The generation game, yet again

by John Q on September 5, 2017

At Inside Story, I’ve had yet another go at the silliness of generational analysis, reworking some material I’ve posted previously, but improving the analysis in some ways, I think. In particular, I think the intro helps to explain the persistent appeal of generational cliches in the face of repeated refutation.

Every generation thinks it invented sex, and every generation is wrong.” As that quotation from the American writer Robert Heinlein suggests, we all experience as unique and revelatory the transformations we undergo through the course of our lives, from childhood to puberty, adulthood, parenthood and old age. As a matter of logic and observation, though, these processes are experienced at all times and in all places, and differ more in detail than essentials.

This is the paradox at the heart of the otherwise inexplicable durability of claims that people’s characteristics can be explained by their membership of a “generation” (baby boomers, generation X, and so on).



Gabriel 09.05.17 at 11:22 am

1. Culture(s) exist.

2. Culture(s) change over time.

3. If we were to take large representative samples of a group of people, we would likely find a correlation between temporary overlap and cultural traits, just as geographic distance would tend to correlate.

In pop culture, as with anything, discussion of generational change is fraught: the boundaries are arbitrary, the analysis almost always flawed and biased. But given the above, it seems silly to me to go around trumpeting that any attempt to talk about cultural change in a society over time is somehow inherently wrong.


Kevin Donoghue 09.05.17 at 11:28 am

Mostly I agree, but don’t you think certain groups are marked for life by the experiences of their youth? I’m thinking of economists in particular. Keynesian thinking was dominant from about 1945 to 1970 thanks to the fact that people like Samuelson and Tobin grew up during the depression. The “freshwater” crowd never seem to have recovered from the inflation of the 1970s. I’m sure this happens in other disciplines too, e.g. IR Theory (think Munich, Vietnam).


armando 09.05.17 at 1:38 pm

The recent UK election was heavily analysed in terms of something like a generational divide. (Though not precisely, since it was more like a watershed at 45 years old.)

It seems like a moderately helpful frame to me.


armando 09.05.17 at 1:41 pm

Additionally, I’m not sure about this:

“Whether you are in the top or bottom half of the income distribution matters much more to your chances of home ownership than whether you were born in the 1950s or the 1980s.”

I mean, sure, it is true. But since being in the higher end of the income distribution correlates with age, you are seeking to equalise the very things that cause the difference. More than that, the housing trends in the UK point to a future where home ownership is declining at even quite high levels of income. I don’t think you can ignore the trend and the effect it has on particular generations.


Monte Davis 09.05.17 at 3:08 pm

What is this “class” of which you speak? Is that the Old Yurrupean/Marx Brothers thing, or an Oz joke like drop bears? I don’t think we have any of there here in our shining city on the hill, except for a small but crucial tranche of Trump voters in the Midwest whom exhaustive research some months ago proved to be Working Class (and, only incidentally, White).

“… a harmless way of keeping marketers and feature writers employed, churning out the same analyses of different generations from one decade to the next…” It is not, as you say, harmless, but the rest still stands. I’ve spent most of my life among marketers and journalists, and those old wineskins are remarkably serviceable when you’re selling either a commercial pitch or a story angle to a client or editor eager to reach or “explain” that up-and-coming demographic.


harry b 09.05.17 at 4:57 pm

Its very good John. I’d quibble with your final paragraph though. When the last generation Trumper ceases to be a toddler, 99.999% of them will no longer resemble him. So that gives you only till 2027 at best… (and, lets hope, only til 2021!)


Paul Davis 09.05.17 at 5:48 pm

Liked the article, especially the closing characterization of your so-called “Trump” generation. But I am fairly sure that this is wrong:

This is the paradox at the heart of the otherwise inexplicable durability of claims that people’s characteristics can be explained by their membership of a “generation”

Generational analysis is not rooted in the experience of prople growing their first 17-22 years. It is rooted in the conviction of older people that the world has changed sufficiently in the last N * 20 years that people growing up in it today are necessarily different.

