Transition Year overall winner: Caoimhe MacCarthy, St. Aloysius, Carrigtwohill, Co. Cork.
UL Generational Studies Essay
Identifying the struggles we and our peers have faced is an instinct older than time itself. As humans, we identify with people like us, ‘our generation’, who have grown up in the same geographical, economic, social and political environment, and experienced the same highs and lows. In the following essay, I will discuss how studying generations can be of benefit and detriment to our society.
Why is it Important to Study Generations?
The study of generations assists a number of businesses, governments, medicine, and social sciences. One of the industries that benefits most from the study of generations is marketing. More young people than ever have switched their attention from the television to their tablet or phone. As a result, it is easier than ever for an advertising campaign to completely miss its’ desired audience. Simultaneously, web users are actively shutting out advertisements; 26% of desktop users have installed ad blocking software. These markets are not to be missed out on; for example, Generation Z spent $200 billion USD in 2018. By using structured generational studies, companies can track down their audience online, and adjust their campaigns to suit that age group. For example, Netflix released “Bird Box”, in November. The horror, which was poorly received, lead to some amusing shots that the internet repurposed into memes. By reposting and encouraging such antics, Netflix boasts that 45 million accounts have now watched the horror. Without knowing what their audience wanted (i.e, memes), it is certain Netflix wouldn’t have generated such views.
Corporate companies also benefit from the study of generations. In the last decade, companies have welcomed tech-savvy Millennials into the workforce. As a Forbes journalist stated: “Millennials are forcing us to re-evaluate workplace practices that have been in place for decades”. A recent Capital Group survey found that Millennials want retirement investment options from their employer, flexible hours, and the ability to make a positive and lasting effect on their local community through work. With studies like this, employers can recognise the ways that Millennials are similar to older generations and the ways they differ. They can help employers and managers recognise the unique viewpoint Millennials have and embrace the innovations they bring to the table. Best of all, whatever change Millennials bring to the office, be that bean bags or better technology, it is certain that everyone will benefit from it.
In the same way these studies provide context in the office, they can provide context in our daily social interactions. By paying attention to these studies we can understand the struggles different generations have faced and be more empathic and less judgmental of their responses. For the Greatest Generations it was a world war on an unimaginable scale, for Baby Boomers it was nuclear oblivion, and now Generation Z and Millennials face climate chaos. When we see teenagers protesting outside Leinster House for stronger climate action, we can understand the world these kids are growing up in; one in which the Arctic may be ice-free by 2040. With the help of generational studies, we can see such protests as they are; not an act of delinquency, a way to skip school; but as an expression of genuine fear, concern and frustration. Without such studies we would be at risk of alienating this generation, simply for the fact they have responded differently to their elders.
What About the Disadvantages of Categorising Generations?
Hindsight is twenty-twenty, and one observation is that the analysis of generations, with respect to global catastrophes, can create a toxic ‘Blame Game’. John Quiggin describes this as “the idea that one’s year of birth matters more than class, gender or race in determining life outcomes and attitudes.” In practise, it is the art of blaming past social, economic and political disasters on one’s elders. Millennials and Baby Boomers are the standard example. Millennials - for better or for worse – are inclined to blame the 2007 economic crisis on the Baby Boomer’s house hogging habits. Some Millennials claim that by taking unnecessary loans, making risky investments, and buying houses they didn’t need, Baby Boomers paved the road to the economical apocalypse. The flaw in this logic is not hard to find – 74.9 billion Baby Boomers cannot all have brought down the global economy. It would be more accurate to conclude that those most influential among them, who held powerful positions in the 1990s and failed to have adequate foresight, could be blamed. However, the media does not seem to agree. Without the fuel provided by inaccurate click-baiting stories (“fake news”, if you like) and short, snappy hashtags and tweets, it is quite possible the blame game would have no hold in the minds of the majority. Instead, Baby Boomers have been declared guilty for a crime, based on biased and one-dimensional evidence in social media.
