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Caravan Readers Tell Us What They Think About Generation Labels

The Reframing Aging Initiative asked our Caravan newsletter subscribers take to take a two-question survey regarding whether they identify with a particular generation label, such as baby boomer or millennial, and whether they believe those labels have value in helping us better define and understand the character traits and common experiences of people born within those categories.

We also asked for their comments, and about 70 of the 115 readers who participated in the survey took the time to offer what were thoughtful and often nuanced perspectives on the topic. We greatly appreciate their engagement with the survey, and we are pleased to share the following comments we received.

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Although no single individual is accurately represented by a generational label, generations DO have similar cultural references that define them (movies, music, political events, sporting events, etc.)--again, those references don't define the individuals, they define what is generally relevant and memorable for those groups of individuals known as a generation. Generation labels provide insight to trends, but not individuals. 

*****

Generation labels are, of course, proxies and nothing more, but they are helpful in telling stories and describing experiences common to many people. In my own research, I don't use generation labels; for many of the reasons Dr. Cohen mentioned, I use other categorizations of age.

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I don't understand any of the supposed characteristics after baby boomers. It feels like the labels are being assigned more frequently.

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I think that it’s fine to look at a cohort in general for similarities, however, the labels just create a connotation that often bears false or inaccurate representation of the individuals as a whole.

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I think labels have multiple functions. They are shorthand, but they are also defense mechanisms and may provide a sense of belonging for individuals. However, over time, with the help of popular culture, stereotypes develop. The trick is to recognize these stereotypes, limit our own perpetuation of them, and learn how to politely warn others to prevent them from spreading.

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Generational labels have become arbitrary, and marketers and opinion-shapers have begun to misappropriate them to foster generational discord or stereotype an age group. As a result, labels get used as an exclusionary strategy.

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While I agree that generation labels may overgeneralize people, I think these categories can help provide sociological context to groups of people like other social labels.

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 It seems to me it’s more about the ‘blame [game]’ rather than anything constructive or instructive.

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Generation labels have moved from a positive way to identify self and others to a negative framework that lays blame, stereotypes, and creates fissures in the fabric of our communities.

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I think that events that you experience in different phases of life shape you, but we have too many labels for generations. For example, COVID will shape children and teens who are growing up with a year of virtual school, but it doesn't mean it is the only thing that will shape them

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I want to qualify my "yes" response above. I think the baby boom generation concept served a purpose to help define the social/cultural changes following WWII. However, I think the various new designations have lost any sociological meaning. For research purposes we have the concept of cohort. The other terms have simply become marketing tools.

*****

The stigma attached to aging goes with the generational names.

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I guess since I was born in 1958, I don't identify as a boomer. That is my parents’ generation. And I don't think we started the labels for the others till later. I have attended several webinars/lectures on the differences between each, and it does help someone my age to understand the younger generations.

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Being aware of the different generations is a good start, the issue is the lack of desire to understand different viewpoints based on age.

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Generation labels are just another means to denigrate a group of people with perceived similarities based on birth date. These labels are also being used to convey messages which are fundamentally ageist.

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Removing arbitrary generational labels will benefit society as a whole and advance reframing aging efforts.

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I don't really know the age of the people I meet, work with, or encounter unless they are close friends or family and I think of them as that, not as what generation.

*****

Generation tags may seem easier in terms of grouping and naming. But most of the time, we assume homogeneous groups using these labels. However, there is a heterogeneous situation. Nowadays, it has become very easy to criticize a group by generalizing using generation labels. It has become inevitable to think about this issue in more detail and to find a solution.

*****

 I do not identify with the way baby boomers are now described. I always believed we were and still are idealistic--with a desire to work toward a more accepting society. It seems like today baby boomers are described as unwilling to change or as being "stuck in their ways." I do not believe this is an accurate description.

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I know demographically I am a “baby boomer.” However, the stereotypes about baby boomers In media are, of course, demeaning, assumptive, and prejudiced. I’m always a little shocked because as we are older, I believe we are more different than alike. It is hurtful as any other prejudice.

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It is helpful to continue to use the labels to help when reflecting on the different age group.

