“According to a recent survey, Canadian millennials struggle with debt largely because they’re trying to keep up an Instagram-worthy lifestyle.“
The tweet, by Global News, popped up while I was scrolling through my feed. As a personal finance blogger who also happens to be a Canadian millennial, I was curious. Against my better judgement, I clicked the link.
By the time I reached the end of the article, I was fuming.
That was August 10, 2019.
And almost three months later, I still get annoyed when I think about it.
So…let’s talk about it.
Why Canadian millennials are broke, according to the article
The article suggests social media platforms — specifically, Instagram — are the reason millennial are broke.
You can read the full report here, but this is the gist:
It starts off talking about Lissette Calveiro, a woman who racked up $10,000 USD trying to keep up with bloggers on Instagram.
After sharing details about Ms. Calveiro’s situation, the article pivots to focus on a Manulife survey that came out in July. The article cites a couple statistics from the survey, before going into comments from Rick Lunny, the CEO of Manulife Bank, who says he “sees a direct link between indebted millennials and their social media use.”
“Particularly among millennial-aged Canadians, I would say everybody lives a perfect life on Instagram,” Lunny is quoted saying.
The last half to the article talks about how Calveiro got out of debt before launching into paragraphs of advice from Lunny and a financial advisor about how Canadians can avoid the same situation. There are four tags on the article: debt, Manulife, #FOMO and Getting Out Of Debt.
Why this article left me fuming
The Twitter reaction to this article was swift and merciless.
At the time of writing this post, it’s been shared 90 times and the thread includes more than 450 comments — the majority of which express disagreement with the idea that millennials are broke because of Instagram.
I don’t disagree at all with that assessment. But that’s not why I’m still fuming about this article, three months later.
This article ticked me off because it’s lazy journalism.
First of all, the actual data in the Manulife survey has nothing to do with Instagram.
The survey is about living beyond your means. All the statistics in the graphic (which you can see here) speak to just that. All references to Instagram in the source material represent editorial decisions by someone at Manulife attempting — and failing — to be relatable.
Instead of questioning the blatant editorialization of data, the article validates this misinterpretation with comments from the Manulife CEO and an anecdotal lede featuring one person who had both Instagram and debt.
Slap on a questionable headline and write a sensational tweet to promote it, and here we are.
Am I being a little hard on the story? Maybe. But here’s the thing: I have a journalism degree and worked as a newspaper reporter for six years. Part of the gig involves being able to analyze information, sifting through the layers of crap and presenting it in a way that is clear and tells the reader what they need to know.
That’s where I think this article misses the mark. By relying so heavily on how Manulife has chosen to interpret the data, the article doesn’t just miss the point — it also perpetuates nasty stereotypes about millennials.
The actual reason why millennials are broke
So if it’s not Instagram’s fault, why are millennials broke? I’m not an economist but I have a few theories.
How about the fact that, according to Statistics Canada, the average tuition for undergraduate programs for Canada full-time students was $6,571 in 2017-18. If you’re doing a four year program, that’s $26,284 in tuition alone.
Or perhaps it has something to do with the fact that in Canada, about 489,000 students have federal student loans, together worth more than $2.7 billion?
Maybe it has something to do with the fact that unpaid internships are still a thing? There have been some wins in Canada on this front, particularly in federally regulated industries, but this exploitative practice is still legal — and can be a huge barrier for individuals who can’t afford to work for free.
Then there’s the whole thing where the average housing prices are nearly double what the typical Canadian can afford. According to a CTV story from June 2019, “it takes the average millennial 13 years to save a 20 per cent down payment on an average priced home, while it took their parents just five years around 1976.”
Throw kids in the mix, and you get to deal with the fact that daycare costs in Canada are rising at a rate higher than that of inflation.
Of course, this would be less of a problem if wages were keeping pace — but that’s not the case. In fact, in 2017, Statistics Canada said minimum wage and the average hourly wage have remained, more or less, unchanged since the 1970s.
In other words, everything is more expensive — and pay cheques aren’t reflective of that reality.
This has nothing to do with Instagram.
A more concerning statistic
Along with the Manulife survey, the article also references one done by Credit Karma.
This survey, like the Manulife one, leads with the whole idea that millennials are in debt because they want to keep up with their friends.
Which is unfortunate if you ask me, because there is a statistic in it I feel deserves more attention:
This should be concerning.
Money is part of our day-to-day life — but statistics like this show us it’s still a taboo topic. The fact that we have friends who keep their financial struggles a secret because they’re ashamed or afraid of being judged is a problem.
This is why we need to have more open, honest discussions about money.
Don’t believe the hype: while there are some people who go into debt due to social media, Instagram isn’t the main reason many millennials are broke.
The reality is things have changed — everything costs more and wages have not kept up. There’s still a lot of shame and stigma associated with debt — and articles like this aren’t helping. Instead, they perpetuate myths that ignore reality in favour of creating a reason to not take action and change things.
And I don’t know about you, but as a millennial…I’m tired of it.
What about you?