It’s a summertime (and Fall, Winter and Spring) Agitator tradition to tilt at windmills and lament the profoundly stupid use of generational labels.
It’s Quixote”esque” because of the bullshit asymmetry principle:
The amount of energy needed to refute bullshit is an order of magnitude larger than to produce it.
But, we’re wearing our muck boots and we brought a shovel. And the academics have our back, which may or may not be good thing.
A sociologist at the University of Maryland wrote an open letter to Pew Research Center asking them to “do the right thing” and stop with the generational labels – e.g. Gen Z, Baby Boomer – that infest (my word) it’s reporting.
Almost 200 social science researchers signed on to the letter arguing the labels are arbitrary and counterproductive. Pew noted the limitations and said they are now in a “period of reflection”, whatever the hell that means.
When you’re born can matter to your life trajectory. If you graduate from college during a recession you are worse off than someone born not in a recession, which could be the year preceding or following you. These are period effects, not broad, sweeping generational ones.
Millennials have lower homeownership than previous generations because housing has gotten less affordable, not because they refuse to grow up. Similarly, their financial struggles are because the beginning of adulthood for many was during the Great Recession and double-whammied with peak earning years starting with a pandemic. But gobbly gook stereotypes and generational mumbo jumbo chalk it up to them being innately unable to resist small, everyday luxuries like coffee or avocado toast.
Said differently, generational explanations misattribute cause. Why do more millenials like avocado toast than Boomers? It didn’t much exist as a popular food item when the latter was growing up.
Millennials score lower on job satisfaction than Gen X but is this because they are a less satisfied generation?
Nonsense. This is an age and life-stage effect, as in X years from date of birth as one enters their professional life.
Every “generation” was less satisfied than the prior one if you create a bogus point of comparison – people younger in their career compared to older people more established in their career.
If you want to group people then you only do that because you plan to treat them differently. And you only treat them differently if you have reason to think those differences explain their behavior. Two people of vastly different age and skin color will have the exact same Personality and Identity. Getting those two people and others like them to donate is not helped by describing what generation they belong to. Age falls away as an explainer of much of anything once you give other explainers a chance to compete.
But, generational gobbly gook is entrenched and we all have that one, anecdotal experience with a Millennial or two that serves as our lens onto the other 61,999,998 million people born during that period. Confirmation and availability bias at work.
Our final plea, at least be like Pew, enter a period of reflection on this.