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Generation labels are as useful as chronological age group and life stage--just one framework to understand groups of people; however, I think cohort is a better descriptor to refer to a group of people born in a certain time period and shaped by historical, social, economic forces. Further, just as older adult can be defined as age 60+ or 65+, cohort can be defined by looser range (instead of Pew Research defining Gen X born 1965-1980) —e.g., Gen X/MTV Gen from early-to-mid-1960s as starting birth years, late 1970s to early 1980s as ending birth years. Leave it up to Venus and Serena to decide whether they identify as Gen X or Millennial.

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These labels do more harm than good when we attribute personality traits and characteristics. They might be good for getting people to talk about cohort effects, but as the article points out, their arbitrariness makes them over-simplistic.

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Generational framing is very U.S. centric. The diversity of abilities, culture, individual contexts, etc., is far too broad to be labeled as such.

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While labels can be dangerous if people are unfairly profiled in a blanketed manner, sometimes recognizing the common experiences of people living through a specific time period and how that experience might color their priorities and viewpoints helps explain difficulties that can pop up in communicating or working together. Understanding is better than judging a whole group as having flawed character.

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I am a social worker and the generational categories have never applied to myself and I never agreed with the generalizations based solely on age.

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The labels help up to a point. Then it helps to elaborate on the “shades of gray,” all the diversity within the group.

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As someone born in 1983, I've clung to xennial, because I grew up before there was technology in every classroom. I've never felt that millennial could capture my experience, so I think there is a lot more nuance to lived experience than arbitrary groupings based on age.

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While it's annoying that the terms are used in media to make fun of one another, the labels can be helpful to attempt to understand and ultimately help meet the needs of a particular group. For example, it's important to know that because fewer children were born after the baby boomer generation, Social Security is in danger because fewer are paying into the system. Also, knowing the numbers of folks in each category can be helpful in planning resources for cities, counties and states.

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The generation labels perpetuate intergenerational conflict which, in turn, prevents us all from working to solve societal issues/problems we all face. While I haven't read the research, it seems more productive to talk about specific age groups in the context of shared experiences (e.g., people who graduate college in the Great Recession, or young people of draft age during the Vietnam War, etc.).

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Let's use age groups in ways that 1) helps us truly understand human phenomena; 2) highlights our diversity (instead of erasing it); and 3) reduces conflict among age groups.

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I believe the author of the article we were asked to read confuses defining the various time periods in which we were born and suggesting that the characteristics that become associated with the various cadre completely define that group. We are from different times and we process the information and influences on our lives in a variety of ways. There are distinct ages, but the outcome of the impact on the individuals can be as varied as the people. That said, it is reasonable to infer certain patterns to various cohorts that enable conversation and analysis without striking each member of each cohort as clones of those definitions.

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We have enough stereotypes.

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If labels are needed, it would be more accurate and less confusing to use birth decades like “those born in the 1970s, etc.” There are definitely some differences depending on when you were born, but that doesn’t take into account the major contribution of culture in your views/opinions. The U.S. is very diverse and someone born in any given decade in the U.S. would have different culture and values than someone born the same year, but raised somewhere else (and then moved to the U.S. as an adult). The immigrant might even have more in common with an older generation than their own generation. Also, culture and values differ from state to state, rural/urban/suburban settings, Southern states compared to coastal states, etc., and these generational labels don’t take these differences into account, either.

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Every generation is impacted by the cultural and external circumstances that occur during the formative years in particular. These circumstances include such events as war, economic depressions, famine, pandemics. In addition, positive events also count: music, scientific inventions, technology have impact as well

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I think the labels have salience at a very broad level, but they imply homogeneity where there really is none. I relate to aspects of "Generation X" but think that referring to me as a child of the ’70s would be about as meaningful. (And a child born in 1970 vs 1979 really is different, too.) I strongly support a more nuanced way of referring to population dynamics and trends.

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It's time for media-driven generational labels to die.

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I am identified as a baby boomer, but resent the generalizations applied to the label. It isn’t helpful or informative

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Under question #2: I would have selected sometimes. I believe the Generation labels have some value for training in the workplace. I do believe that when the training is done well and not using stereotypes, it is helpful for different generations to understand the traits and experiences of people born within those categories.

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I think the labels are not needed. I know some people like categories to file people/things away, but these generation labels are more divisive than helpful or valid.

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Although I tend not to generalize that "all" people in a certain age group/category are all exactly the same, there are some general characteristics that are different between the generations.


