Viewpoint: It's time to dump generational myths

Generational stereotypes can create rifts between the way baby boomers, Generation X, millennials and Generation Z see one another. Bobby Duffy, professor of public policy at King's College London, argues in an essay in The Wall Street Journal that we should dump generational myths and work together to bridge divides.

Baby boomers had it easy and ruined it for everyone else. Millennials are materialistic narcissists and Generation Z are coddled snowflakes. These are just some of the most common stereotypes of current generations. Many of these assumptions, though, are not based in fact.

Mr. Duffy says that bad research, lazy headlines and generational marketing have confused generational differences with life-cycle changes and confused fact from fiction. The stereotype of Generation Z as being materialistic, for instance, may just be a feature of youth rather than generation, as research has shown that over time people attach less importance to material ambitions. Also, the idea that older generations don't care about climate has been proven wrong, with 6 in 10 of all Americans across age groups agreeing that climate change justifies large lifestyle changes.  

He argues that older people have always been concerned about how different the youth seem, with Socrates complaining in 400 B.C. about the younger generation's "bad manners, contempt for authority, disrespect for elders." Mr. Duffy says that the gaps between generations now are no larger than those of the past, but instead, the more polarized political and media landscape bolsters the differences. 

He argues that while generational differences exist, harsh labels and myths about them do harm to mutual understanding and make it difficult to reveal the true social and economic differences between them. A more accurate understanding between generations may help reduce conflict and remind us of the changing nature of culture and society.

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