Millennials and the Changing Meaning of Cool

“Cool” has always been a relative term; it changes with time and is commonly defined by the youth. The millennial generation are rewriting what cool means for them, but many question if they’ll be able to hold onto their status in this ever-changing industry.

Millennials are the generation that has changed the meaning of cool. They have brought back old school values and made them mainstream. The “art of manliness social media” is a blog about all things related to being masculine.

Evolution of men life style.

We’re back with another installment of our male status series. This series attempts to help men understand how status influences our behavior and even physiology, so we may minimize the negative impacts, maximize the favorable ones, and overall figure out how to effectively manage its impact on our life.

We looked at the cultural development of status in the West over the 19th and 20th centuries in our previous post. We saw that the meaning of status and the paths to it moved through three stages: hierarchical, oppositional, and pluralistic.

Prior to the 1950s, there was really only one way to rise up the social ladder: amassing riches. Higher and lower strata existed in society, and climbing up meant that someone had to move down. As a result, status was a zero-sum game.

Then, in the 1950s and 1960s, a new path to social rank emerged. “Rebel Cool” was the result of this. Beatniks, hippies, and social activists rebelled against society’s prevailing power structures and conventions, as well as the conventional status hierarchy. It was more important to demonstrate how much you differed from and despised the mainstream status ladder than it was to climb it.

During the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s, the growth of Rebel Cool and the disintegration of societal conventions and mainstream values prepared the ground for the creation and acceptance of more varied lifestyles. Alternative avenues to status were formed as a result of this cultural evolution, which was accompanied by an exponentially rising quantity of lifestyle-oriented consumer items. Punk rockers, preppies, Rastafarians, skaters, outdoorsy folks, Dungeons and Dragons players, emo kids, and so on — instead of climbing the traditional hierarchy or being opposed to it, you could find both collective esteem and individual recognition by belonging to any number of different subcultures and social niches.

This system of pluralistic status has persisted into the twenty-first century. However, the Millennial age has molded it in new ways, emphasizing diverse approaches to both achieving and signaling one’s status.

Millennials and the Changing Meaning of Cool: A Cause Without Rebels

The term “cool” is still used to denote status in today’s society, although its meaning has altered dramatically in the previous two decades.

Being cool in the 1950s and 1960s meant defying popular culture. However, during the following few decades, society grew so varied and divided that there was no longer a clear dominant culture to speak of, much less to oppose. The “alternative” grunge scene of the 1990s was where Rebel Cool breathed its last gasps.

The march of pluralism and tolerance has proceeded uninterrupted in the twenty-first century, and the concept of placing oneself as a “rebel” against the “mainstream” has become outdated and unworkable — a role that can only be played with sarcasm and self-awareness.

In reality, although Millennials are more accepting of diverse lifestyles than prior generations, they have grown more conservative in their own actions, even re-embracing some of the old ideals of the past. To provide an example:


Rebel without a cause son surfing with dad juxtaposition.

Forget about the age divide shown in Rebel Without a Cause; 85 percent of today’s youngsters consider a parent to be their closest friend, rather than a peer. In today’s world, parents and children often have similar likes and preferences in dress and music.

  • 9 out of 10 young people believe that getting excellent grades is vital, and 72 percent of them graduate from high school, which is a new high.
  • In 1980, 60% of high school graduates had tried marijuana and 9% smoked it on a daily basis; now, 45 percent had tried it and 6.6 percent use it on a regular basis.
  • In 1980, one-third of high school seniors had smoked cigarettes in the previous month; now, the figure is less than one-fifth.
  • Only 40% of high school graduates stated they had recently used alcohol in 1980, compared to 72 percent in 1980.
  • In 1981, 43% of high school graduates had used an illicit substance other than marijuana; just 25% had done so in 2011.
  • Since 1988, the number of guys who have had sex by the age of 19 has decreased by over 20%.
  • Over the previous two decades, the adolescent birth rate has been steadily declining.
  • Being a good parent is one of the most important things in life for 52 percent of Millennials, which is 10% more than the amount of Generation Xers who agree.
  • Seventy percent of Millennials want to marry, and seventy percent want to have a family.
  • Contrary to popular belief, the divorce rate has decreased rather than increased over the last 30 years; those who married in the 2000s are divorcing at even lower rates (especially among the college-educated, where only 11% have divorced), and if current trends continue, nearly two-thirds of marriages will never end in divorce.

What is driving Millennials’ transition away from the liberalism and hedonism that characterized their Baby Boomer and Generation X parents and toward a more conservative behavioral outlook?

