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Home > Blogs > Anthony Harrington > The Generation Name Game: Baby Boomers to Generation Y, Part One

The Generation Name Game: Baby Boomers to Generation Y, Part One

The Generation Name Game: Baby Boomers to Generation Y, Part One Anthony Harrington

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Labels are useful organizing devices, good for doing an initial fast differentiation of a mass of "stuff". Rocks, for example, can be classified into small, medium, large and giant boulder size, which is good if you're trying to figure out what enables a rock slide to skid far further than common sense suggests should be possible (clue: the smaller rocks form the bottom layer of the rock slide act like wheels). Of course, from a geological perspective, there is a lot more to be said about each individual rock, regardless of its size, and the labeling scheme is pretty irrelevant to this additional dimension. Which brings us to the generation-name-game, that beloved and much used device of social commentators. It too, has its uses and its decided limitations.

That we would get into a generation-name-game was probably inevitable after the phrase, the Baby Boomer Generation was coined to describe the 78 million or so children born after the Second World War, during the period from 1945 to 1964. Inevitably, if you label one generation, at some point you look at their kids and go "Hmm... There's a difference here, need a new label." This next generation, variously depicted as having been born between the early 1960s and 1984 or so, has been tagged with the label, "Generation X". The name was popularized, according to Wiki (that fount of all knowledge), by the Canadian author Douglas Coupland in the 1991 novel Generation X: Tales for an Accelerated Culture.

So what differentiates the Boomers from Generation X? Dr. Paul Redmond, Head of Careers and Employability at Liverpool University, is renowned for his views that the differences between the generations (after X comes Y) is sufficiently marked to warrant employers (and marketing experts) taking a "horses for courses" approach. The same words mean very different things to different generations. (Check out the transformation of "Whatever" into a term of mass-derision in modern teen speak!). His presentation to VisitScotland's recent business tourism conference is entertaining and worth viewing. Boomers are the fortunate generation. They own 85% of all property. Their working life took place when the world of work was less complex and they are the last generation that will enjoy the fruits of generous final salary pension schemes, making them the richest generation of pensioners the world is likely to see for many a decade to come. They love hierarchies and job titles and they are in the process of handing over to Generation X, the "me-time" generation.

For Redmond, the defining characteristics of Generation X are an obsession with work-life balance, and a deep frustration over the fact that the promises of a rosier future painted by their parents have turned out to be virtually unachievable in a world fraught with complexity. Generation X want more "me-time", they want space and time to live the dream of a me-centered life. "They were sold the myth of the leisure society and it hasn't panned out that way," Redmond notes. Generation X are technology immigrants. Born before the arrival of the Internet, they still talk about mobile phones. For the next generation, Generation Y, the differentiation between mobile and fixed line phones is meaningless. Of course, a phone is what you carry. "It's just a phone, Dad..."

Generation Y, Redmond points out, are techno-savvy from the off. They are the most qualified generation in history. They have near limitless access via search engines to the best current thinking on any issue. "Where Generation X had to wait five years before the CEO even recognized them if he/she passed them in the corridor, Generation Y will tell the CEO what's wrong with the company on their first day," he jokes. Another name for Generation Y is the Millennials, which embraces everyone from 1982 to probably the start of the 21st Century. What label does that leave for those born in the 21st Century? The Post-Millennials? They are the kids who think books need charging when they flick the pages and nothing happens. They aren't in the world of work yet, but when they arrive watch out for change to take another huge bound forward.

In Part Two we look at the argument that Generation Y is radically different from either Generation X or the Boomers and compare these arguments to a major study of different generations in the workplace carried out by PwC, along with the University of Southern California and the London Business School.

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Further reading on demographic issues:

Tags: Baby Boomers , final salary pension schemes , Generation X , Generation Y , internet , Millennial Generation , Second World War
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