The Gaps in the Generation Gap
The more the TEDxBrighton team set out to explore the concept of the generation gap, the more complex it became. In various coffee-fuelled meetings across Brighton and the area around, we started where everyone does – with the idea of successive generations. Cohorts of people being born, living, marrying, having children in broad groups. This is the classical idea of generations, of a group of people in lockstep through life, united by their time of birth.
This is a concept which seems rooted in the notion that people born around the same time are largely homogenous – or, at least, homogenous enough that they can be defined by a certain set of characteristics. Recent generations have even come with their own name: Baby Boomers, Generation X, the Millennials. I’m solidly in the middle of what’s normally termed “Generation X“. Many of the TEDxBrighton team fall into the same category – but there are those who are of Generation Y - the Millennials – and at least one Boomer, too. In theory, I should have a very different set of values and perspectives. In practice – so far at least – that’s not the case.
Here’s the problem – I’m about to become a father, at the age of 40. My very first child. Many of my theoretical cohort are grandparents; the oldest GenXers are in their early 50s now. I’m having my first child at the same time as their children are doing the same. Somehow, I’ve slipped a generation. This major, life-defining experience that gives me more in common, time wise, with those GenXers’ GenY children.
Our ages do not define our life choices the way they once did. When 60 was a ripe old age, and 40 the clear begging of your old age, there was more pressure to pass through life events earlier. You don’t have to reach far back into the novels of the 19th century to find descriptions of women being viewed as left on the shelf by their early 20s. Generations were, perhaps, easier to define.
Multiple factors have increased our choices since then – availability of contraception, and abortion. Women’s liberation. IVF. The tendency of both partners to carry on working. Or lives are less defined by our birth dates and by socially-acceptable marital norms than they were even 50 years ago. Instead, we’re starting to define our own generational groups through a combination of life choices. Where once generation gaps were purely a better of matter of the natural disparity between people at different places in a broadly similar life journey, now they’re a complex mash of decision, opportunity and time. Before we can even contemplate bridging these gaps, we have to understand them.
Generalisations about attitudes and age are easy. They make compelling hooks for business and pop-psychology books. But the closer you pick at them, the more you examine these broad groupings based on nothing more than birthdate, the more it appears to be a somewhat more scientifically-justified form of astrology. After all – isn’t that another discipline based on attributing aggregate attributes to a cohort of people solely based on birth date?