So what is the difference between the Capital Group study that enlightens employers on the needs of a new generation and the data that validates prejudiced and ageist opinions? Simply put, the first one is unbiased, independently produced with a holistic view and a constructed approach. It is fundamentally designed to be interpreted in a proactive way, takes account of many variables – such as position on the life cycle, economic conditions, geographical location. Unless we, as a society, develop a sixth sense for studies and news articles that don’t acknowledge these variables, it is very likely we will continue to make false claims, develop prejudice and divides between age groups. We must, instead, celebrate the differences of generations, and recognise the events that made them this way, be it the horrific wars the Greatest Generation and the Lost Generation lived through, the nuclear fear that Baby Boomers survived, the social media revolution that Millennials embraced, or the climate change Generation Z must reckon with.
Transition Year runner-up: Fiona Hourigan, St. Mary's High School, Midleton, Co. Cork.
Is it healthy to categorize people according to their generation? What are the advantages or disadvantages of doing so?
We live in an age when many of us have experienced categorization in one form or another. Whether it is fair to categorize people according to their generation is a hotly debated topic, and the following essay take a look at both sides of the argument.
First, let us take a look at the accuracy of these generation stereotypes. In my opinion, generational stereotypes are accurate to some extent, yet it should only be used in vague retrospect. Generational stereotypes are developed by acknowledging what the certain generation was exposed to when growing up. People do have an individual sense of self; however, if one generation, for example, generation Z (mid-1990s to the early 2000s), grow up exposed to a high amount of technology and social media. Would it not be fair to assume that this generation is more “tech savvy” than a generation who did not grow up with the same amount of exposure to technology, for example, baby boomers? This should not be viewed as a form of prejudice, as most stereotyping is, as the stereotype is not there to degrade people or to take away from their sense of self.
Secondly, generational stereotyping can be used in marketing, which helps the advertiser to understand its target audience and how best to present a product. Interestingly, baby boomers (55-years-old or older) are more prominent Facebook users than the other generations (Read more at https://www.business2community.com/social-media/different-generations-use-social-media-apps-02024237) With this in mind, would it not stand to reason that advertising directed at Baby Boomers (1946 - 1964) would be shown on Facebook which is proven to have more of an older generation following more so than younger generations, “which commonly use Instagram and snapchat” ? There is also an abundance of information on websites on the preferences of certain generations from polls. Although these surveys cannot represent the entire generation, they can offer a foundation on which advertisements can be acted upon. For example, on ”CivicScience.com” there is polling data that shows that most activewear purchases are made by Generation Z, who are known to be an active generation. Although stereotyping in this instance does help regarding targeting a large market, it is also frowned upon by businesses who view stereotyping as sloppy as the advertisement should be targeted at the individual not the stereotype; however, I believe that these stereotypes can help but should only be used as a guideline.
Lastly, I would like to address the positive and negative effects of categorising people into generations. Categorization can come in two forms: positive and negative. A study was done by Naomi Ellemars and Manuela Barreto, Leiden University, Netherlands, that delves into this topic. It is shown in their study that “the way people respond to a particular categorization depends on the positive or negative valence of these group-based expectations in a particular context, instead of being determined by the nature of categorization.” In other words, the actual generation that people are grouped into does not matter so much so as the characteristics of these generations. Surprisingly, however, positive categorization had more of a negative impact than one would expect. Mediational analyses showed that,when detection was impaired (the positive characteristic was given subtly as an expectation rather than a complement), exposure to positive categorization caused a lowering in self-confidence more so than negative categorization. Positive categorization can also affect performance. In a study where Asian American women were subtly reminded that Asian Americans tend to have superior mathematic skills, these women showed impaired performance on a math test which the researcher ascribed to the pressure of positive group based expectations (Cheryan and Bodenhausen, 2000; Krat et al. 2001).
Keeping this in mind, could it not also hold to reason that the positive group expectation of Generation Z also causes more pressure on this young generation than necessary? We are said to be the greatest generation, the one to go green. We are also seen as an educated and sophisticated generation. Could this raise people standards unrealistically high when it comes to our grades and later achievements? This is just an example of how positive grouping can go against you. However, there are also benefits. Negative categorization causes a bad self-view whereas positive external categorization presents a more acceptable, positive self-view, as we find it a more agreeable description of self. On account of this information, the positive and negative effects of grouping people into their generation is mainly surrounding a person’s sense of self and whether or not they deem their stereotyping an acceptable view of themselves. Another factor worth considering is that there are many popular things that involve categorization such as Harry Potter, where students are divided into four different houses according to their personality, Divergent, where you have different factions, and horoscopes as well as a popular personality quiz called 16 personality. Why are we open to these forms of grouping but not with being grouped into our generation stereotypes? I believe it is because people like to be put into groupings, so they have a sense of belonging and of who they are, but they also have the choice of which grouping is the best representation of themselves.