More Millennials than any previous generation grew up in broken families. While this has made them more hesitant to marry, once they do, they want to build the type of family life they wished they had when they were younger.

At the same time, Millenials are looking for more significance in their lives in general, and many perceive vices and dalliances as not only too shallow for the job, but also as potential roadblocks. Smoking, drinking, and sex were not only delightful in and of themselves for Boomers and Gen Xers, but they also served as markers of a rebellious, free-thinking, status-quo-defying personality. Vices aren’t given nearly as much weight as they formerly were, and are now seen as mainstream-meh — activities that may be entertaining, but aren’t particularly so. As a result of growing up during a period of economic uncertainty, Millennials are more cautious in their judgments and afraid of doing things that may jeopardize their lofty goals.

Millennial Status: Its Origins and Signs

So, if rebellious, edgy, angsty, and alternative are no longer fashionable, how do Millennials define the new cool? When people are asked what cool means to them in different polls, they respond with phrases like:

  • Appealing
  • Attractive
  • Authentic
  • Honest
  • Laid-back
  • Friendly
  • Innovative
  • Fun
  • Competent
  • Contemporary
  • Isn’t it vintage (current retro?)?
  • Unconventional
  • Humorous
  • Trendy
  • Original
  • Unique
  • Hedonistic (as we’ll see, this isn’t the same as old-school drinking/smoking hedonism; instead, it’s about experiences)

The rise of these attributes among millennials may be linked back to their upbringing — a response to their parents’ ideals and having grown up during a period of economic distress. Growing up with the dawn of the internet and the growth of connected technologies influenced Generation Y in particular.


People, goods, vocations, places, and experiences that combine a number of these characteristics have a modern-day air of status-boosting cool. The primary channels and indications of status in the twenty-first century are found where the traits congregate. These are some of them:

Learning & Knowledge

As a result of growing up in the digital era, much of what defines Millennial status is their capacity to find, organize, share, and understand knowledge. After all, we live in an information economy where content reigns supreme.

Being the first in your group to learn about a great new band, piece of gear, restaurant, or lifehack, or to post a hilarious video or insightful article on social media, gives status. Being the first to share a breaking news item has its advantages, particularly if you’re a firsthand witness who can provide eyewitness details that haven’t yet been covered by the mainstream media. These “first” shares will get you a lot of re-posts/tweets, likes, and upvotes on social media, which is one of the most valuable currencies in contemporary society.

Beyond being the first to post anything, demonstrating discernment in what you share — just broadcasting the genuinely humorous or interesting — may elevate you in social circles. And creating fresh material — whether it’s a witty remark on Twitter, an insightful comment on Facebook, or a revealing film on YouTube — can get you even more attention. Everyone these days is a part journalist, writer, or news editor, and the better you perform your job, the more prestige you get in your social network, on the internet forums you frequent, and even on the internet at large.

Knowledge-related status comes not just from the ability to seek and exchange information, but also from the ability to learn it – particularly on your own. Traditional means of conducting business and having a career have been disrupted by the digital era. The economic climate is volatile and ever-changing. As a result, a young person who is adaptive and self-directed, who continues to learn new things and master new talents, and therefore places himself in a position where he can always progress ahead, acquires a significant amount of value. The flexible autodidact is a high-status character in today’s society.


In defiance of conventional conventions, Baby Boomers and Gen Xers seek prominence. This oppositional urge has changed from rebellion to unconventionality in the twenty-first century. Millennials still desire to separate out from the crowd and feel distinct, even if there is no longer a monolithic “Man” to struggle against. Their struggle is against the too dull route of least resistance, not against established power structures or cultural limits on conduct. Because Generation Y was taught to believe that they were exceptional and capable of doing everything they set their minds to, many believe that the worst destiny they can fathom is to be just average – to live a mediocre, completely ordinary existence. Those who seem to have broken the mold — those with intriguing hobbies, who discover hacks and shortcuts to make things quicker and simpler, and who generally display imaginative, outside-the-box thinking – get status points.


Millennials desire to follow the general shape of tried-and-true pathways, but in a new, non-pedestrian manner, rather than deviating from old social mores and milestones. They want to marry and have children in an equitable relationship, travel the globe with their children, and settle down in Colorado — not because of their family or career, but because it seems to be a wonderful place to live. They also don’t want to live in a cookie-cutter house in the suburbs, preferring instead to live in a hip planned neighborhood in the city or an older property with a lot of character.

