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The Biggest Problem With Generational Differences

It seems to me that every time we open the paper, Twitter, or visit here on LinkedIn, that there is another piece telling us how each generation is different. We so often read that Millennials think or act a certain way, that Gen Z is wildly different than Gen X, and so on and so forth.

The truth is that there are differences between those that grew up on the internet and on connected devices and those that didn’t, and there are certainly differences between those who attended Woodstock and those who attended Burning Man (though yes, there could be overlap there too).The problem with generations though, is that we don’t have a universal way of defining them. Some say that a Millennial, for example, is born between 1980 – 1995, others will say they are born between 1977-2000. Take this data pulled from my good pal Wikipedia to highlight my point.

  • MetLife states that Millennials are born between 1977-1994.
  • PricewaterhouseCoopers defines Millennials as those born between 1980–1995.
  • A May 2013 Time magazine cover story identified Millennials as those born from 1980 or 1981 to the year 2000.
  • Dale Carnegie Training and MSW Research described Millennial birth years as being between 1980–1996.
  • Synchrony Financial describes Millennials as starting as early as 1976.
  • Statistics Canada defined 1992 as the last year Generation Y was born.
  • Pew Research Center defines Millennials from 1981 and on. This means that there is yet another year of Millennials each year. Crazy.
  • Gallup Inc., uses 1980-1996 as the years Millennials were born.

Seeing as a millennial could be between a 15-year span and upwards of 23, we’re talking a difference of nearly 25 million Americans alone. And we’re still saying that they’re all the same? And if we take all of the Millennials (again, just as an example), we’re saying that between 80 – 150 million Americas think, act, and want the same

If I were to look at some of my close mentors (many are twice my age) I notice that they are far more tech-savvy than I, and demonstrate many of the generalized characteristics a typical Millennial might.

So do I, but the inverse.

And we both cover some of the Gen X ‘identifiers’ as well. While we’re at it, we all share some Boomer or Gen Z traits, too.

We’re all people, and while we may share some similar qualities with each other, we’re all different, regardless of our age.

Look, it comes down to knowing that yes, there are differences between someone who was born in 1950 and those born 20 years ago. There are also major differences between those who were raised in an upper-class family vs those who weren’t. There are differences between those who had a great education, and those who didn’t, and there are differences between those who like Game of Thrones vs. those who don’t. You get the point.

As we get deeper and deeper into this tech-dependant environment we’re living in, and look to simplify people by putting them in generational boxes, we risk losing the opportunity to find out what makes the individual we’re hoping to understand better by sacrificing it and defaulting to what the next generational article tells us about them.

The bottom line here is that the more we generalize people and box them, the more we compromise who they really are. There is no fine line that separates people to suggest the stark difference we read. If we can scrap these labels and assumptions, there is no doubt we can all be better off and take the person for who they are; not what the label says they are based on their age.


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