Can we stop the generation game?

Like lots of other people, I’m sure, I’m getting more and more impatient with the stream of articles about the merits or otherwise of different generations. The main focus is on the Boomers born between 1945 and the early 1960s, and their successors, denoted X and Y, with an occasional nod to the generation who fought in WWII. Those born in the ‘Baby Bust’ between 1930 and 1945 are usually not mentioned, but are, in practice, treated as if they were Boomers (for example, it was the Busters who were the first teenagers and who pioneered rock-and-roll.

My impatience is heightened by the fact that I’ve already published what I immodestly regard as the definitive refutation of the ‘generation game’.

My general point is that, most of the time, claims about generations amount to no more than the repetition of unchanging formulas about different age groups ­ the moral degeneration of the young, the rigidity and hypocrisy of the old, and so on. This is true in spades at present.

I also point out that the use of generational arguments is particularly silly in relation to Baby Boomers because economic and social conditions changed radically over the period when the boomers entered adulthood (the only time at which membership of a given age cohort makes a significant difference). Those born before about 1955* had experiences very similar to those of the preceding Baby Bust generation, entering a booming labour market where not much education was needed to get a good job. Those born towards the end of the baby boom had experience much more like that of the succeeding generations X and Y – in some respects worse, since youth unemployment reached its peak in the late 1970s.

Most pundits who play the generation game simply ignore these inconsistencies. To have all the traits that are commonly attributed to Baby Boomers, for example, you would have to be simultaneously over 65 (to have been around at the beginning of teen rebellion) and under 35 (to have been among the last to get a free university education).

* It’s easy enough to check out my birthdate, but I’ll leave it to readers to do so.

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