When it comes to Millennials’ professions, the need to be different is especially strong. Their Baby Boomer parents began as hippies seeking to escape the economic rat race, but evolved into yuppies who settled into mundane corporate jobs. They gave up a lot of free time in exchange for a consistent wage, and they accepted that their interests and identities could only be expressed via consumer purchasing. Millennials don’t want to repeat their predecessors’ mistakes. They are looking for work that are flexible, align with their interests, and involve innovation. 93 percent of Millennials want employment that “fit their lifestyle” and enable them to “be themselves” – that is, jobs that allow them to establish their own hours, work in a “social and enjoyable” environment, and dress as they want. Getting a position like this, particularly in a “unconventional,” information-oriented organization, carries greater prestige than a traditional career in law, finance, or medicine. Working for Facebook in Menlo Park, CA for $40k is better and more status-conferring than working for a legal firm in Omaha for six figures.

Creating your own career is even more appealing than having a job that enables you to be yourself. Unsurprisingly, 3/4 of Millennials want to be self-employed and escape the shackles of corporate life. Being an entrepreneur, particularly one who works with data in a creative manner, has become one of our generation’s most important status symbols. “Design and creativity, whether it be digital, visual, video, or architectural, is the new rock ‘n’ roll,” as one trend-spotter put it in How Cool Brands Stay Hot.

Collaboration and Networking

Boomers may have begun by coming together with their peers to battle social injustices, but by the 1980s, the kumbayas had been drowned out in a society where “greed is good.” It was “every man for himself” if you desired that Mercedes or Ralph Lauren clothing. Gen Xers, however, evinced a more dethatched mentality, feeling misunderstood and lonely, and attempting to carve their own way on their own.

Connection and cooperation, on the other hand, are hip with Millennials.

They had a more collaborative role in their homes as children, where their parents were more like friends than authority figures and sought their children’s advice on everything from vacation destinations to appropriate punishment. At the same time, Generation Y was taught to work in groups, and social media has enabled them to build enormous networks of friends. Technology has also provided them with the means to keep in touch with their inner circle. Millennials chose their own friends above singers, actresses, politicians, sports, and freedom fighters in a poll asking which persons they believed were the most hip.


Who you know is more essential than ever in the contemporary market, therefore having a broad network of acquaintances is a precious commodity; the cooler and more prominent individuals you befriend, the more status they impart.

Friends may not only help you advance in life, but they can also assist you in making choices. With so many media, travel, restaurant, and product alternatives available, Millennials have learned to depend on their peers for advice. As a result, Gen Y members believe that their viewpoints should be acknowledged and accepted equally by their peers, as well as journalists, college administrators, academics, companies, and others.

Millennials want to be involved in every decision made at work, especially those made by higher-ups; 76% believe their supervisor could learn a lot from them (compared to 50 percent of Boomers). Outside of work, a more consumer-oriented approach to how institutions run has become the norm, with “the customer is always right” and “your opinion counts.” Generation Y wants to have a say in the media, services, and goods they utilize, from professor ratings to online reviews to making comments on a brand’s Facebook page. This puts people in the position of collaborators, critics, and even co-creators with these institutions, and having their opinion and criticism properly acknowledged, recognized, and preferably included has become a key part of fueling the contemporary status drive.

Goods for Consumers

Vintage fashion advertisements versus modern style ads.

In the 1990s, advertisements often used edgy imagery and what was then considered provocative sexuality, with the message “We’re the cool people; purchase these items, and you can join us and be cool too.” The pitch of today’s advertisements, on the other hand, is: “These things will facilitate and enhance your already cool lifestyle.”

Big lifestyle brands like Nike, Calvin Klein, Apple, Gap, Tommy Hilfiger, Prada, Pepsi, and others rose to prominence in the 1980s and 1990s. Their marketing strategy was as follows: here’s an ideal picture of the innovative/athletic/luxurious/edgy lifestyle connected with our brand – purchase our things to embody this image. “Buy this, and you’ll be cool,” in other words. People purchased things with large, prominent logos — badges indicating that they shared the brand’s ideals, personality, and socioeconomic implications.

Millennials were raised in a world of commercialization, with commercials infiltrating every part of life, from movies at the theater to sporting events and even school. As a consequence, they’re skeptical of advertisements and perceive themselves to be more knowledgeable about marketing’s tactics and enticements.

It’s not that Generation Y members aren’t still ardent shoppers; according to one poll, teens have an average of 145 brand-related discussions every week. They do, however, interact with those brands in different ways. Consumer products are increasingly being utilized to fit and represent preexisting and desired identities and interests, as opposed to businesses dictating how customers should move, speak, and dress. “For Generation Xers, brands…had to show that they were winners,” the authors of How Cool Brands Stay Hot argue. Brands are instruments for Generation Yers to communicate who they are. For many Apple fans, the brand represents a feeling of creativity and design-led innovation that corresponds to their desired personality.”


