Widely Held Attitudes about Various Generations Studied

August 28, 2008

This article is included in these additional categories:

Boomers & Older | Youth & Gen X

Generation Y is the most self-indulgent, Generation X is the most innovative, and Boomers are the most productive, while the “Silent Generation” and the “Greatest Generation” are the most admired, according to a recent survey by Harris Interactive.

Conducted for Charles Schwab and Age Wave, the study asked almost 4,000 Americans age 21-83 what they thought of the various US generations, including their own.

Specifically, they were asked about people age 13-31, or Generation Y; those age 32-43 or Generation X; Baby Boomers, age 44-62; the “Silent Generation,” age 63-83; and the “Greatest Generation,” age 84+.

Some of the more interesting findings:

  • Baby Boomers (35%) are most widely viewed as having a positive effect on society, followed by Generation X (25%).

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  • The Silent Generation (33%) and the Greatest Generation (30%) are the most widely admired generations, followed by Baby Boomers (22%).

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  • The Silent Generation (40%) and Baby Boomers (33%) are widely viewed as the most generous.

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  • The two generations widely seen as the most productive are Baby Boomers (45%) and Generation X (32%).

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  • A 53% majority (including a majority of Gen Y itself) believe Generation Y is the most self-indulgent, followed by Generation X (25%).

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  • A 41% plurality sees Generation X as the most innovative, followed by Baby Boomers (25%) and Generation Y (22%).

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  • There is no consensus as to which generation is most socially conscious, but Baby Boomers (34%) and Generation X (26%) top the list.

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  • Gen Y would like to rename themselves the “Internet Generation” (32%). They really dislike being called “Generation Y” or “Millennials.”

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  • Gen X would choose to rename themselves “Generation Tech” (25%). They dislike being called “Generation X.”

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  • Baby Boomers are the only generation which seems to really like the name given to them (27%).

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  • The Silent Generation would re-name themselves the “Responsible Generation” (44%). They strongly dislike being called “Silent” or “Invisible.”

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Harris Analysis: Myth versus Reality

These findings show that two widely held views are false. One is that America is riddled with ageism and that younger people have no respect for older people.

While there is surely some prejudice against older people which sometimes leads to age discrimination, the two oldest generations – the Silent and the Greatest Generations – are much more admired than any other generation.

There are several reasons why there is so little hostility to older people or concern about what some people have termed “intergenerational equity.”

One is that they are our parents and grandparents. Another is that we all hope to get old one day. Furthermore, research has shown that older people are much more likely to give money to their children and grandchildren than vice-versa. While older people are the beneficiaries of Social Security and Medicare, and the taxes that are needed to pay for them, most people do not see them as a burden to younger generations.

Another common belief, shown to be false in this survey, is that Baby Boomers are widely seen as particularly self-indulgent or even greedy. In reality, Boomers get higher marks than other generations for being socially conscious, productive and having a positive effect on society.

About the study: This study was conducted online within the United States by Harris Interactive on behalf of Charles Schwab and Age Wave between March 28 and April 22, 2008, among 3,868 adults (age 21-83). Figures for age, sex, race, education, income, investable assets and region were weighted where necessary to align them with their actual proportions in the population. Propensity score weighting was also used to adjust for respondents’ propensity to be online.

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