Millennials, those millions of digital-minded young adults just now entering the professional world, have been the butt of jokes for years.
They’ve been called lazy and narcissistic (unfairly or not) and have been accused of damaging or outright “killing” dozens of industries - including napkins (they prefer paper towels, reported the Washington Post), cereal (they say it’s too hard to clean up, reported the New York Times) and real estate (it’s just too expensive, reported CNBC).
But those are small peas compared to the “snowflake” label, which has rapidly become the go-to missile to lob at young people who are seen as too sensitive or weak for the real world. The Guardian even declared it “the defining insult of 2016.”
Now, millennials are hitting back, according to a new survey from the insurance company Aviva. In a survey of about 2,000 U.K. adults aged 16 and above, as well as a separate survey of 4,200 more adults of the same age, the researchers found that nearly three quarters of millennials aged 16 to 24 said the label was applied to people their age unfairly. Even more said the label could have a negative effect on people’s mental health, according to a press release from Aviva.
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“Our findings suggest that young adults are more likely to be experiencing mental health problems, so using a phrase which criticises this age group could add to this issue. Any term used disparagingly to a segment of the population is inherently negative,” said Dr. Dough Wright, media director of Aviva UK Health, in a press release.
It wasn’t just young people who disliked the term, either. A majority of adults (about six in 10) also thought the label was unfair, with only slightly fewer agreeing that it may damage mental health, according to the release.
The term “snowflake” as a pejorative is thought to have originated from the 1996 Chuck Palahniuk book “Fight Club,” in which a character says “You are not special. You are not a beautiful and unique snowflake,” reported the Telegraph.
Since then, the term has been used to describe millennials who are seen as overly sensitive, fragile, politically correct or unprepared for the rigors of the real world. It is especially popular among some younger conservative media figures such as Tomi Lahren and Milo Yiannopoulos, though some people, such as Atlantic senior editor Adam Serwer, have argued that the term has shifted to mean anyone who is easily offended by speech.
There is some evidence that millennials are less tolerant of unrestrained free speech than their predecessors. Widespread news coverage of student protesters shutting down speaking events and violently attacking peaceful demonstrators spread across the nation this fall, and a survey from the Brookings Institution found that about one in five college students said it was acceptable to use violence to shut down a speaker they thought was making offensive or hurtful comments.