In conclusion, I think that categorizing people according to their generation is unhealthy if a heavy emphasis is put onto the stereotypes. To base someone on the stereotypes of their generation is both short-sighted and ignorant and as shown above, it can harm a person's self-image and impair their ability to do tasks to the best of their ability. However, these outcomes are only caused when a generation’s characteristics are taken too seriously, and the individual’s own personality is not considered. Grouping people into their generation can provide benefits in areas such as marketing and can also give a sense of belonging to an individual. In summary, I do not believe categorization is harmful if used in moderation.
Transition Year runner-up: Lenora Murphy, St. Cuan's College, Ballinasloe, Co. Galway.
We have all heard the expression: ‘Life is a like a box of chocolates - you never know what you’re going to get’. In most contexts of life, it is quite true - except for the human race. In theory, you most definitely know what you’re ‘going to get’ if judging by generational categorisation definitions. People are defined by their year of birth and, hence, the infamous generation ‘name’ and ‘characteristics’ they acquire. This factor alone supposedly determines one’s demeanour and life outcomes. As John Quiggin asserts, this is a ‘zombie idea’, one that is rooted in inaccuracy and futility. Frankly, clustering diverse human beings into generational categorical boxes is emotionally detrimental and unhealthy.
Some may argue that categorical labelling is beneficial to humans as a means of resolving the impossible complexity of understanding seven billion humans. Indeed, categorisation by generation is a cognitive shortcut in perceiving a vast population of diverse humans. Pew Research President, Michael Dimmock, advocates ‘Generations are better viewed as a tool for understanding how perspectives and views change - not as strict categories.’ While on one hand, I acknowledge and can understand the purpose of generational categories as a means of understanding. However, I am opposed to the way this ‘tool’ is used. The consequences of generational categories are so often overlooked by researchers and the media. The accumulation and portrayal of information on generations is all well and good for those who do the categorising, but the effects it has on those being categorised are pernicious.
First and foremost, generational categorisation perpetuates stereotypes which can affect general functioning and performance negatively. For example, one of the most common discourses are that millennials are ‘self-entitled narcissists’ according to the media. An American psychologist, Dr Claude Steele, has carried out and spoken of his extensive research in an interview with Stansted Scope on the effects stereotypes have on individuals’ mental health and performance. Through his findings, he has proven that awareness of a stereotype, that resonates with your year of birth in this case, interferes with performance and general functioning.
Moreover, an article from The Conversation expresses another concern with stereotyping which psychologists call the ‘stereotype threat’. Associate psychologists explain that this threat is a fear of confirming stereotypes. This hinders performance in the workplace and in school. Associate neuroscientists have discovered that when we are affected by stereotype threat, brain regions responsible for emotional self-regulation and social feedback are activated while activity in regions responsible for task performance are inhibited.
Furthermore, generational categorisation leads to intense analysation of how superior or inferior one generation is in comparison to another. Cross-generation comparison highlights and enables individuals to disparage their own accomplishments and feel guilty for perhaps not achieving the same milestones as bygone generations did at their age. Additionally, the accessibility of this research can assist and facilitate in the media’s bias portrayal of today’s adults - Millennials. This can be very damaging to one’s mental health. Harvard University Psychology Professor, Ellen Jane Langer, submits that ‘In order to compare oneself to an external standard, one must view one’s self objectively.’ Therefore, frequent social comparisons should be associated with objective social awareness according to a study by Dural and Wicklund. A meta-analysis conducted by Mor and Winquist was published in the Physiological Bulletin. This found a significant relationship between objective self - awareness and negative effect. Furthermore, the Journal of Adult Development - Volume thirteen, orchestrated two studies on the theory that frequent social comparisons affect mental health. Their studies proved that comparing yourself to others is associated with a range of destructive emotions and behaviours. They found that there are negative implications for personal well-being. Individuals who frequently participate in social comparison are more likely to experience envy, jealousy and guilt towards the person or group they are comparing themselves to.