While The Who might have been eager to don the mantle of “My Generation”, their doing so was in some ways ironic, and in all ways picking up a label already attached by older folk. It is older folk who are convinced that growing up today cannot possibly be like growing up in 1965 – just look at those phones! – and therefore today’s young people must necessarily be different than they were. This understanding is then reinforced by re-assigning all the same old characteristics to these younger people that have been used for at least 3000 years, to demonstrate how different “the next generation is”.

I don’t think that any of this has to do with the actual experience of growing and discovering as a younger person.


Lupita 09.05.17 at 5:50 pm

we all experience as unique and revelatory the transformations we undergo through the course of our lives, from childhood to puberty, adulthood, parenthood and old age.

Those are transformations that we undergo as individuals. But what about social upheavals and transformations, such as conquest, financial collapse, independence, the internet? And natural ones such as devastating earthquakes? All these can mark an entire generation in ways that subsequent generations might not fully comprehend.


Placeholder 09.05.17 at 6:47 pm

To be sure, the purpose of “Boomer” analysis is that it’s an unusually large, unified cohort thanks to aforementioned boom. The tendency to distinguish other generations by social developments is undercut by the lack of neat epochal partition between those events – so the question is whether it should be repeated for other generations.


Gareth Wilson 09.05.17 at 8:23 pm

Isn’t the increase in inequality itself a generational difference, as the later cohorts experience more inequality? As for the broader point, there’s an anecdote in the original Strauss and Howe book about a Boomer feminist writing about her marriage and divorce, and trying to generalise her experience to all women. A Generation-X woman read the article and found it baffling as a description of the “female experience” – belonging to a different generation meant her experience of relationships and life events was totally different. So generational analysis started as a way of respecting the differences between people and pushing back against glib generalisations.


Trader Joe 09.05.17 at 8:38 pm

I think John’s point is that while there are differences in how generations experience things, the things they experience are at their core much the same. Every generation listens to music, interacts with friends and responds to the news of the day. When I did it that was using LPs/8-tracks, talking on the phone and reading the newspaper. Obviously all of those are different now but the base experience is much the same.

As Lupita noted, I do think there are differences for those directly exposed to war, famine, depression etc. but these aren’t differentials common to most Western Cultures post 1945 which have experienced few (if any) of these upheavals.

The other place where I see differences is in attitudes towards sexual tolerance and safety. I like to say safety and sexual tolerance didn’t exist before 1975 (or so, your point in time may vary). Both can still be improved upon, but both have also come a long way and that has impacted the mindset of subsequent generations in a building block format.


Paul Davis 09.05.17 at 8:48 pm

@lupita #8: sure, such events may create “generational markers”. But it’s a bit silly to pretend that the event “marks” everyone in a given age range in the same way. So it ends up reducing to “yeah, I was between X and Y years old when Z happened”. It just doesn’t seem like a very deep analysis to me.


engels 09.05.17 at 10:06 pm

This has a definite ‘crisis what crisis’ feel. Why am I surrounded by people with PhDs who can’t get academic jobs? Who are in their thirties but still renting (at huge and increasing cost) or forced to house-share? Who are approaching middle-age and still burdened by student debt? What about disabled people who had their benefits stopped because they were deemed fit for work? People who have worked since they left school but never had a permanent position or a pay rise? This was all the same for you and Harry I assume?


harry b 09.05.17 at 10:13 pm

I have to say that I am always tempted not by generational analysis exactly, but by some sort of generational stereotyping. I teach people 30-36 years younger than me (young adults), and whereas I don’t have any wish to be young again myself, and no wish especially to be in the seemingly precarious environment they’re in, I find many of them likeable, open, thoughtful, non-narcissistic, idealistic in the right kinds of ways: more so than people around me seemed when I was their age, and much more so than I was. A kid recently said to me (in front of her classmates, all of whom know her and me) “I feel like we’d have been friends, if we’d been the same age” and I looked at her and thought “Nope. I wish you were right but I wouldn’t have had the sense to be friends with you, and you would have had the sense not to be friends with me”. I didn’t say it.


engels 09.05.17 at 10:38 pm

It’s a sad day when the Arch-Bishop of Canterbury has a better idea of what’s going in Britain than left-liberal social scientists


John Quiggin 09.05.17 at 11:55 pm

@2 and others. I discussed this point in an article linked in the post, back in 2000. Some cohorts are indeed marked by particular experiences, but overall, age effects, predominate.