Companies are now attempting to reflect, promote, and assist the passions that have arisen from the many lifestyle groups that already exist, so that customers see the items as extensions and manifestations of themselves. Some eco-conscious Millennials, for example, choose to purchase sustainable items even if they are more expensive because they represent their inner beliefs and want to help the planet. Take, for example, the CrossFit subculture. It sprang out of an underground fitness movement that was quite spontaneous. When it became popular, Reebok stepped in to see how it could help and so become a part of the movement that had already created. They created its own CrossFit clothes and shoes, as well as sponsoring the CrossFit Games and the Spartan Race, all of which fit well with CF’s rigorous, functional fitness approach.

Even when they put in the effort to stay contemporary, it’s not brands like Reebok that thrill Millennials and bestow the greatest prestige. When it comes to huge brands, Gen Y is a lot more fickle, switching between rivals and consuming items from a variety of firms. Rather, they’re interested in smaller firms and artists that develop items that are popular within their target demographics but aren’t well-known. Keep in mind that knowledge equals prestige. For the same reason, branding has become much more subtle and is communicated on items in subtle ways; only those in the know will notice it, which is exactly the objective. T-shirts, for example, include the names of gyms, bands, and websites, and only individuals who are already acquainted with such businesses will appreciate the joke. The information cost, rather than the real price, determines the product’s position.


Traveler taking picture with cell phone in Machu Picchu, Peru.

If the Baby Boomers’ slogan was “He who dies with the most toys wins,” Generation Y’s motto might be “He who dies with the most experiences wins.”

While Millennials continue to express themselves through consumer goods, experiences have arguably replaced material goods as the primary currency of modern status; 76 percent of Millennials, compared to 59 percent of Baby Boomers, say they would rather spend their money on experiences than material goods. Even though the Baby Boomers have more spare income, their children are spending more money on leisure activities. Although YOLO has lost its luster as a catchphrase, the concept behind it still underpins much of Millennial culture and desire.

Millennials’ hedonistic chic is focused on making everything from online surfing and college, to dating and weddings, to leisure and travel, more fun, exciting, and unorthodox. The importance of surprises and thrills is highly regarded. You can’t just contact someone and ask them to prom; you have to make the invitation into a full-fledged treasure hunt. For their parents, taking a cruise could have been a relaxing holiday, but for Millennials, it seems to be an exercise in wind-suit-wearing pedestrianism. Even backpacking Europe is overdone; instead, go to South America and search for more unusual destinations. A traditional wedding is no longer acceptable; the ceremony must contain particular touches that reflect the personalities of both the bride and groom, as well as unexpected flourishes throughout the reception that will amaze and please the guests. Forget boring old 5k road events; today it’s all about running through muck, over walls, and through barbed wire.


Even when purchasing a consumer commodity, millennials have developed a craving for an experience. It’s not enough to grab a product off the shelf or dig it out of a package of styrofoam packing peanuts. Companies have begun to sell their goods by creating stories about their history, craftsmanship, devotion to innovation, and commitment to social concerns. You are purchasing not merely a commodity, but also an emotional tale that connects to and strengthens your own personal experience. This focus on narrative extends to the packaging, with customers filming themselves unwrapping their purchases to share the “experience” with those at home.

The purpose of all of this experience gathering differs. It’s sometimes just the desire to have a good time and make memorable memories that drives us. Participants are sometimes seeking for new challenges and opportunities for personal improvement. Sometimes an altruistic purpose is thrown on, such as in the case of “voluntourism,” which involves visiting a nation while also doing some charitable work. The drive to generate content for one’s social media feed runs through all of these incentives; remember, content is king. Young people often photograph themselves while enjoying an event, particularly one that is unusual, in order to share it online and broadcast these powerful status signals to their peers. They could even attend an event solely for the purpose of capturing some image-enhancing material.


Given Millennials’ preference for experiences over tangible possessions, their desire for a flexible, unconventional employment, and their growing apathy toward corporate branding, one could assume they don’t place a high value on wealth acquisition. However, this is not the case.

In 1967, when college students were asked whether having a good financial situation was crucial, just 45 percent said yes. In 2004, when college freshman were given the same question, 74% replied yes. One may imagine that as Baby Boomers have become older and more eager of money, the wealth gap has narrowed. That is not the case. According to a poll performed by Rutgers University’s John J. Heldrich Center for Workforce Development, Millennials place a higher priority on financial stability than Boomers, with nearly twice as many citing “becoming affluent” as a very important or critical life goal.