Similarly, categorising by generation obliterates harmony and debilitates cooperation in the workplace. Generational categorisation distorts our perceptions, so much so, that we discern members of one generation as being more similar than they actually are and each individual generation contrasting greatly to other generations. It has been proven that people in the workplace often adjust their behaviour to not appear conformant with their generation. This is according to Princeton researchers. Similarly, Steele and Aronson Journal of Personality and Social Psychology have established a theory that older generations fear conforming to stereotypes surrounding their year of birth. It is understandable why these fears and adjustments to behaviour are initiated. US Department of Labour studies indicate that stereotypes, in this case relating to generations, results in wage discrimination. This has resulted in an immense scrutiny of the the so-called ‘generation gap’ in the workplace. Ultimately, this generates a very negative atmosphere in the workplace with severance of intergenerational relationships.
Evidently, persistently categorising people according to their generation is doing more harm than good to our society. It inaugurates unnecessary hostility and division among people, as well as perpetuating negative stereotypes and participation in harmful comparisons between those coming of age and their predecessors. We’re all human, explaining why it is futile to distinguish between those who live decades apart. People of my age, Generation Z, have the capacity to enforce this proposition. We should not adhere to older generations’ ideas on how we should act. We can no longer be denigrated by older journalists. We can see how detrimental and unhealthy generational categorisation is. Now is the time for us to put a stop to this classifying and, ultimately, this segregation of humans. After all, wouldn’t the human race be superior if it were like a box of chocolates, full of uncertainty, uniqueness with no preconceived idea of any individuals’ attributes.
Fifth Year Winner: Isabel Azu, Kishoge Community College, Lucan, Co. Dublin.
Is it healthy to categorise people according to their generation? What are the advantages or disadvantages of doing so?
A “generation”: the people born and living at approximately the same time period. It’s common knowledge that older generations have an incessant predisposition to gripe about younger generations, all the way back to the ancient Greeks. Even one of the founders of Western philosophy, Socrates, complained that “Children are now tyrants, not the servants of their households. They no longer rise when elders enter the room”.
Categorisation is a natural cognitive process, and we often place individuals in groups to assist us in clarifying our environment, but these categorisations often descend into stereotypes. Certainly, demographic norms are a reality; numerous empirical studies indicate that global, cultural and social events can influence the personalities and behavioural patterns within socio-demographic groups. However, stereotypes are a poison to society. Thus, while this essay certainly acknowledges that sufficient norms exist within so-called “Gen X”, “Gen Y” and the “Baby Boomers” to justify their being attributed collective nouns – it also seeks to reject the more reductionist aspects of these classifications, which stereotype these generations in a harmful and unhealthy way. To support my argument, I will outline the use of generational categorisation in the media, in the workplace and in marketing.
Firstly, the pernicious influence of the media perpetuates generational stereotypes; a dangerous and unhealthy practice. In 2013, Time magazine published an article on Millennials titled “The Me Me Me generation” with the cover depicting a teenage girl, taking a selfie. Before even reading the article, the cover communicates and reinforces the popular belief that Millennials are narcissistic, entitled and self-indulgent. Any passer-by in a store might only see the cover and receive this message. Isn’t that distressing? In addition, The Guardian published an article headlined “A Generation of Sociopaths review – how Trump and other Baby Boomers ruined the world”. With this title, the behaviours of one temperamental man is linked to unsubstantiated generational stereotypes. Is Trump’s behaviour truly attributable to his whole generation? Throughout this article, egregious generalisations are evident. The media’s vilification of generations has a corrosive effect on the mindsets of the masses. Furthermore, the media’s continuous scrutiny of younger generations engenders disdain for the world’s successors, namely: Millennials. Thus, we can see that generational categorisation is unhealthy.
Secondly, we must examine the tendency to categorise by generation which is prevalent in the workplace; the consequences of such, I would argue, is unhealthy to both employers and employees. Due to the marvels of modern medicine, we are seeing for the first time in history, five generations work side by side in the workplace. The emergence of a multi-generational workforce has been
deemed by Forbes magazine as “a competitive advantage”. Companies benefit from individuals of different generations sharing their ideas and perspectives, allowing everyone to learn and grow.
