How Your Generation Affects How You Think About Events

Liz Taylor, in the Seattle Times (May 24, 2004):

Over a decade ago, William Strauss and Neil Howe wrote a timeless book,"Generations," (Perennial, $16.95) in which they discussed the intriguing phenomenon they call the"peer personality" of the generations. That is, every birth group has a personality, shaped by events that happened to its members when they were young. No matter how different we are from each other, we tend to think and react similarly to people our own age.

"You and your peers share the same 'age location' in history," write Strauss and Howe,"and your generation's collective mind-set cannot help but influence you — whether you agree with it or spend a lifetime battling against it."

Why is this important?

Because where we're born in history has a huge impact on how we age, which in turn has a huge impact on what will happen to us — and society. Let's see what this means.

• The World War II generation — around 35 million people, now in their 80s and 90s — are known as America's"rational problem-solvers." They were victorious soldiers and Rosie the Riveters,"men's men" who knew how to get things done. Surviving the Depression, they experienced upward mobility and rising homeownership more than any other generation this century, say Strauss and Howe, becoming the most affluent elders of the 20th century. The entire modern growth in government spending coincided with their adult life-cycle. Valuing outer life over inner, they were stubborn, tight-fisted and lived by highly defined sex-roles in which men dominated.

• Next in line is the"Silent Generation." Born during the Depression in a birth"trough" (when many people couldn't afford to marry or have children), this relatively small group is now in their 60s and 70s, numbering around 30 million people. These are the"adapters," say Strauss and Howe, known for their gray-flannel suits and secure corporate careers (only 2 percent opted to be entrepreneurs). They were the earliest-marrying and earliest-babying generation in American history. Enjoying a lifetime of steadily rising affluence, they suffered relatively few war casualties (Korea) and held the 20th century's lowest rates for almost every social pathology of youth, such as crime, suicide, illegitimate births and teen unemployment. Squeezed like the"stuffing in a sandwich between the get-it-done WWII generation and the self-absorbed Boomers," the book says, they didn't make waves but spent their lives refining and humanizing the world.

• Then come the Boomers — 76 million people born between 1946 and 1964, accounting for fully one-third of the American population. A vast and varied group, they are the"idealists," say Strauss and Howe, pulling the rug out from under the nation on all sorts of issues that their WWII parents thought were set in concrete — war (Vietnam), work, sex roles, sexual behavior, music, drugs, race. From Hippie to bran-eater to Yuppie to Yoga Queen, the Boomers are — if nothing else — supremely self-confident, sassy and in-your-face. Plus, they aren't savers....

comments powered by Disqus

Subscribe to our mailing list