Generation differences at widest gap since 1969

From cell phones and texting to religion and manners, almost 8 in 10 people believe there is a major difference in the point of view of younger and older Americans, according to a new study released Monday  This is the highest spread since 1969, when 74 percent respondents to a Gallup Poll reported generational differences over the Vietnam War and equal rights for women and minorities.  In contrast, just 60 percent in 1979 saw a generation gap.

The study by the Pew Research Center found Americans of different ages increasingly at odds over a range of issues.  It also confirms the shift in generational power that helped catapult Barack Obama into the White House, when 18- to 29-year-olds supported the Democratic candidate by a 2-to-1 ratio.

Social values and morality were issues where older and younger people differed the most.  People age 18 to 29 were likely to report disagreements over lifestyle, views and family, relationships and dating while older people cited differences in a sense of entitlement. Young people also were more tolerant on cultural issues such as gay marriage and interracial relationships.  Those in the middle-age groups often cited manners as the greatest source of conflict.

Not unexpectedly, the adoption of “newfangled” information technologies divides the generations. Just 4 in 10 adults ages 65-74 use the internet on a daily basis and that share drops to just 1 in 6 among adults 75 and older. By contrast, 75 percent of adults ages 18-30 go online daily.

The gap is even wider when it comes to cell phones and text messages.  Just

5 percent of adults 65 and older make most or all of their calls on a cell phone.  For adults under age 30, the number jumps to 72 percent.  The difference is greater when it comes to texting:  just 11 percent of older adults use their cell phone to text messages while 87 percent of the under-30 crowd let their fingers do the talking.  

The different generations don’t even agree on the most basic question of all about old age: When does old age begin?   Much to my chagrin, 18 to 29 year olds, belonging to the Millennial generation, believe that the average person becomes old at age 60.  Gen Xers and young Baby Boomers, the middle age respondents to the survey, put the threshold closer to 70.  People 65 and older say that the average person does not become old until turning 74.

The convergence of youth, experience, and technology is taking center stage in the workplace. How prepared are you? 

(Keep an eye out for my new book Geeks, Geezers, and Googlization available September 2009.)


Ira S Wolfe