@engels I’m a bit surprised to have to explain this to you, but the current crisis of capitalism is not the first. The previous big one was in the 1970s, when I entered the labour market, with 20 per cent youth unemployment, unemployable PhDs, attacks on unemployed “dole bludgers” and so on. My parents and grandparents had much the same experience in the 1930s. The striking and exceptional period was the ‘Trente Glorieuses’ (which I just missed out on). By contrast, the decades since the 1970s have been bad for workers of all generations, as pointed out in the OP.


Moz of Yarramulla 09.05.17 at 11:58 pm

“household income” is virtually useless as a measure when 30% of under-30’s live in share houses. Just having four employed people in a house pushes household income up, despite the disposable income of each individual being low (the reason for share housing is… high rents compared to income, as a rule). Even traditional families break that measure, our neighbours have two old age pensions plus three working adults (and three kids) because the “nuclear family” has his parents and her brother living with them.

Whether you are in the top or bottom half of the income distribution matters much more to your chances of home ownership than whether you were born in the 1950s or the 1980s.

I can’t find statistics for Australia split by both age and income, only places where both splits are shown. I’d really like to see them, though.

The Sydney Morning Herald said The average first home buyer was 33 in 2011-12. In the same period, first homes cost buyers in the 25-34 year age group 8.9 times their annual income, compared with 7.8 times in 2000-01.

I recall that in the 1970s’ five times your income was considered reckless (this Reserve Bank pdf suggests that’s plausible, but they start at 1985 with a median ratio of four). Repayments trend up more slowly though, sitting around 25% of income.

I suspect but don’t know that for under-40’s merely being in the top half of household incomes is not enough to buy a house, or even an apartment. The apartment market being overwhelmingly investor-grade at the lower end suggests that it’s not the second quartile of income buying those… or at least, not to live in (the tax system strongly favours not living in them as well). Without parental help two people in the second quintile will struggle.

When we bought it was a case of two people with upper quartile incomes saving for ~5 years. But that whole time we lived in a share house with a “household income” varying between $250,000 and $400,000 per annum… split between six or seven people. We could have bought an apartment much more easily, or bought further out, but as it is we bought a median priced house 40 minutes from the CBD by train. And I can’t get the home insurance required for my mortgage because the few companies that offer it to multi-person households don’t meet my bank’s requirements.


Moz of Yarramulla 09.05.17 at 11:59 pm

the current crisis of capitalism is not the first. The previous big one was in the 1970s, when I entered the labour market

In Aotearoa there was also 1987 with the sharemarket crash and 20% mortgage interest rates. I started university about that time and my parents lost their farm just as university fees were introduced. Fun times!


derrida derider 09.06.17 at 12:24 am

Demographers, epidemiologists and population economists use formal APC models to explicitly separate out the things that happen to every generation as they age (Age), the things that are common to all groups at any point in time (Period) and the things unique to a particular generation (Cohort). I’m not suggesting formal APC models are useful for cultural/attitudinal issues (though it would be interesting for some scribbler to make the attempt), but it does provide a useful and clear conceptual framework.

And thinking about it, it is fairly clear to me that John is right – popular memes attribute far too much to cohort effects and far too little to age and period effects.


Gabriel 09.06.17 at 1:05 am


Joe, we are all carbon-based oxygen-breathers as well; does that mean that any attempt to distinguish humans from squirrels is inherently flawed?

It’s always true that attention to the specific tends to omit the general and vice versa. But both lenses are important and have merit.


engels 09.06.17 at 1:09 am

My parents and grandparents had much the same experience in the 1930s.

