What Defines the Gen Y Generation Gap?

As we age, our attitudes, behaviors and interests change, but our “generation” stays the same. We are classified from birth until death, by generational names like “Baby Boomers” and  “Generation X” and “Generation Y” that define the popular culture of each generation, and define the collective character of a generation.

Separate from our generation designation, we travel through different “life-stages” at different times in our lives. We have different needs, desires, and obligations in our teens, 20’s, 30’s 40’s and beyond.

The younger we are, the more open to change and risk-taking. People in their 20’s are more progressive/liberal, rebellious, free, upbeat and open to change. As we age, we establish long-term relationships, and learn to handle stress, and obligations.

These are life-stage traits--not what defines a Baby Boomer, or Gen X or Gen Y. There are certain characteristics that exist uniquely among Baby Boomers, Gen X, Gen Y, and that stay with us throughout our lives. Generations, like people, have personalities that cling to us like our DNA.

So what is it that defines a generation? Generational names cling to, and are defined by popular culture. Generational shifts are defined by things like a historical event that changed the collective psyche—like a war.

Demographic changes also create shifts--Some are drawn from a historic event; others from rapid social or demographic change; others from a big turn in the calendar.

The Baby Boomer label, for example, is drawn from the great spike in fertility that began after the end of World War II, and ended almost as abruptly in 1964, around the time the birth control pill went on the market. It’s a classic example of a demography-driven name. For Gen X, it is more of a demographic shift, and a pendulum-shift response to their conservative parent’s behavior. Gen Xers are often depicted as savvy, entrepreneurial loners.

For Generation Y—or “Millennials”– the first generation to come of age in the new millennium. The major cultural shift was the advent of computing technology and the Internet. They are the first “natives” (born with it in existence) with the power to communicate, learn, and be entertained, digitally.

For Generation Y some of those personality characteristics are confidence, self-awareness and self-expression. Generation Y are more ethnically and racially diverse than previous generations. They have less loyalty to the past and feel more in control of their destiny. They display little appetite for claims of moral superiority.

One of the most pointed personality characteristics of Generation Y is the desire for self-expression. According to Pew Research, one-in-five have posted a video of themselves online. Nearly four-in-ten have a tattoo. About half of those with tattoos have two to five and 18% have six or more. Nearly one-in-four have a piercing in some place other than an earlobe.

Generation Y are far more focused on community. They turn to their peers for collective points of view, and group activities. They are less skeptical than previous generations on government. More so than other generations, they believe government should do more to solve problems.

Much of Generation Y’s personality traits are formed by their collective upgringing. Only about six-in-ten were raised by both parents — a smaller share than was the case with their parent’s generation. In response, Generation Y are interested in marriage and kids, but they are in no rush to marry.

A 1969 Gallup survey, taken near the height of the social and
political upheavals of that turbulent decade, found that 74% of the public believed there was a “generation gap” in American society. Surprisingly, when that same question was asked in a Pew Research Center survey last year — in an era marked by hard economic times but little if any overt age-based social tension — the share of the public saying there was a generation gap had risen slightly to 79%.

Yes, there is a generation gap—which is the whole point of the defining of the different generations. While kids behave like kids regardless of generation, Boomers, Xers and Millennials will always be in a class generation among themselves.

Research Reference: Pew Research survey of a national cross-section of 2,020 adults (including an oversample of Millennials), conducted by landline and cellular telephone from Jan. 14 to 27, 2010.

Image courtesy of Shutterstock

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