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Yes, these labels are agist. They bring together too many diverse persons, like most groups based on one characteristic. However, to replace these labels, effective alternatives should be proposed. In my opinion, "simply describe people by the decade they were born" does not solve the problem.

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People have many more varied presentations than these categories define. Then, in short, it becomes Ageism.

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Descriptive labels based on empirical data may have use in research. However, great harm is done through the misuse and overuse of labels in everyday life (by the media, pollsters, political consultants, etc.). Labeling and identity politics are divisive and highly detrimental to the health of society.

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I actually do find understanding generational differences and shared characteristics helpful in the workplace.

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These labels divide people. Using them is akin to racism. If you want to understand me, get to know me. I think you'd like me rather than judge me. :)

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I think examining differences among birth cohorts is useful, but not large categories and only to consider impact of social trends and eco[nomic] circumstances. Etc

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The labels are stereotypical.

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These labels are also another tool used to divide us as people & belittle our experiences as individuals.

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Generations may be most relevant when speaking of family trees but lose all meaning when defined by arbitrary dates. I was born in 1941, which makes me part of the "silent generation" (1928 - 1945), but I have little in common with the older members of this cohort. Further, the "traits" attributed to generations are arbitrary and meaningless. Dump the generations!

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I dislike labels in general.

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I think generational labels, although totally imperfect, do help us fulfill our human need to categorize. If we don't use this nomenclature - we will no doubt create an alternative taxonomy.

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All it means to me is the time period a person was raised during, and due to the time period, what they may have experienced during that time period.

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My birth year says that I am a baby boomer, yet I do not identify with the supposed characteristics of that cohort. I feel that talking about Millenials and Gen Xs and Zs is more confusing than helpful. It's time to abandon the labels and embrace diversity!

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I believe, for research or program development purposes, it is helpful to understand characteristics of individuals born within a certain period. That being said, we could (with just a little more effort) say something like "those born between the ’50s and ’70s) or something. In fact, that allows for a customization that the generation levels do not. In my personal life, I have no need to refer to or belong to the generation labels. I believe that they have become divisive terms- not just for Boomers but also for younger folks that are often dismissed or unfairly portrayed. As I think about it, these labels are more often than not causing the perpetuation of stereotypes rather than allowing for true understanding of the generation factors that people faced.

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I am a Gerontologist, 'trained' by USC's premier Davis School of Gerontology, and I teach about aging attitudes at my company which services AARP auto and home insurance policyholders. One way we have been teaching about understanding older adults (age 50+, which is AARP's designated age group), is via generation. I have struggled lately to make any argument around generations as truly relevant in today's world. I think things like lifestage and personal identity are far more important to understand someone. And, I guess I'm also hesitant to lump everyone into a single category like generation because at least personally I feel unique.

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Having been born in the 1950s puts me in the middle of the baby boom, and thus different experiences than those at either end have had. So lumping us all together doesn't explain anything very well.

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There may be some value in groups in terms of historical context, significant events that might shape beliefs, but overall feels overgeneralizing.

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I'd prefer to answer somewhat ... generational categories do not define individuals in those categories, but instead, so describe a shared historical reference point for a large chunk of people in those categories.

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More often than not, these labels lead to stereotyping, greater division, and bullying. There is much that we have in common across generations that is lost by using these labels. Honestly the only thing these labels are "good" for are indicating when someone was born (although not everyone can tell you this either). Generational labels tell me nothing about who someone is as an individual.

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While I think "in general" generalizations are flawed and potentially dangerous, I think there is some value in recognizing and acknowledging the unique circumstances of individual cohorts over time. However, this needs to be done with an explicit recognition that there exists more variation than labels allow. Just my initial thoughts.

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I think the labels do fit on some people, but can be limiting on how we view the whole person.

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While having a label to define a group may help us to learn something about them, more often the label puts the group in a box that is inaccurate and stereotypical. To me, labels do more harm than good.

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I only identify as that is where we have been classified for so long and I don't think of being a boomer as a negative thing, but a time period representation. I am all for reframing.

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I am a very late stage boomer and don’t really identify with the Woodstock crowd.

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The Reframing Aging Initiative is a long-term social change endeavor designed to improve the public’s understanding of what aging means and the many ways that older people contribute to our society. This greater understanding will counter ageism and guide our nation’s approach to ensuring supportive policies and programs for us all as we move through the life course.

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