While this may seem to be a contradiction or paradox at first, it becomes clearer as you delve further. Millennials aren’t interested in the traditional definition of wealth. Though some certainly do, it does not seem that many people are anxious to purchase McMansions, join country clubs, and flaunt their collection of fancy automobiles. However, many aim to be a new sort of wealthy, where money allows them to acquire more of the items listed above.

Flexibility, options, and customisation are all currents that run through all Millennial status markers, and they all go back to life in the information era. It’s best if you can keep as many alternatives open as possible. As a result, money seems to open up more and more doors for Millennials, ostensibly enhancing the amount and quality of experiences as well as exciting prospects for personal development. More money might theoretically provide you more options and influence over other elements of your life, such as how you set up your work/life balance. Of fact, most affluent CEOs and professionals are wealthy because they work ridiculous hours, but the ideal situation is to earn money in a more creative and flexible area that allows you plenty of free time.


At the end of the day, we might say that the Millennial status ideal is symbolized, whether consciously or not, in the figure of Mark Zuckerberg — a seemingly nice, clean-living, hoodie-wearing, autodidact who took a creative, unconventional, relatively overnight path to entrepreneurial success, created a platform that allows for greater networking and connection, made boatloads of money, and now can use that wealth to carve out time to learn Mandarin, read a lot of books, and kill

So you’re unconcerned with your social standing?

Over thousands of years, the nature, pathways, and signs of status have moved and developed, and they continue to do so. Status now has a different meaning than it had even 20 years ago.

People nowadays often claim that they are unconcerned with their social position. However, when these people think of status, they usually think of it in terms of looking a particular way, having a historically prominent profession, possessing a large home, and driving a flashy automobile. While they may not choose that type of lifestyle, it is not the current social norm.

Rather than manifesting itself as a desire for a BMW, the status drive manifests itself in a variety of ways. When you upload a Facebook status or an Instagram photo that doesn’t get many likes, you can sense it. In your rage when a blog doesn’t post your remark, or the fear and perplexity you feel when your SMS goes unanswered. It’s the restlessness and FOMO you have when going through your social media page, wondering whether other people are out doing more exciting things than you. It’s the sinking sensation you get when you realize you’ve settled into a pretty average job and are living in an extremely ordinary suburban home.

If these sentiments are a fresh take on the old status drive, it raises the question: Is there a better method to find and satisfy that urge? There are certainly reasons to be optimistic, and to believe that these new status pursuits are healthier than the old ones. Psychologists claim that experiences, rather than things, make people happy, that social relationships are an important aspect of happiness, and that autonomy and creativity lead to more meaningful occupations.

In other respects, though, the pursuit of “your greatest life now!” is just “keeping up with the Joneses 2.0. The nature of contemporary, pluralistic status has its own set of drawbacks and difficulties, which we’ll look at next.

Complete the Series

Introduction to Men and Status How Testosterone Fuels the Desire for Status in Your Brain The Evolution of Status on a Biological Level The Evolution of Status on a Cultural Level Rebel Cool’s Ascension and Fall Millennials and the Changing Meaning of Cool – A Cause Without Rebels Our Modern Status System’s Pitfalls Why Should You Be Concerned About Your Status? A Handbook for Managing Status in the Twenty-First Century


Introduction to Men and Status How Testosterone Fuels the Desire for Status in Your Brain The Evolution of Status on a Biological Level The Evolution of Status on a Cultural Level Rebel Cool’s Ascension and Fall Millennials and the Changing Meaning of Cool – A Cause Without Rebels Our Modern Status System’s Pitfalls Why Should You Be Concerned About Your Status? A Handbook for Managing Status in the Twenty-First Century

Further Reading & Resources:

Cool: How Our Economy and World Are Shaped by the Brain’s Hidden Quest for Cool

Branding to Generation Y: How Cool Brands Stay Hot

In the Age of Social Media, Celebrity, Publicity, and Branding are all on the rise.

“It’s All Right With The Kids”



Millennials are a generation of people who grew up in the age of technology and social media. They were born into a world that is constantly changing, and they have adapted to it. This generation has had an impact on society as well as culture. Reference: millennial characteristics.

Frequently Asked Questions

What do Millennials say instead of cool?

A: Cool is a popular word amongst Millennials. If you say something cool, they will respond with thats so cool or I love that.

What does Gen Z say for cool?


What are 3 characteristics of Millennials?

A: The first characteristic of Millennials is that they are highly educated, with an average of 14 years in school before graduation. Next, the second characteristic (or third depending on who you ask) is their entitlement for better jobs and opportunities. Finally, Millennials like to be at-home parents because its easy to find work online while raising your children

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