2010 as the first organization of its kind.

"I founded the NMSN to help professional military spouses develop flexible careers they could perform from any location."

"Over the years, the program has expanded to include a free digital magazine, professional development events, drafting annual White Papers and organizing national and local advocacy to address the issues of most concern to the professional military spouse community," she says.

Not only was NMSN's mission important to Sue on a personal level she also saw it as part of something bigger than herself.

"Gone are the days when families can thrive on one salary. Like everyone else, most military families rely on two salaries to make ends meet. If a military spouse wants or needs to work, they should be able to," she says.

"When less than one percent of our population serves in the military," she continues, "we need to be able to not only recruit the best and the brightest but also retain them."

"We lose out as a nation when service members leave the force because their spouse is unable to find employment. We see it as a national security issue."

"The NMSN team has worked tirelessly to jumpstart the discussion and keep the challenges affecting military spouses top of mind. We have elevated the conversation to Congress and the White House," she continues. "I'm so proud of the fact that corporations, the government, and the general public are increasingly interested in the issues affecting military spouses and recognizing the employment roadblocks they unfairly have faced."

"We have collectively made other people care, and in doing so, we elevated the issues of military spouse unemployment to a national and global level," she adds. "In the process, we've also empowered military spouses to advocate for themselves and our community so that military spouse employment issues can continue to remain at the forefront."

Not only has NMSN become a sought-after leader in the military spouse employment space, but Sue has also seen the career she dreamed of materializing for herself. She was recently invited to participate in the public re-launch of Joining Forces, a White House initiative supporting military and veteran families, with First Lady Dr. Jill Biden.

She has also had two of her recommendations for practical solutions introduced into legislation just this year. She was the first in the Air Force community to show leadership the power of social media to reach both their airmen and their military families.

That is why Sue is one of Tory Burch's "Empowered Women" this year. The $5,000 donation will be going to The Madeira School, a school that Sue herself attended when she was in high school because, she says, "the lessons I learned there as a student pretty much set the tone for my personal and professional life. It's so meaningful to know that the donation will go towards making a Madeira education more accessible to those who may not otherwise be able to afford it and providing them with a life-changing opportunity."

Most military children will move one to three times during high school so having a continuous four-year experience at one high school can be an important gift. After traveling for much of her formative years, Sue attended Madeira and found herself "in an environment that fostered confidence and empowerment. As young women, we were expected to have a voice and advocate not just for ourselves, but for those around us."

To learn more about Tory Burch and Upworthy's Empowered Women program visit https://www.toryburch.com/empoweredwomen/. Nominate an inspiring woman in your community today!

Vanna White appeared on "The Price Is Right" in 1980.

Vanna White has been a household name in the United States for decades, which is kind of hilarious when you consider how she gained her fame and fortune. Since 1982, the former model and actress has made millions walking back and forth turning letters (and later simply touching them—yay technology) on the game show "Wheel of Fortune."

That's it. Walking back and forth in a pretty evening gown, flipping letters and clapping for contestants. More on that job in a minute…

As a member of Gen X, television game shows like "Wheel of Fortune" and "The Price is Right" send me straight back to my childhood. Watching this clip from 1980 of Vanna White competing on "The Price is Right" two years before she started turning letters on "Wheel of Fortune" is like stepping into a time machine. Bob Barker's voice, the theme music, the sound effects—I swear I'm home from school sick, lying on the ugly flowered couch with my mom checking my forehead and bringing me Tang.

This video has it all: the early '80s hairstyles, a fresh-faced Vanna White and Bob Barker's casual sexism that would never in a million years fly today.

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