The Generation Gap

The “generation gap” is defined as ‘a lack of communication between one generation and another, especially between young people and their parents, brought about by differences of tastes, values, outlook, etc.’, (“the definition of generation gap”, 2019) or ‘the differences between people in terms of their views, opinions and lifestyle mainly due to the difference in the generation they belong to’ (Center for Creative Leadership. & Deal, 2007). These definitions will be the basis of demarcating the broad values and attitudes which represent the previous generation, and how they differentiate from this one.

In the Western World, generations, or demographic cohorts, regardless of the time period, seem to have one uniting factor: scepticism and derision towards the generation immediately preceding or succeeding them. In this case, the generations in question are Generation X and Millenials (Generation Y), although many born in the mid-to-late 1990s may identify as Generation Z instead as the delineations are not precise, (Williams, 2015). The friction between these generations is clear when navigating society.

Millennials are blamed by Generation X and baby boomers, seemingly every social ill, “killing” everything from the real estate market, to napkins, to the diamond industry. (Taylor, 2017). Of course, Generation X and Baby Boomers blaming an entire generation is a reductive attempt at justifying its own inaction when it pertains to changing conditions in society which affect Millenials far worse than previous generations.

Millennials are coming-of-age in an era of late-stage capitalism and its soaring debt, climate disaster and imminent apocalypse, and realizing more and more that the promises of the “perfect life”: college, financial independence, marriage, and the white-picket fence, are increasingly unattainable. (Josuweit, 2017) Their childhoods were defined by the global economic downturn, the collapse of the housing markets and stock exchange, and the recession of 2008, and they have been reeling ever since. The lack of success at achieving major milestones in life has forced this generation to redirect its efforts.

As a result of this is a generation more preoccupied with change, rather than struggling in the status quo. Major social justice movements have exploded with the power of social media: #BlackLivesMatter, #SayHerName,  #YouOkaySis, #MeToo, and #LifeinLeggings (for which creator Ronelle King won the 2018 Queen’s Young Leaders’ Award) are all examples of how social media — something that our parents’ generation derided us for: “Yuh spendin’ too much time on that phone!” — has made an impact on social consciousness. Millennials are more likely to be concerned with equality in society, shirking the traditional gender roles that taught rigidity of the divergent worlds of “male” and “female”. A woman’s role is no longer thought of as solely in the kitchen, cooking, cleaning, and making babies whilst her husband is the sole breadwinner, allowed to dictate every ordinance. Now, gender equality is a priority for regional governments and supranational organisation such as the United Nations. Increasingly, feminist literature and rhetoric are making its way into the hands of previously disempowered women. The internet has allowed for access to knowledge and theory that was previously in the hands of gatekeepers who were slaves to virtues of “tradition”. GK Chesterton called tradition “the democracy of the dead”; however, Millenials are in search of more than a nominal democracy. They want true empowerment.

Moreover, this generation has sought to remove the taboos surrounding sex, sexuality, pleasure, and periods. Organisations such HERstoire in St. Lucia, founded by Dr Su-Anne Robyn Charlery-White to “address the intersection of all aspects of sexual health issues, gender-power dynamics & inequality experienced by women & youth in the Caribbean and beyond. This platform empowers them to amplify their voices on the culturally “taboo” topics that noone [sic] wants to talk about, that they are too scared to talk about, that they would change so many lives with – if only they would talk about.” (Charlery-White, 2011). 

This generation of women no longer idolizes the concept of marriage; they do not wish to compromise their careers, wants, passions for the sake of companionship. They are living for themselves, and loving it. This is demonstrated in the median age of marriage having risen to 29.5 for men and 27.4 for women in 2017, up from 23 for men and 20.8 for women in 1970. (Rabin, 2018). The reason for this delay, according to Rabin’s article, is the introduction of women into the workforce in recent years. 

Speaking of work, Millenials do not put traditional jobs on a pedestal. The list of acceptable professions has extended far past doctor, lawyer, engineer, and teacher. Unconventional jobs have been accepted as the technological advances in recent decades has literally invented new jobs to occupy. Coding, programming, app development, transcription, etc. are jobs that simply did not exist for the previous generation. 

Notwithstanding, the so-called “generation gap” only exists wherever it is perceived. The generations are more similar than they willing to admit, simply being the human experience is universal. The younger generation complains that their elders are stuffy and inflexible, rigid and uncompromising, and simply do not understand the world. The elder generation thinks the younger generation is materialistic and lackadaisical, selfish and robotic, and fall short due to their own laziness. These perspectives are both overly simplistic for the sole reason that history repeats itself. The stuffy and inflexible archetype — the gossiping, goes-to-church-every-sunday, old lady — has been updated to the modern-day Instagram model. The selfish and robotic, controlled-by-technology Millenial can be sourced back to a Baby Boomer obsessed with Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, or Aretha Franklin. Painting entire generations with common traits of the majority will always be a futile task, as human beings are unique, and experiences differ by race, social class, geography, and economic status.

Consequently, “making it” is a transient idea. Each demographic cohort sought to achieve what they could under the conditions in which they existed. To compare them as though there was ever a level playing field, immediately invokes a false equivalence fallacy. No matter which generation a person is born into, their characteristics and personality will be a balance between nature and nuture. To begrudge an entire generation for the conditions of their environment is unfair. Thus, the least we can do is acknowledge each struggle in its own time. Nobody triumphs trying to win a frankly unwinnable race.

References

Center for Creative Leadership., & Deal, J. (2007). Retiring the Generation Gap: How Employees Young and Old Can Find Common Ground (Jossey-Bass business & management series). Wiley.

Charlery-White, S. (2019). HERstoire. Retrieved from https://www.facebook.com/HERstoire/

Josuweit, A. (2017). 5 Industries Millennials Are ‘Killing’ (And Why). Retrieved from https://www.forbes.com/sites/andrewjosuweit/2017/10/22/5-industries-millennials-are-killing-and-why/#57d486044e42

Rabin, R. (2018). Put a Ring on It? Millennial Couples Are in No Hurry. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2018/05/29/well/mind/millennials-love-marriage-sex-relationships-dating.html

Taylor, K. (2017). ‘Psychologically scarred’ millennials are killing countless industries from napkins to Applebee’s — here are the businesses they like the least. Retrieved from https://www.businessinsider.com/millennials-are-killing-list-2017-8

The definition of generation gap. (2019). Retrieved from https://www.dictionary.com/browse/generation-gap

White, D. (2011). HERstoire. Retrieved from https://www.facebook.com/HERstoire/

Williams, A. (2015). How to Spot a Member of Generation Z. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2015/09/18/fashion/how-to-spot-a-member-of-generation-z.html