Today’s thirty somethings are members of a class of people called Generation X while twenty somethings are part of Generation Y, and that both differ innately from each other and from the baby boomers.
Generations do differ, but less because people differ than because opportunities do . Human nature changes slowly but includes an incredible range of mechanisms for adapting to our surroundings. Young people born in the decades after the baby boom ended were labeled Generation X, and they began entering the workforce in real numbers in the late 1980s.
Gen Xers were said to be lazy – “slackers” in the parlance of the time – who didn’t exhibit the straightforward work ethic of their predecessors. Then in the early 1990s a funny thing happened : Gen Xers started founding companies, joining start-ups, and working around the clock in pursuit of new opportunities. Gen Xers weren’t slackers at all – they were entrepreneurial !
One thing that we didn’t factor is the environment in which the then-twentysomethings were living. The market crash of 1987 was followed by a fitful performance in the US economy that, by the early 1990s, had tipped into a full blown recession. In a recession, taking a dead end job and conserving costs by hanging out with friends and drinking cheap beer are perfectly sensible responsers. At the moment of their earliest adulthood, Gen Xers were entering an economy that was inimical to ambition, and they behaved accordingly. Then, fairly suddenly, the economy started rewarding ambition, and the supposedly core psychological attributes of those young people simply vanished, to be replaced by an almost opposite set of attributes.
Theories of generational difference thus make sense if they are expressed as theories of environmental differences rather than of psychological differences.
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