Perhaps if they were alive they’d find this “twas ever thus” schtick insufferably smug too


engels 09.06.17 at 1:24 am

household income” is virtually useless as a measure when 30% of under-30’s live in share houses

Shared house /= household


engels 09.06.17 at 1:27 am

Random fact I heard today: unemployment benefit (currently £60 with condition that claimants spend 35 hrs/wk searching for work) was worth £140/wk in the 80s, in today’s money


Smass 09.06.17 at 1:49 am

@derrida derider #19,
APC models are used for exploring changing cultural /attitudinal issues too.

Most of the generational conflict stuff you read about is clearly bullshit and, when it is not entirely made up it, it usually dissolves when you look at differences in ethnicity or socio-economic status. At best it refers to age or period effects. But sometimes it can be hard to disentangle age, period and cohort. Differential voting patterns can be an age effect (voters becoming more conservative as they age) and/or the product of changing values for a younger cohort. Social upheavals and cultural changes are tricky too. They’re often cited as helping form a “generation” and sometimes they really are experienced differently. But this is not inevitable – a financial crash, for example, can leave an imprint on more than one age group.

There might be something to the housing example though. It is true that income & wealth are the big drivers here and these are largely down to income distribution (class) and age effects. However, the increasing cost of housing for everyone could result in a trend where young people grow up with different attitudes and expectations about what one can expect or even want.


harry b 09.06.17 at 2:21 am

“Perhaps if they were alive they’d find this “twas ever thus” schtick insufferably smug too”.

They might just have an ear for irony, who knows?


Moz of Yarramulla 09.06.17 at 2:40 am

Engels, that’s way smarter than the Australian system.

18. The ABS defines household as: ‘One or more persons, at least one of whom is at least 15 years of age, usually resident in the same private dwelling’.

So when I lived in a DIY warehouse sharehouse with 15(ish) other people, we were one household if they counted us at all (it wasn’t legally a residential location). Our “household income” would only have been about $200,000 or so because most of us were students.


Moz of Yarramulla 09.06.17 at 2:48 am

Actually, the UK definition you gave isn’t the relevant one, it says “forming more than 1 household“. So, household?

Definition of a household
In the 2001 Census, for the household projections and mid-year estimates a household is defined as:
* one person living alone, or
* a group of people (not necessarily related) living at the same address with common housekeeping – that is, sharing a living room or sitting room or at least 1 meal a day

So it’s likely that share houses are a mix of HMOs and households, depending on how the house operates and how the guidelines are applied. I suspect from what I know of the UK that it’s mostly what we’d call bedsits and boarding houses, where each resident has their own lockable room with some shared facilities.

Down here a lot of share houses don’t have lockable bedrooms, and often share food if not a meal every day. There’s more “individuals living in shared accommodation” over time, but even by the UK rules I suspect I’ve lived mostly in houses with fewer households than residents.

You have “the young ones”, we have “he died with a falafel in his hand” :)


ozajh 09.06.17 at 6:39 am

Moz @17

I recall that in the 1970s’ five times your income was considered reckless

When I bought in 1979, in Australia, the local building society offered me a maximum loan of slightly less than twice my gross income, which was fortunately just enough. And I was COMPLETELY debt-free, which was a factor in their calculations. A friend of mine needed to involve his parents as guarantors before he could get a loan for three times his income.

(Banks?? Don’t make me laugh. At that time in Australia they would only lend to 60% of property valuation. I had a fair bit saved, but nowhere near 40%.)


derrida derider 09.06.17 at 7:41 am

Only, Moz @26, that $200,000 would have been ‘equivalised’ – adjusted for the number of people it had to be shared amongst – in any calculations about poverty rates or inequality.

Equivalisation formulae are one of the many things the poverty and inequality cognoscenti argue about endlessly. It is, for example, a serious gender issue as most equivalisation implicitly assumes family incomes are pooled and then distributed so as to further each members’ welfare equally. But my point is that those cognoscenti are not as unsophisticated as you think.


