Why Generational Differences Will Matter Less

ScholarNet Blog Articles | September 4, 2018

If you read Part I of our Generational Differences series, you’ve seen some preliminary findings on the post-Millennial generation whose oldest members are 21. It’s important to understand that researchers also see some trends that may make identifying generational differences more complicated and perhaps less crucial.

Why It’s Helpful to Study Generations, and…

Generational cohorts give researchers a tool for analyzing how different experiences interact with the lifecycle and aging process to shape views and behaviors. After studying Millennials (those born between the years of 1981 and 1996) for more than a decade, Pew Research Center now defines the new generation of post-Millennials as those born from 1997 onward. There are lots of names (Gen Z, iGen, etc.) for the newest generation—but that will iron itself out in time. For now, it’s important to note that in the next five years, this group will become the fastest-growing generation in the workplace and marketplace.

Why Focusing on Differences May Not Be Useful

While caution should always be used when making generalizations about groups of people, this appears to more important now than ever. Even though people may be exposed to the same set of world events, social issues, and technologies based on the year of their birth, socioeconomic status, education, geographic location, and numerous other personal factors significantly impact how events and issues shape people and their perceptions.

With a smaller middle class than in previous generations—and larger groups of people in the very poor and very rich classes—people born today have a wider range and variety of experiences than generations of the past. Making generalizations about how the latest cohorts experience the world may be more difficult.

Technology May Speed the Creation of New Generations

If you read Part I of this two-part series, we talked about how technology shapes experiences. Each generation is born to a world with technology that quickly becomes outdated, only to be replaced by the next iteration—or completely new technology—that changes the way future generations experience the world. With the acceleration of technology and innovation, generation-defining experiences and technologies are likely to come along more often than in the past, increasing the frequency with which new generational cohorts are born. If you haven’t yet viewed his Ted Talk, generational researcher Jason Dorsey shares interesting perspective on the role of technology in generational profiling.

More Generations Will Work Together

Take shorter generational cohort cycles and add the fact that many of today’s older GenX workers are likely working longer than their more fortunate Baby Boomer parents did—and it’s clear that more generations will be sharing the workplace. Instead of having just three or four generations working at a time, employees in the near future may share their workplace with as many as six or seven generations. If a sort of dilution of generations occurs, it may make it easier to predict a person’s behavior by situation rather than birth year.

Keeping track of characteristics associated with each generational cohort may simply become more difficult. This may force people to look for similarities in our behavior—and find ways to appreciate the unique and important competencies, traits, and skills people of other ages, generations, and experiences contribute to the world and workplace.

Generations Are Splitting, or Self-Selecting

With Millennials, we saw the first generation that reached a certain age and started self-selecting views and behaviors. As this group reached the age of 30, researchers see a split in the trajectory taken by Millennials. One group continues to do all the usual expected behaviors—marrying, having kids, etc.—but at a later age. The other group has struggled to gain traction in the real world and may return home to (or never leave) their parents.

Dorsey says research shows Millennials who are independent, working, and raising families demonstrate the least amount of tolerance of all groups for their underachieving peers. This splitting of generations—and inability to no longer relate to those born in your own generation—is a new phenomenon that may likely continue. It adds even more value to the argument that generational profiling will lose its importance.

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