Unfortunately, employers have allowed ubiquitous generational stereotypes to guide their judgment in recruitment. The Employment Equality Act 1998 makes it unlawful to discriminate against employees of job seekers on the basis of age in Ireland. However, in the tech industry, Baby Boomers are believed to be technologically-illiterate. In 2017, Drop Box conducted a survey with 4000 IT workers. The survey found that only 13% of workers aged 55 and up reported having trouble with multiple devices whereas 37% of workers aged 18-34 reported the same problem. Plenty of older job seekers in technology have lost opportunities to younger prospects, believed to be “hungry tech talents”. The likelihood of a young, aspiring tech worker to job hop is high, the downside of having a company full of potential job hoppers is considerable. However, by including older generations, there’s a balance between young and old generations in the workplace, allowing for generational diversity. It is clear that this form of generational categorisation is unhealthy to everyone in the workplace.
Finally, we will anticipate the argument in favour of generational categorisation: the myth of increased productivity at work. Many employers have taken the initiative to acknowledge the differences between their employees and know how to utilise these differences for growth. In 2015 “Generational Differences in the Workplace: There Is Complexity Beyond the Stereotypes” is one of many studies that prompted executives to employ strategies for maximum efficiency in different generational cohorts. For example, they have tailored certain tasks for Millennials to be teamwork orientated while Generation Xers prefer to work independently. Thus, by playing to their strengths, work is done efficiently. However, in reality, when employers over-categorise their employees, they risk overlooking that employee’s unique skills and abilities because of generational stereotypes. We can’t overestimate the extent to which certain traits are present within different generational cohorts. This would be reductive to the individual.
Another argument in favour of generational categorisation is that it profits us in some way; literally profits. Generational marketing is a popular marketing approach that uses generational segmentation in advertising. Companies tailor their advertisements depending on their target generation. For example, Millennials are more likely to purchase products of a company tackling a social issue. Baby Boomers also have predispositions as consumers. They are receptive to traditional marketing such as television advertisements. Generation Z-ers are more likely to purchase products endorsed by an influencer. Generational segmentation maximises profit, bringing even more money to the rich but its influences on the public are deleterious. This form of marketing exacerbates intergenerational division and worsens communication between generations which is unhealthy to society.
To conclude, it’s clear that the disadvantages of generational categorisation far outweigh the advantages. These categorisations engender stereotypes which in turn rob people of their
individualism. That isn’t just unhealthy – it’s damaging. In addition, generational categorisation has led to maximum efficiency at work, though we must be careful not to categorise to the point that we ignore the differences between individuals. I strongly believe that individuals should be treated as none other than individuals.
Fifth Year runner-up: Clara Buchwald, Coláiste Chiaráin, Athlone. Co. Roscommon.
Argumentative Essay: Is it healthy to categorise people according to their generation?
We sort people into groups all the time. We have classes in school, income groups for tax purposes and we even group famous people by how famous they are. I believe, the biggest social groups we divide people into are generational. The Oxford Dictionary defines a generation to be ‘all of the people born and living at about the same time, regarded collectively’.
We look upon millions of people as one only because they share approximately the same age. Can that seriously be a good idea? Is it fair to put people into groups and predict their interests, their chances in life, even their thinking purely based on the year in which they were born? I most definitely do not think so. In this text I am going to argue how, in a time of individualism, a categorisation of people according to their generation is not healthy anymore.
A generation is made up of billions of people worldwide and they are not even close to being all the same. Let´s take a look at the facts. In 2013 there were over 7 billion people in the world. Twenty six per cent of them, which is over a quarter, were under 15. They were born after 1998 and are therefore seen as part of the so called ‘Generation Z’, the teens of today. People call this generation technology-loving, impatient and say today’s teens want to do things not buy them. However, no one can claim that all of those stereotypes are true for all the 1.8 billion children and teenagers who are considered part of this group. We all are original, different from each other, simply individual. To pool so many different characters under one name and then proceed to judge them altogether is not only foolish but also unfair. Some people just don´t fit or want to fit into the stereotypes of their generation. There are teens without a smart phone and tech-loving Baby boomers; there are hardworking Millennials and people from Generation X that are the best team workers. Therefore, I think it is very unreasonable to assume that a group of people born in a certain time period would have similar qualities and traits.
