Trends: Effects of Life Online, Health Care Perspectives, and "Partners"


The Chicago Tribune, Fortune, and The Washington Post have recently reported on trends among Millennials and Gen Zers. Here’s a snapshot of three notable stories.

Movement Away from “Boyfriend,” “Girlfriend.” Instead: “Partner”

Emerging generations are beginning to use the gender neutral term “partner” when referencing their romantic relationships. Why?

Caroline Kitchener of the Chicago Tribune offers perspective in this report:

Originally used to describe a business relationship, “partner” was slowly adopted by the gay community in the mid- to late 1980s, said Michael Bronski, a professor of women and gender studies at Harvard University. As the AIDS epidemic rattled the country, he added, it became critical for gay people to signal the seriousness of their romantic relationships, both to health care professionals to gain access at hospitals, and, eventually, to their employers, once companies began to extend health care benefits to domestic partners. After the term “domestic partnership” gained significant legal and popular recognition, “partner” became the default word for much of the LGBT community until same-sex marriage was legalized in the United States in 2015.

More recently, straight couples have started saying “partner,” with the term gaining most traction among young people in highly educated, liberal enclaves. On certain college campuses, several students said, it would come across as strange, even rude, to use the terms “boyfriend” or “girlfriend” in lieu of the more inclusive, gender-neutral “partner.”

“At Harvard, everyone is very polite and liberal,” Bronski said.

The clearest explanation for the word’s spike in popularity is the lack of any other good options. Unmarried people in serious relationships, in particular, face a gaping linguistic hole. “Boyfriend” and “girlfriend” are too high school. “Significant other” sounds like it belongs on a legal document. “Lover” connotes too much sex for everyday use; “companion,” not enough.

This is something to watch.

Life on the Internet is Shaping Millennials for Public Life

Are Millennials more prepared for public life and political office than previous generations? Has the internet helped emerging generations become more image conscious and more careful in their choices of what to document and share?

Mary Kosoff thinks so. At the Washington Post she writes:

“A decade ago, before people commonly excavated each other’s digital skeletons, millennials were already seemingly savvier than our elders when it came to our online lives. We took precautions like locking down our Facebook accounts — limiting the visibility of our posts to people we actually knew — and generally being self-censorious on social media. I didn’t post pictures of myself at parties, for example, on the off-chance that some prospective employer really might dig them up later. Millennials are mocked for taking selfies or posting pictures of our meals, but those habits speak to our interest in crafting an image of our lives for the people who are already watching — and sometimes waiting to pounce.”

Kosoff concludes: “But we are not likely to see many missteps of this kind from my generation, and the common wisdom that constant digital surveillance will make it harder for us to run for office looks dubious. Instead, growing up with an understanding of the Internet’s immutability may make us more scandal-proof than our predecessors.”

Give it time. I suspect Kosoff will be right in some cases, but wrong in others. We’re not the only ones documenting our life online, and privacy is far from guaranteed.

Millennials and Gen Zers are Down on Traditional Health Care

The management consulting firm Accenture recently completed a major survey of public opinion on the healthcare industry, and they found emerging generations are not happy with the present state of affairs.

Don Reisinger of Fortune writes:

“When Accenture dug into the data, the company found that younger people are generally ‘dissatisfied’ or ‘very dissatisfied’ with the state of traditional health care. Those younger generations are looking for more ‘effectiveness, convenience, efficiency, and transparency,’ according to Accenture. They’re also more willing than older generations to consider healthcare outside of traditional Western medicine, like acupuncture and yoga.

Reisinger concludes, “Accenture believes the healthcare industry is entering a major shift, thanks in no small part to Millennials driving that change.”

Generally speaking, I haven’t met many people who are happy with healthcare providers (and the insurance companies that can offset the costs) until they need them. But negative perspectives among younger generations may prompt some discussions about Christian theology of the body and basic wisdom in stewarding one’s health.