TM 09.06.17 at 12:47 pm

Of course people generally share more of their life experience with people of similar age cohort than with people who are much older or younger. Similarly, people generally have more life experience in common with others who live geographically close (and one could add politically close, in the sense of living under the same legal and political system) than with remote ones; also, with people of similar education level, SES, religion, and so on.

What doesn’t follow is that these commonalities translate into a common political/philosophical outlook on the world, a shared “identity”. Generations are not homogeneous collectives that allow meaningful generalizations about its members. Attempts at assigning a shared character or identity to whole generations are as misguided and arbitrary as attempts at describing national or “racial” characters.


TM 09.06.17 at 1:13 pm

When I was younger, I used to laugh about the often heard exhortation “your generation has it so much better than we had”. Now I sometimes hear versions of what engels seems to be saying – everything is getting worse. I’m worried that this is true in the ecological sense. If I’m still around in 2050, I will probably see some of the horrors wrought by climate change (of course we are already seeing some, but it will likely be orders of magnitude worse). On the other hand, that today’s younger generation is materially in terrible shape doesn’t compute for me. In my time the buzzword was the “no future” generation. There really was only a short window postwar when finding a job (in the first world at least) was no worry. That was the exception, never the rule. And material living standards (as well as non-material ones, e.g. life expectancy, access to education, personal freedom) in that “golden age” were *way* lower than what we are used to – come on folks get real. Home ownership btw is hardly the only criterion for measuring material well-being.


map maker 09.06.17 at 1:52 pm

The specific vs. general is a fun debate. My school recently was reminded that not all men have penises and not all women have vaginas when discussions were coming up about what genders have in common. Turns out not much in the specific, but a lot in the general.


AcademicLurker 09.06.17 at 2:03 pm

Speaking of generational differences, why is the myth that home ownership is the ultimate gold standard of financial security still being peddled in 2017?


Pseudo gorillas 09.06.17 at 6:31 pm

Part of the reason the GOP is screwed is that voting patterns within a generation remain stable. People who voted for Reagan in their 20s voted for trump. This is obviously because different generations experience the political economy differently and this distinctly marks their generational formation.


Moz of Yarramulla 09.07.17 at 3:00 am

DD@29 my point is that those cognoscenti are not as unsophisticated as you think.

I’m not talking about the cognoscenti, I’m talking about people like John Quiggin, Greg Jericho, Scott Morrison and all the other fans of “household income” as a measure. At the extreme you get the period beatups about “beneficiaries with household incomes over $100,000” or whatever. Yes, because if a kid is getting $200/week on the dole they’re not exactly in a position to leave home…

I realise that anti-poverty campaigners and so on know about this, but their opposition don’t (just don’t you dare describe Malcolm Turnbull or Mattias Cormann as pro-poverty activists).


Meredith 09.07.17 at 6:19 am

“Every generation thinks it invented sex, and every generation is wrong.” As that quotation from the American writer Robert Heinlein suggests, we all experience as unique and revelatory the transformations we undergo through the course of our lives, from childhood to puberty, adulthood, parenthood and old age.”

No. The older you get, the more you realize others have been there before you. Why the term “elder” once had weight.


engels 09.07.17 at 11:24 am

Why the term “elder” once had weight.

Don’t ever change, CT comments


Raven 09.07.17 at 12:01 pm

The generation[s] of women that literally fought together, even in the streets and at the risk or cost of going to jail, for suffrage, the franchise to vote, and won it, shared an experience of solidarity unlike generations before and after — though groups like the League of Women Voters worked to preserve their achievement. WWII “Rosie the Riveters”, sent home once men returned from the battlefields, shared a different experience, which was intended to impart a diametrically different “lesson”, leading into the 1950s of “Dad Knows Best”. Late 20th century feminists, in fighting that current, sought to create a new experience for girls and women then living and yet to be born, enlarging on what the suffragists had started. It can’t be denied that this meant affecting the experience (and thinking) of the boys and men of those same times.

