Wars Gen­er­a­tion

WITH POL­I­TICS NO LONGER ABOUT LEFT OR RIGHT BUT A BAT­TLE BE­TWEEN THE YOUNG AND THE OLD, VICKY AL­LAN IN­VES­TI­GATES WHAT HAS SHAPED THE GENERATIONAL FACTIONS

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WHER­EVER we look, it seems, the story of our so­ci­ety is one of in­ter-generational war­fare. Elec­tion and ref­er­en­dum re­sults have re­vealed a na­tion di­vided, not so much by class or party al­le­giance, but by gen­er­a­tion. Brexit, for in­stance, was driven by pen­sion­ers; the rise of Jeremy Cor­byn was fu­elled by the young.

In­creas­ingly, po­lit­i­cal, so­cial and cul­tural de­bate re­volves around the be­hav­iours and views of par­tic­u­lar gen­er­a­tions: the Baby Boomers, the Mil­len­ni­als, Gen­er­a­tion X, and now, Gen­er­a­tion Z or the dig­i­tal na­tives.

At­tack­ing an en­tire age co­hort is a be­hav­iour that has be­come com­mon­place. A whole mar­ket seems to have ex­ploded in books that ex­plain each gen­er­a­tion to each other, or even to them­selves, and ramp­ing up the ten­sion: for in­stance, for­mer Con­ser­va­tive min­is­ter David Wil­letts’s The Pinch: How The Baby Boomers Took Their Chil­dren’s Fu­ture, or Neil Howe and Wil­liam Strauss’s Mil­len­ni­als: The Next Great Gen­er­a­tion, or Chloe Combi’s Gen­er­a­tion Z: Their Voices, Their Lives.

Much of what is said or writ­ten on this sub­ject is in­spired by “generational the­ory”, a con­cept cre­ated by au­thors Neil Howe and Wil­liam Strauss, who, in 1991, pub­lished Gen­er­a­tions, their ex­pla­na­tion of Amer­i­can his­tory as a se­ries of generational cy­cles.

Re­cently it has be­come the in vogue the­ory, touted even by Don­ald Trump’s chief strate­gist Steve Ban­non. Partly its pop­u­lar­ity had risen be­cause, as so­ci­ol­o­gist Dr Graeme Co­dring­ton, co-au­thor of 2012 book Mind The Gap points out, pol­i­tics has changed. “In our book,” he says, “we pre­dicted that pol­i­tics would be­gin shift­ing from be­ing a mat­ter of left and right, to be­ing more young ver­sus old.

“The older gen­er­a­tion would be con­cerned about sovereignty and pro­tect­ing en­ti­tle­ments, and the younger gen­er­a­tion about con­nec­tion and en­gage­ment.”

This is ex­actly what he con­sid­ers has hap­pened. “I think it’s what the Brexit ref­er­en­dum was and cer­tainly what the lat­est Gen­eral Elec­tion showed.”

But what ex­actly are all these gen­er­a­tions about? And how do you fit into them?

THE SILENT GEN­ER­A­TION (BORN 1928-45)

BROUGHT up in the af­ter­math of the Sec­ond World War, the “Si­lents”, ac­cord­ing to the­o­rist Neil Howe, “tip­toed cau­tiously in a post-cri­sis so­cial or­der that no-one wanted to dis­turb”.

Rule abiders, they rarely talked about “chang­ing the sys­tem”, but in­stead about “work­ing within the sys­tem”.

De­scribed as tra­di­tional, re­spect­ful of author­ity and tech­ni­cally chal­lenged, they have been ac­cused, along­side the Baby Boomers, of rob­bing the youth of their fu­ture. In terms of mar­riage and em­ploy­ment, they tended to fol­low the moral norms and eco­nomic cli­mate of the time. The Pew Re­search Cen­tre, study­ing the gen­er­a­tion in the United States, found that “64 per cent of Si­lents were mar­ried when mem­bers of their gen­er­a­tion were be­tween the ages of 18 and 33”.

Mar­riage, re­li­gion and work were the driv­ing force be­hind how they lived their lives and de­fined their de­mog­ra­phy. Fam­i­lies were sta­ble, di­vorce was al­most non-ex­is­tent and work fre­quently meant phys­i­cal labour.

