- Baby Boomers (born 1946-1964)
- Gen-Xers (1965-1979)
- Millennials (1980-2000)
Teasing out potential affects associated with cohorts is difficult. Jean Twenge of San Diego State University found Millennials more narcissistic. Kali Trzesniewski, now at UC, Davis, found no overall increase in narcissism. Likewise studies on whether Millennials have a greater sense that “outside forces beyond their control” significantly affect them (higher external locus of control) have mixed results.
So are there any consistent findings that have emerged from research across generations? There are:
- “Since the late 1970s” there have been significant decreases in Empathic Concern, that is having “sympathy for others’ misfortunes.”
- Likewise, Perspective Taking has decreased, that is, “the tendency to see a situation from another person’s point of view” (p. 20).
- Younger generations are less attached, with higher proportions agreeing “I am comfortable without close emotional relationships.”
- Younger generations have increased levels of anxiety and depression and this has been reported also in other countries.
- “We all tend to get happier as we age” but the economic environment into which we are born and grow up affects our well-being baselines, that is people who experience young adulthood during tough economies have a lower baseline that those who experience young adulthood during more prosperous economies.
- People who enter young adulthood during recessions tend to be less narcissistic.
1. I use to be skeptical that there were significant birth cohort or generational differences. I am not as skeptical as I use to be. I hear many stories from the corporate world about generational issues. I experience differences in the classroom. The times they are a ‘changing.
2. Generational research is very difficult to do. I think a measure of caution is appropriate in drawing firm conclusions. For example, in the list above, new research could bring these findings into question.
3. With that said, generational differences is an area with which every leader needs to be familiar. In some situations there may be important differences between how one leads Boomers versus how one leads Millennials.
4. Ultimately though, the leader must guard against stereotyping based on age. While there may be commonalities across generations, each person is unique with different interests and motivations. Be aware of possible generational affects but don’t stereotype an individual because they are part of a particular generation.
Drew, A. (2015). Talkin’ about your generation. Observer, 28 (1), 19-21.
Image by Дарко Максимовић. Used with permission Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license. Obtained from: http://commons.wikimedia.org
Follow me on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/johnballardphd
On Twitter: @johnballardphd
Decoding the Workplace: 50 Keys to Understanding People in Organizations, coming in May,
Available for pre-order at leading on-line bookstores such as Amazon.com