For that matter, will anyone argue that the experiences of those boys and men who grew up during the Draft, when the Korean War and then the long Vietnam War were being fought, were not sharply different — even if they themselves were never drafted and sent overseas, merely always aware of the possibility, knowing others who had been — than the experiences of post-Draft generations?

Will anyone argue that crisis-war-and-famine-time generations have not thought and felt differently from generations raised in the security of peace and plenty? (Because they’d had to?) Civil War, World Wars, Dust Bowl?


Pavel A 09.07.17 at 12:46 pm


In the US, median household income does not distinguish the types of relationships within the household (family is a separate category altogether).

A family consists of two or more people (one of whom is the householder) related by birth, marriage, or adoption residing in the same housing unit. A household consists of all people who occupy a housing unit regardless of relationship. A household may consist of a person living alone or multiple unrelated individuals or families living together.

Both have been basically flat since 2005:


engels 09.07.17 at 5:12 pm

…The average grassroots Tory is 57 years old but over 65s constitute 44% of the Conservative Party membership compared to less than 30% of most other parties, and just over a fifth of the Tory electorate (23%). Only about one in twenty Tory party members (6%) is aged between 18-25 – exactly the same proportion of that age group which voted Conservative at the last general election….

…And as for young people not respecting traditional British values, the Conservative Party’s membership seem to take a pretty dim view: eight out of ten Tories think that’s the case (77% vs. 78% of Tory voters). The same high proportion of Conservative grassroots members think schools should be teaching kids to obey authority (84% vs. 81% of Tory voters)….


J-D 09.07.17 at 9:06 pm

John Quiggin acknowledges that cohort effects exist (this is explicit above); the point is that cohort effects are frequently exaggerated, when it is not acknowledged that age effects dominate cohort effects, and that both are generally dominated by other effects, such as income effects (particularly), gender effects, and (at least in the US) race effects.


John Quiggin 09.07.17 at 9:56 pm

@Raven I replied to this already with a link @16 but I’ll give the full quote from my piece back in 2000

Once we strip out the more-or-less constant social distinctions associated with membership of a given age-group, the idea that we can say much about any particular cohort becomes far more dubious. In fact, cohort effects are only of much importance between the ages of 16 and about 25. The experience of childhood is dominated by family and school, and, while both families and schools have changed since the 1950s, the rate of change from one decade to the next has been quite slow.

On the other hand, by the time the members of a given cohort reach their late twenties, their live courses have diverged so much that they cease to form a well-defined group with common experiences. The differences between men and women, rich and poor, workers and bosses, married and single, parents and nonparents count for much more than the commonality that comes from sharing a date on a birth certificate.

For the crucial decade from 16 to 25, however, common experiences related to growing up at a particular time can be very important. Whether the labour market is in a boom or a slump when you finish school can make a big difference to your subsequent career. For males, an even more important question is whether the years of military age coincide with a major war. Peacetime and wartime generations, or boom and slump generations, can be very different.

Vietnam was the perfect generational war. It was big enough that it required mass conscription of unenfranchised 18-year-olds (the lottery element and the deferment system only enhanced the unfairness of this), but small enough that it required no economic sacrifice from the adult electorate who voted for it.

A combination of circumstances in the late 1950s and the 1960s created a generational moment for those who were young in that blissful false dawn. For that brief moment, the distinction between the young and the old seemed fundamentally important. Generational cliches took root and have become part of our culture, but they have outlived their usefulness. The winners and losers in a world of globalisation, attacks on the welfare state and resurgent market forces cannot be neatly parcelled into age groups, however often commentators on both sides of the debate attempt it.


Gabriel 09.07.17 at 10:10 pm

“The experience of childhood is dominated by family and school, and, while both families and schools have changed since the 1950s, the rate of change from one decade to the next has been quite slow.”

