In March 2008, The Greentree Gazette, the forerunner of Today’s Campus, featured an interview with an expert on generational issues. San Diego State prof Jean Twenge, who had authored Generation Me in 2006, expressed lucid thoughts.
For example. . .
- There’s no difference between a Boomer and a Gen-Xer born a day apart.
- Generation labels are useful tools, but the data show that most changes are linear and build slowly. There are small differences among people born 10 years apart, bigger ones for 20 years, and major differences for a 50-year generation gap.
- And of course, there are other defining characteristics like race, gender, and socioeconomic status.
Dr. Twenge noted that in studies of twins, genetics explains about 50 percent of the variance in personality traits. Generation gaps of 40-50 years between parent and child can explain 20 percent of personality variances. “People are shocked when they discover that the year in which you were born has two times more influence on your personality than the parents who raised you,” she observed. “Yet when you realize how much culture has changed in that time, it makes sense.”
References to generational influences isn’t new, of course. The literature abounds with references to Generations X and Y, Boomers, Millennials, the Tech Generation, The Me Generation and so on. What’s notable, however, is the continued atttention the thesis of generational differences still receives.
For example, in an August 2010 New York Times article by Benedict Carey, several experts challenge Twenge's thesis.
Brent Donnellan, of Michigan State University and Kali Trzesniewski, of the University of Western Ontario studied data on high school seniors that spanned decades and found “little evidence of meaningful change” in questions related to self-esteem, individualism, or life satisfaction.
Antonio Terracciano, a psychologist at the National Institute on Aging goes further. “We find very little change on scores cross-culturally, or even after big historical changes” like war or revolution.”
The debate among academics continues. Meanwhile, marketers -- including college enrollment managers -- have latched onto the thesis that young people are different in a big way.
Return to TodaysCampus.com for part 2 tomorrow, and see if the Millennials are clued in or clueless when it comes to marketing.