This is a gen­er­a­tion that ex­pe­ri­enced so­cial mo­bil­ity and were able to con­tem­plate early re­tire­ment de­spite very lit­tle in the way of education. De­mog­ra­pher Richard Easter­lin, in his 1980 book Birth And For­tune, called them the “For­tu­nate” gen­er­a­tion – the typ­i­cal young man of that era could earn more by age 30 than the av­er­age wage for all other gen­er­a­tions of men who came be­fore him in his pro­fes­sion. They were born into an era when the brick­work was be­ing laid for the so­cial wel­fare state which changed Bri­tain’s po­lit­i­cal land­scape. They were young when the NHS was formed in 1948 and grew up to see tax­a­tion as a force for good. Of all the gen­er­a­tions, the Silent Gen­er­a­tion, ac­cord­ing to sur­veys, was most op­ti­mistic about Brexit. For­ma­tive qual­i­ties: The Sec­ond World War, Squalor, “tra­di­tional” Bri­tish val­ues. Legacy: The NHS and Wel­fare State

THE BABY BOOMERS (BORN 1946-64)

AS generational the­o­rist Neil Howe has put it: “How­ever you date them, we all know the Boomer’s life story. It’s as though no phase of life means any­thing un­til Boomers pass through it and can tell us about it … Boomers shook the win­dows and rat­tled the walls (to para­phrase Bob Dy­lan) of ev­ery­thing their par­ents had built. In so do­ing, this ‘gen­er­a­tion’ be­came es­pe­cially well-known for its cul­ti­va­tion of self and its care­less­ness about ma­te­rial wealth.”

Proud own­ers of se­cure jobs, se­cure “triple-lock” pen­sions and the great­est wealth of any age group in Bri­tain, they are of­ten ac­cused of vot­ing “self­ishly” and even of “be­tray­ing” their chil­dren and grand­chil­dren. As chil­dren, they reaped the ben­e­fits of the so­cial in­fra­struc­ture their par­ents had put in place: free school meals, free health­care and free tu­ition to univer­sity. How­ever, the men­tal­ity of their pre­de­ces­sors per­sisted in their pur­suit of a good job, house and mar­riage. This doc­trine paired with a hous­ing boom saw them ce­ment the ideal of what it was to be mid­dle class.

The Baby Boomers also broadly fol­lowed, po­lit­i­cally, the al­le­giances of their par­ents. As so­ci­ol­o­gist Dr Graeme Co­dring­ton de­scribes: “They stayed within what­ever po­lit­i­cal tribes they grew up in.

“If your Silent Gen­er­a­tion par­ents had voted Labour you prob­a­bly voted Labour as a Baby Boomer. What they did as Baby Boomers was try to re­gen­er­ate the par­ties. Bill Clin­ton in Amer­ica and Tony Blair in the UK were lit­er­ally case stud­ies of what a Baby Boomer would do to an old-school party. They re­gen­er­ated. They worked with PR and public per­cep­tion and im­age.” For­ma­tive qual­i­ties: Eco­nomic boom, free health­care and education, job se­cu­rity, pen­sion se­cu­rity Legacy: Un­re­al­is­tic ex­pec­ta­tions, rock and roll, the pill, chil­dren and grand­chil­dren less well-off than them

ALSO some­times called the “lost” gen­er­a­tion, the MTV gen­er­a­tion and even the latch-key gen­er­a­tion. Po­lit­i­cal an­a­lyst David L Rosen de­scribed them thus: “If gen­er­a­tions could be said to have mot­tos, Gen X’s would al­most cer­tainly be Nike’s om­nipresent cor­po­rate slo­gan: Just Do It. Thanks to weak parental su­per­vi­sion, Xers learned at a very young age that they had to as­sert them­selves to get their needs met. If you wanted lunch and mom and dad weren’t around, all the moral val­ues in the world wouldn’t add up to a grilled cheese sand­wich. As a re­sult, Gen X has a prag­matic ori­en­ta­tion that in­stinc­tively favours ac­tion over moral pos­tur­ing.”

Gen­er­a­tion X were raised in a tu­mul­tuous time. The po­lit­i­cal land­scape of the world was chang­ing and they grew up un­der threat of nu­clear an­ni­hi­la­tion. Un­em­ploy­ment was rife un­der the Thatcher/Re­gan gov­ern­ments and the de­struc­tion of man­u­fac­tur­ing in­dus­try meant that many who thought their ca­reer was mapped out for them, down the pits or in the iron­works, had to make new plans.