Except that’s not true at all. To give one example: today’s American high school students, on average, accept a level of surveillance that would have been unthinkable in previous generations. Cameras, metal detectors, stationed police officers, random searches – all are quite common in many if not most of today’s high schools. Columbine, the Wars on Drugs and Terror, the default authoritarianism of school life, and Facebook have all combined to foster an environment where privacy and personal rights are not only cast aside, their very existence as positive values are simply not considered.

I know this is a generational difference, because I’ve witnessed the change as an educator. It’s important and impactful and deserves to be discussed, and silly handwaving and mere assertions about what is important and ‘what has changed’ do not endear me to your argument, John.


Gareth Wilson 09.08.17 at 1:37 am

Strauss and Howe were complaining in 1991 that all popular history was either Period (“what it was like in the ’50s”) or Age (“the American child, through the ages”), and that Cohort effects were ignored. I’m in the wrong cohort to say whether they were right. There was certainly a lot of interest in the Boomers, but that might be more Period (“what it was like in the ’60s”). It’s possible they just started an overcorrection.


Raven 09.08.17 at 5:48 am

Gabriel @ 43 has my vote here. Sorry, John, we agree on so much else.


nastywoman 09.08.17 at 6:37 am

The ”great thing” about ”the appeal of generational cliches in the face of repeated refutation is” that the ”young open-minded” – and only the ”open-minded” European generation couldn’t care less about it.


J-D 09.08.17 at 9:50 am

That seems to me likely to be mostly a Period effect rather than a Cohort effect; that is, everybody (regardless of when they were born) accepts more intensive surveillance than was the case in the past.


John Quiggin 09.08.17 at 10:21 am

@43 You’ve run about 50 years of history together there, proving my point about the slow rate of change from decade to decade.

The War on Drugs officially began in 1971, and was was underway without a name well before that. Columbine was in 1999, twenty years ago, but school shootings were both a reality and a feature of popular culture long before that. “I don’t like Mondays” was a hit in 1979.

Of course, things change over time, but as J-D says, in most cases they change for everybody, not just those who happen to be young when something new happens. There’s nothing specifically Millennial about Facebook, for example.


John Quiggin 09.08.17 at 10:28 am


TM 09.08.17 at 11:22 am

It should be obvious but maybe not to everybody: while it is true and acknowledged by all that (for example) the cohorts of the Vietnam war “generation” (however you want to define it) share certain distinct and in many cases formative life experiences, they have individually responded in radically different ways to those same experiences: Some became pacifists, other embraced war crimes; some started careers in right wing politics, others became hippies, and so on. One simply cannot make nontrivial generalizations about people’s outlook on the world just because they have some arbitrary characteristic like cohort or nationality in common.


Ed 09.08.17 at 2:28 pm

For the past several decades, management has been fighting and winning a series of battles against labor to decrease the share of company wages going to labor and also worsen working conditions for labor.

Unions have often been able to shield part of their membership from these changes. This is done in the form of “two tier” contracts, where the older employees literally retain the older and better wages, pensions, working conditions etc. and new hires get the worse contracts.

Of course I bring this up because its a pretty clear example of different groups of people getting very different experiences solely due to their being born at different times (eg different generations) and this is sometimes an economics blog so you think more people would be aware of it.

I actually think that most discussions about “generations” are really discussions about baby boomers and if the post World War 2 decades had not been so exceptional we wold not be discussing generations much at all. But since the 1970s much of social policy in developed countries has been done in terms of two tier contracts, the older generations have been shielded as much as possible from the change. Historically, when things change younger people will usually be more aware of the change first, but in this case the effort to shield the older generations from a decline in living standards is quite extensive by historical standards.


engels 09.08.17 at 9:55 pm

actually think that most discussions about “generations” are really discussions about baby boomers and if the post World War 2 decades had not been so exceptional we wold not be discussing generations much at all

Part of reason boomers have done so ‘well’ is policy, which has been responsive to their preferences because of their numerical weight (eg in Britain the [ludicrous] political consensus that rising house prices are a good thing)

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