Taiwan’s twenty somethings have long been known for being self-centered, reluctant to engage in hard work and short on employment loyalty. This generation has been nicknamed the “strawberry generation” for their characteristics of being easily “bruised” and for their lack of resilience.
The term was originally coined in 1993 by Christina Ongg, the chairperson of Career Consulting Co. to describe the great care parents took with children born in the 1960s and 1970s. Later the phrase took on a more negative connotation.
The ‘cared-free’ generation
In 2011, Wealth magazine and 104 Job Bank, the largest job website on the island, tried to redefine Taiwan’s youth (in their 20s) as the “cared-free” generation. In a survey conducted by 104 Job Bank, 47.5 percent of the respondents chose happiness over other objectives, including family and health, as the ultimate goal in life.
Serena Chen, a manager with 104 Job Bank said, “We found the ‘cared-free’ generation made decisions mostly based on their feelings, including their job choices. ‘Cared’ means they have been extensively cared for, but ‘free’ means they love having lots of personal freedom.”
Regis Chen, 104 Job Bank’s marketing director, said young people are very self-focused, which can be interpreted as either being selfish, or more positively, as being more willing to express themselves. The study found that the younger generation’s selfishness can be reflected in their willingness to live with their parents before marriage in order to save on expenses, while the older generation cites the reason for them to stay with their parents as being to take care of family members.
More competitive and less optimistic
Ongg told Taiwan Review that for today’s youths, aged 18-30, “mass-produced cherry tomatoes” is a better phrase than “strawberry,” as “they appear to have fewer distinguishing personal characters” due to the changes in the education system over the past decade, where so many universities were created to give a general education rather than specific workplace skills.
According to the Ministry of Education, out of Taiwan’s total population of 23.1 million, nearly 2.9 million people over the age of 15 had earned a bachelor’s degree by 2010. This figure is almost three times the 1.1 million from just 10 years earlier. Regis Chen noted the prevalence of people with tertiary degrees, which makes the job market much more competitive.
Other polls have shown that younger members of the strawberry generation lack confidence in their future. According to an online survey conducted in 2011 by Pollster Technology Marketing Ltd., of nearly 1,100 respondents aged 18 to 30, over 50 percent responded “unlikely” or “very unlikely” when asked about their chances of success in the next 20 years. Part of that despondency is career-related, as Ongg estimated that about 80 percent of those in that age bracket agonize over finding a profession that suits them.
Careers are less imperative
Taiwan’s younger generation is far from monolithic, however, and some members are much less concerned about careers. Wu Chih-in, a research fellow in the Institute of Sociology at Academia Sinica, Taiwan’s top research institute, said that the country’s economic development means that today’s young people are able to draw on greater financial resources, making a career less imperative. ”They don’t have to feed a family. If they lose their jobs, they can still survive by going home to live with their parents.”
Their parents provide them with everything they need as soon as they ask, or even before they ask for it. Over time, such young people start to see no reason to make an effort when they can get everything without trying. Likewise, they see no logic in moving out and paying rent, or in taking on work pressures for a job earning a salary of NT$20,000 (US$667) a month, reported Taiwan Review.
Despite the difficulties faced by today’s youth, Regis Chen believes they have the potential to be just as successful as their forebears. “They are better-rounded than any of the older generations and far more creative.”
No one-size-fits-all stereotypes
The key to motivating youngsters to commit to their works is to create an environment with which they can identify. When they do, they will be willing to take on a heavy workload. Huang Jian-teng, a full time employee and management trainee at a Family Mart convenience store in Taipei, is such an example.
After a 9-hour graveyard shift, he stays to restacks plastic storage bins he sees carelessly thrown on the floor on his way out. Though officially off duty, he said, “I want to see the business thrive from our efforts and I’m also learning how to run a store well.” He added, money is not the first priority for his generation and that he would keep working for an organization as long as he sees a positive outlook for the job.
When talking about members of the strawberry generation, two very different pictures emerge. The first is that they are self-centered, weak and reluctant to engage in hard work. The second is that they are creative, passionate and willing to work hard for the things they believe in. So which description, if either, is accurate? As always, it depends on whom one asks, reported Taiwan Review.
Psychologist Huang Hsin-yi believes that attempting to define individuals according to perceived characteristics of their age group is an overly simplistic approach. He said “I personally won’t use a specific name to label a generation because I think all generations produce both hard-working and lazy people.”