June 01, 2018

Credit: AP Photo / M. Spencer Green

Economist John Quiggin wants to change the way we talk about millennials. That is, he thinks we should stop talking about them altogether. In a recent New York Times editorial, Quiggin argued that the notion of generations is a pop-culture myth. He thinks we should focus on how people are affected by more significant traits like class, gender, and age. 

Three Takeaways: 

  • The idea of generational divide is fairly new, and it really picked up steam after World War II. In Quiggin's view, the Baby Boom was a significant change in American demographic make-up. But Baby Boomers as a uniform social force? They don't exist. Indeed, 20 year-olds today are pretty similar to 20 year-olds in 1970. 
  • While significant world events do affect the people who live through them, the experience doesn’t necessarily unify a generation. The Vietnam War draft divided Americans along economic and social lines, affecting young, lower-class men of color most. Their white, upper-class peers were able to more effectively circumvent the draft. 
  • Social norms and attitudes change over time, but Quiggin says that your beliefs and worldview don’t depend on the precise year you're born. What matters is the social context you're born into. Societal shifts occur on a larger, more long-term scale than the 15-year periods we label as generations. 

More Reading: 

John Quiggin, generations, Culture, Baby Boomers, millennials

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