generation gap, generations

Young and Old Americans at Odds as Generation Gap Widens

July 02, 2009 07:30 AM
by Anita Gutierrez-Folch
A study has found that technological advances and changing perspectives on social values have created the biggest generation gap between older and younger Americans in 40 years.

Divergent Points of View Define Today’s Generation Gap

According to a new study released by the Pew Research Center, different points of view about “a range of social and technological issues” have created the widest generation gap between older and younger Americans since the 1960s, the Associated Press reported. The presidential election in November—which showed that 18- to 29-year-old voters chose Barack Obama by a ratio of 2-to-1—also “highlights a widening age divide,” Hope Yen wrote for AP.

According to the study, almost 8 in every 10 people—that’s 79 percent—perceive “a major difference in the point of view of younger people and older people today,” Yen reported.

In the study, the Pew Research Center compared the 2009 poll with a 1969 Gallup Poll that had similar questions. In 1969, 74 percent of respondents identified a generation gap. When CBS and The New York Times repeated the question a decade later, only 60 percent of respondents perceived the gap.

Given the widespread conflicts over the Vietnam War, social issues and women’s rights that existed during the 1960s, it’s surprising that the generation gap would have increased since then. Perhaps, Pew suggests, “the phrase [generation gap] now means something different, and less confrontational, than it did at the height of the counterculture’s defiant challenges to the establishment 40 years ago.”

According to the results of the study, the major differences perceived between older and younger Americans had to do with “morality, values and work ethic.” In an interview with the AP, Paul Taylor, director of the Pew Social and Demographic Trends Project, noted that younger people had greater tolerance toward “cultural issues such as gay marriage and interracial relationships.” At the same time, younger Americans appear to be increasingly in touch with advances in technology, which often tend to leave older Americans behind.

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Opinion & Analysis: Does a generation gap really exist?

In his blog Church Forward, Sam Rainer responded to the Pew study by acknowledging that “[t]here may be a generation gap—we’ll never avoid it.” He suggests, however, that it’s possible to “bridge the generational divide” by working together for the service of others.

On the other hand, a 2008 article in Government Executive asserts that a generation gap may not exist at all. Citing previous research, the article suggested that “some of those value differences might not exist, and that reinforcing negative stereotypes only drives a wedge between generations.” Psychologist John Crum says differences between younger and older Americans are driven by individual differences rather than by generational stereotypes, which tend to be generalizing and inaccurate.

Crum believes that teamwork has been an essential factor in helping to diffuse perceived differences. According to Government Executive, Crum “remembers a similar wave of generational research in the 1980s that compared baby boomers to the World War II generation and concluded the two groups were radically different. Those perceived differences have fallen by the wayside as those generations became accustomed to working together.”

Related Topic: A generation gap at work

Exploring the generational rifts and bridges in the workplace, some surprising commonalities can be found between traditionalists, baby boomers and generations X and Y. Last year’s Randstadt USA’s annual World of Work study pointed out the importance of creating teams and departments in which all generations are included.

Still, in spite of this effort at generational integration, the branding of Generation Y workers as last-minute achievers, multitaskers and ambitious wanderers remains. In a 2007 article for Money Magazine, Dan Kadlec shared more myths about the younger generations that make up today’s workforce, arguing that the youngsters do have a work ethic; don’t “love change” as much as everyone says they do; aren’t terribly independent, as the “change” model might suggest; and do have respect for their elders.

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