20 May 2022

Building generational bridges for a better future

Simplistic stereotypes about differerent generations can be divisive and hold us back.

More intergenerational connections and collaboration will help solve the complex challenges we face and benefit future generations.

Generational perspectives are important. As Bobby Duffy’s book * points out, they are also part of a more nuanced mix of life cycle, period and cohort effects which shape societal attitudes and behaviours.

During our lifetimes, as we age our priorities change and attitudes shift (life cycle effect).

Events can change everything for entire populations, like the Covid-19 pandemic and the Russia-Ukraine war (period effects). They also highlight global interconnections and disconnections.

The circumstances we grow up in shape us throughout our lives (cohort effect). In addition, where you are born can be more important than when you are born. 

More people are living longer. With living longer, differences within generations become more pronounced; different individual life experiences, events and circumstances lead to different attitudes and behaviours within cohorts.  

Simplistic labels about whole generations are divisive and distorted.

We are drawn towards simplistic generational stereotypes e.g. negative stereotyping of young people in the media.  An example is a small outlier group of young people doing ram raids causing massive property damage and getting lots of publicity.  

Our older belief systems can distort and simplify things. Research has shown that the effects of social media on young people are less damaging than previously thought, as younger generations adapt faster to innovation.

Putting things in perspective, we can see there is a mix of harmony and tension between generations, and some level of conflict is inevitable as social norms evolve. 

Social values change as a result of messy conflicts between and within generations e.g. gender fluidity, attitudes to immigration.

We are losing connections between and within generations.

More people are living alone and many of us are living in a more individualistic society. The Covid-19 pandemic has contributed to more physical separation and isolation.

A more age segregated society has emerged with the growth of retirement communities. Cities tend to be inhabited by younger populations, whereas provincial and rural areas have older populations.

Physical proximity matters. The physical separation of generations affects our ability to develop positive relationships with each other.

Delayed life cycles are changing the life course for new generations.

Major shifts in circumstances are delaying the move to independence for younger adults due to extended education, increased debt, less job security, and soaring housing costs. Current challenges are contributing to delayed adulthood – staying at home longer, getting married later and having children later. 

This contrasts with recent generations who had the freedom to leave home, travel and work at a younger age. 

Intergenerational collaboration helps us create a better future for those who follow. 

Older people are interested in leaving a legacy – investing in their own as well as other people’s children to benefit future generations.

Climate change is an issue that requires an intergenerational solution. Support for a greener future relies on uniting generations rather than dividing them. For example, older investors can use their financial clout to shift investments away from fossil fuel to sustainable energy sources.

Relationships are a crucial ingredient of wellbeing, particularly as we age.

Maintaining personal connections across generations is important at a personal and societal level. 

Older and younger kids benefit from spending time with older adults outside their family. Similarly, older adults gain so much and have a lot to give younger people. 

Let’s keep finding ways to bring people of different ages together for social connection and access to business and social networks.

* Adapted from ‘The Generation Myth – why when you’re born matters less than you think’ by Bobby Duffy 



Mary Somervell

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