While in­clu­siv­ity and tol­er­ance are things Gen­er­a­tion X in­tro­duced and pro­moted, their big­gest ac­com­plish­ment is cul­tural. Brit­pop. Grunge. Rave. Punk. In­die. Techno. Ec­stasy. Co­caine. He­donism. Gen­er­a­tion X played hard but still turned up to work on a Mon­day morn­ing. Graeme Co­dring­ton, him­self a Gen-Xer, ob­serves: “Gen­er­a­tion X were not ever go­ing to be that po­lit­i­cally ac­tive. Strauss and Howe pre­dicted that. They are a much more prag­matic gen­er­a­tion, one that says, lit­er­ally, ‘What­ever’. Gen X lead­ers around the world are Justin Trudeau and Em­manuel Macron, and they’ve got a re­laxed at­ti­tude. They use so­cial me­dia, they’re a lot more hip.” For­ma­tive fac­tors: Cold War, Fall of the Ber­lin Wall, The Trou­bles, Falk­lands, De­struc­tion of in­dus­trial sec­tor, un­em­ploy­ment un­der Thatcher Legacy: The in­ter­net, the mo­bile phone, tol­er­ance

IN 2013, MTV summed up the mil­len­nial men­tal­ity with the old war-time adage, “keep calm and carry on”. This gen­er­a­tion came of age af­ter the turn of the mil­len­nium, and found their early adult­hood dom­i­nated by two events: 9/11,and the fi­nan­cial cri­sis of 2008 with the re­ces­sion that fol­lowed.

“Theirs is a story of in­no­cence lost,” wrote Alex Wil­liams in The New York Times. Now, in the UK, they even find their adult­hood coloured by a Brexit, which they, for the most part, never voted for.

Mil­len­ni­als are ac­cused of be­ing spoilt, lazy, en­ti­tled and frag­ile, of be­ing “snowflakes”. They are a gen­er­a­tion that are good at us­ing their phones, the in­ter­net and memes.

Many of the mile­stones of life ex­pe­ri­ence by which their Gen X par­ents and Baby Boomer grand­par­ents mea­sured their suc­cess are avoided by Mil­len­ni­als, or are be­ing de­layed.

Fewer are get­ting mar­ried, fewer are buy­ing homes and fewer are able to climb a ca­reer lad­der. Many work on ze­ro­hours con­tracts or un­paid place­ments and live with their mum and dad un­til the ripe old age of 25.

But they are also a gen­er­a­tion that ac­knowl­edge the stark in­equal­ity that per­sists in the UK and vote for a bet­ter fu­ture for them­selves and for oth­ers. They are, as Co­dring­ton points out, “hugely po­lit­i­cally en­gaged”.

It’s not sur­pris­ing that so many have be­come staunch Cor­bynites, or backed Bernie Saun­ders in Amer­ica. “I think,” says Co­dring­ton, “that the next thing that we’ll see is mil­len­nial politi­cians.

“Young peo­ple, who are not in the sys­tem yet, but who will come through pow­er­fully in the next five to 10 years.” For­ma­tive fac­tors: Over-praised in the education sys­tem, 9/11, eco­nomic crash, Brexit Legacy: The selfie, so­cial me­dia

THIS is a gen­er­a­tion with many names – dig­i­tal na­tives, Gen­er­a­tion Z, the iGen­er­a­tion – most of which re­fer to their defin­ing char­ac­ter­is­tic, that they have grown up with highly ac­ces­si­ble and easyto-use tech­nol­ogy, of­ten in the palm of their hands. As Graeme Co­dring­ton puts it: “The iPhone turned 10 a cou­ple of weeks ago, and it was not just a new piece of kit. It was a rev­o­lu­tion that made re­ally high -level com­put­ing easy to ac­cess. There’s a young gen­er­a­tion com­ing up who think that’s nor­mal.” Co­dring­ton be­lieves, po­lit­i­cally, there will be lit­tle dif­fer­ence be­tween the Mil­len­ni­als and the dig­i­tal na­tives. For­ma­tive fac­tors: the tablet and the iPhone Legacy: A new ap­proach to pri­vacy and shar­ing

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