Some stereotypes are not only inapplicable to everyone, they are just completely unjustified. People judging often refuse to listen to the group of people they talk about. This can, for example, be seen when comparing the use of mobile phones across the generations. They say that the ‘youth of today’ aren´t talking anymore, we are texting. Sure enough 37% of the people categorised into Generation Z prefer texting as method of communication, according to NPD´s article. Although this seems a lot, we have to look at all generations before judging. In fact, looking at the texting habits of Generation X and Millennials, people born between about mid 1960s and the late 1990s, we see that 45% of them rather communicate by text.
Another example of this wrong judgement occurs in connection with social media use. People judge Generation Z for being superficial because they place so much value on media. However, in Natalie Gil´s Refinery29 article it says, ‘Gen Z care more about substance and authentically getting across their inner lives online’ and not only about appearance. No one listens to the opinions of actual teens.
The world would be a little better if we could stop judging whole generations and start listening to individuals instead.
For me, the worst point about the categorisation into generations is the suggestion that the year of birth has significant impact on someone´s chances in life. This might be true when comparing today with 200 years ago, but it is not, however, of primary relevance when talking about the 20th and 21st century. Are not points like education, upbringing or culture far more important to predict someone´s prospects? John Quiggin shares this opinion in his article, as he calls the idea ‘that one’s year of birth matters more than class, gender or race in determining life outcomes and attitudes’ silly and ‘a zombie idea’.
In Max Roser and Esteban Ortiz-Ospina´s article ‘Global Rise of Education’, they clearly state: ‘younger generations are progressively better educated than older generations’. Be that as it may, there is a clear difference on where people of those so called ‘younger generations’ come from. There are still quite a big number of countries with rates of no education higher than 20% in 2015. This means that over a fifth of the population of countries like Chad, Nigeria or India have no access to education at all. It seems nearly cruel to me to tell those 20 % that they have a better education than their parents, grandparents or even their siblings, when in reality their parents still can´t effort to send them to school.
I see how people could have different opinions on a categorisation into generations. It is a practical grouping to speak about different age groups, it makes comparisons between age groups easier and shows development of chances and interests on a general basis. I, however, think that this is at the expense of so many individuals that just don´t fit into this groups, that are different or don´t have the same chances. Don´t these people deserve to be considered in the bigger picture too?
All in all, a grouping of the world´s population into generations has advantages and disadvantages. Yet, I believe, the disadvantages are more prominent. We can´t categorise people without thinking about all the those with interests that are not stereotypical for their age. We can´t judge different age groups without listening to their opinions of themselves and without looking at the facts. We can´t predict chances in life just by someone’s date of birth. After all, it is easy to speak about ‘the Millennials doing this’ or ‘the Gen Z´s not doing that’ but the reality is far more complex than regarding people collectively.
Guide to Gen Z: Debunking the Myths of Our Youngest Generation: https://www.npd.com/wps/portal/npd/us/news/tips-trends-takeaways/guide-to-gen-z-debunking-the-myths-of-our-youngest-generation/
John Quiggin: The generation game and the 1 per cent, https://johnquiggin.com/2015/08/06/the-generation-game-and-the-1-per-cent/
Max Roser and Esteban Ortiz-Ospina: Global Rise of Education, https://ourworldindata.org/global-rise-of-education
Nathalie Gil: What Millennials Should Learn From Generation Z, https://www.refinery29.com/en-gb/2018/04/195492/what-is-generation-z
Shannon Neeser: Recognizing Generation Stereotypes In The Workplace, https://www.xyzuniversity.com/recognizing-generation-stereotypes-in-the-workplace/
Fifth Year runner-up: Ava Moore, St. Catherine's Vocational School, Killybegs, Co. Donegal.
Is it Healthy or even Helpful to Categorise People by Generation?
According to a recent study carried out by Bloomberg, Gen Z will comprise 32 per cent of the global population of 7.7 billion in 2019, nudging ahead of millennials, who will account for a 31.5 per cent share. That means that there will be around 2.5 billion people representing Generation Z by the end of next year, an almost inconceivable number of people, all under the one banner. Anyone with an ounce of sense would know that the likelihood of this number of people being alike, sharing the exact same traits as one another, is astronomically small. Yet, it continues to be a common occurrence to hear generations talked and written about as if they are of one mind. It is neither healthy nor helpful to assume anything about anyone based on the fluke of luck that was their birth.
