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Can’t Even

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Can’t Even

How Millennials Became the Burnout Generation

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt,

15 min read
7 take-aways
Text available

What's inside?

A lack of prospects, and the relentless, irreconcilable pressures of modern life are causing millennial burnout.

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  • Background
  • Concrete Examples
  • Engaging


Millennials have a reputation for being lazy and entitled; seasoned writer Anne Helen Petersen argues the opposite is true. Millennials are stretched to their breaking point – working more than previous generations for less reward, fewer prospects and no job security. The irreconcilable demands of employment, parenting and home life, along with political and environmental concerns, doom millennials to burn out. The good news: “It doesn’t have to be this way.” Expanding on her viral BuzzFeed article from 2019, Petersen calls for systemic change to counter millennials’ perennial exhaustion.


Many millennials are on the verge of burnout. 

Author Anne Helen Petersen’s own experience with burnout made her realize the degree to which she equated her value as a person with her performance as a worker. Parents, school and society conditioned millennials, from a young age, to work towards college and career. Just as playtime gave way to prestigious hobbies during childhood, millennials’ free time is now taken up with “side hustles” and other efforts to get ahead – or to simply stay afloat. The pressure to balance various life aspects, including work, parenting and everyday chores, has rendered burnout a common phenomenon.

Traditionally, labor unions, extended family, churches and other institutions provided people with social and financial support, but as these systems have eroded, many are finding themselves living in a seemingly endless state of precarity. Millennials face unstable economic conditions and pressure to work nearly nonstop. These stressors are exacerbated by global and national crises, including climate change, political instability and economic recessions.

Although millennials...

About the Author

A former senior culture writer for BuzzFeed, Anne Helen Petersen now writes her newsletter, “Culture Study,” as a full-time venture on Substack. Petersen received her PhD at the University of Texas at Austin, where she focused on the history of celebrity gossip. Her previous books, Too Fat, Too Slutty, Too Loud and Scandals of Classic Hollywood, were featured in NPR, Elle, and The Atlantic. She lives in Missoula, Montana.

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