Widely Held Attitudes to Different Generations
Generation Y Seen as Most Self-indulgent, Generation X as Most Innovative, and Boomers as Most Productive. "Silent Generation" and "Greatest Generation" are the Most Admired.
A recent survey by Harris Interactive conducted for Charles Schwab and Age Wave asked almost 4,000 Americans aged 21 to 83 what they thought of different generations. Specifically, they were asked about people aged 13 to 31 or Generation Y; those aged 32 to 43 or Generation X, Baby Boomers, aged 44 to 62; the "Silent Generation," aged 63 to 83; and the "Greatest Generation," aged 84 or older. The results show how very differently people view the different generations, with many people holding strong positive and negative opinions about them.
These are some of the results of a Harris Interactive survey, Rethinking Retirement, based on a nationwide sample of 3,868 adults aged 21 to 83 surveyed online in March and April 2008. Much of the survey was focused on retirement issues and retirement planning.
Some of the most interesting findings are:
Baby Boomers (35%) are most widely viewed as having a positive effect on society, followed by Generation X (25%);
The Silent Generation (33%) and the Greatest Generation (30%) are the most widely admired generations, followed by Baby Boomers (22%);
The Silent Generation (40%) and Baby Boomers (33%) are widely viewed as the most generous;
The two generations widely seen as the most productive are Baby Boomers (45%) and Generation X (32%);
A 53 percent majority (including a majority of Gen Y itself) believe Generation Y is the most self-indulgent, followed by Generation X (25%);
A 41 percent plurality sees Generation X as the most innovative, followed by Baby Boomers (25%) and Generation Y (22%);
There is no consensus as to which generation is most socially conscious, but Baby Boomers (34%) and Generation X (26%) top the list;
Gen Y would like to rename themselves the "Internet Generation" (32%). They really dislike being called "Generation Y" or "Millennials";
Gen X would choose to rename themselves "Generation Tech" (25%). They dislike being called "Generation X";
Baby Boomers are the only generation which seems to really like the name given to them (27%)
The Silent Generation would re-name themselves the "Responsible Generation" (44%). They strongly dislike being called "Silent" or "Invisible."
So What Does This Mean? 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.