We are obsessed with categorising people in this day and age - by race, by sexuality, by gender, and now by the range of their birth year. How could it possibly be healthy to have this need to pigeonhole all seven billion of us? The need for categorisation has led to some truly terrible exploits down the years, such as racism, homophobia and sexism, and even though it may seem harmless to base assumptions on generation, we are still judging people based on a fluke of luck that they can’t control: their birth. I know history is meant to repeat itself, but it can’t possibly be healthy to continue to repeat our ancestors’ downfalls over and over again, with no end in sight. We need to learn from our mistakes and actually apply what we have learnt from them, rather than sweeping them under a rug, and saying that it’s solved. Simply put, basing assumptions of anyone on anything other than their actions is holding someone accountable for their birth, which is something that none of us can prevent.
If we are going to categorise people, the parameters for who is in what category should be pretty tight. However, despite how much the media and journalists like to throw around the generational names, do they really know who they’re describing? Because honestly, even after researching this topic, I don’t. It seems as though the people who came up with these dividers decided not to properly define them, as searching the term Gen Z will bring up any number of ranges, from 1995-2005 to 2000-2015. This causes a problem when it comes to speaking about the generation, as who knows what range of years the writer has taken to be right. It gets even trickier when discussing both Millennials and Gen Z at the same time, as Millennials were born between 1981 and 1996, 1985 and 1995 or even between 1982 and 2004. How can we take anything said about these generations as truthful if we can’t even decide the basics of the labels themselves? A body needs blood to be alive, and right now these categories have serious anaemia.
The majority of the information and ‘news’ about Millennials and Gen Z comes from articles published by people who are not a part of these groups. As a consequence of this, the articles, and the information itself, is rarely from the most reliable and relevant source: the people themselves.
Ultimately, this leads to these pieces being more of a critique of the younger generations, rather than the informative columns they are masquerading as. And, unfortunately, the information within is taken as the fact it pretends to be by the majority of readers. This is one of the reasons there are still harmful stereotypes in this world. This is why our society still has bigoted people. This is why some people don’t change their ways. Because they are validated by our media. When we allow stereotypes, even seemingly harmless ones, to remain without consequences, we are encouraging prejudice and hatred to persist with them.
As strange as it may sound to say, star signs are more reliable than generations. This is for one simple reason: maths. How many generations are currently alive? Four or five, perhaps. And how many star signs are there? Twelve basic ones, along with several sub-signs, bringing us up to at least eighteen categories. So statistically, star sign assumptions are more likely to be right than generational assumptions. Nowadays, the majority of people would call star signs and their predictions complete rubbish, but the fact of the matter is that they are better at their job than a generation category is, yet dividing ourselves into generations is somehow seen as more accurate and ‘scientific’. Why is this? They’re both based on the principle that a birthday means more than just the day someone was born, and obviously, star signs are both more effective and more specific about who is which star sign. So, it comes down to one question: if we don’t believe in a star sign’s predictive ability, why do we believe in generations?
Every opinion has an opposition, but in this case, I just can’t fathom many reasons why we as a society cling to these generational labels. To give everyone a sector? To sell articles? Or, do some people hold onto these monikers so that they have a scapegoat for the world’s problems? The planet is dying, blame Millennials. The newspaper is going extinct, must be Gen Z and their Snapchat. More people are homeless, the younger generations don’t want to work for a living. Honestly, someone will find a way to blame those categorised as Gen Z or Millennial for cancer next. After all, who better to blame than the people who can’t defend themselves? And truly that is the only reason our generational bias still exists.
Dr. Stephen Kinsella teaches Economics of EU Integration, International Monetary Economics, Economics for Business and financial economics at University of Limerick. He published extensively on Complexity Theory, Health Economics and Economic History.
Dr. Kinsella has already, in his young career, authored more than four books, contributed chapters in three edited volumes, authored or co-authored dozens of journal articles, with as many 'works in progress', appeared on television and radio, published widely in the press, teaches through YouTube and Twitter and posts "rants" on his personal blog.