Today I’d like to address another of the most frequently asked questions I receive about generations: Aren’t generational differences really just life stages?
Not exactly. While there are many characteristics and behaviors that can be attributed to specific stages in life, these stages are shaped and impacted by the experiences and values of each generation.
When people complain that Millennials are postponing adulthood and stretching the time they spend experimenting with different careers and identities, they forget that the same was said about the Baby Boomers and Xers when they were in their twenties.
Yet each generational experience has been different, and we can’t ignore that. Here’s one example: Boomers spent more money than Traditionalists did at each stage in life because they didn’t experience the trauma of the Great Depression. They went through the life cycle milestones, but with greater optimism about money. And yet those high, optimistic expectations have also caused Boomers to have, overall, less satisfaction with life than other generations.
Admittedly, generational research is not an exact science, and it’s impossible to completely distinguish life stage behaviors from generational differences, especially when people are in their teens. But over time, enough data comes in from surveys, voting patterns, and purchases to see significant differences emerge so that we can confidently identify a new generation.