Generational Attitudes and Behaviour

It can be clearly seen that generational attitudes have influence upon thinking and behavior. A generation can be considered a segment of the population who have shared experiences and have a sense of history that influences their thinking and behavior today. In Western countries like the United States and Canada in North America, most countries in Western Europe, Australia and New Zealand can be considered to have three distinct generations that influence society today, the baby boomers, generation X and generation Y. The baby boomer generation came in a mass population bubble after World War Two until around 1964. Generation X are the children of the baby boomers born between 1965 and 1979. Generation Y are the children of generation X couples and include those born between 1980 and 1999.

The baby boomer generation were the children of parents of the silent generation. Fathers of the baby boomers were generally too young to have served in World War II and both parents would have gone through the great depression. This would have had a profound effect upon the values baby boomers were brought up upon. Their parents would have had a grave, conventional, conservative, fatalistic outlook on life and were also perhaps confused morally, indifferent, unadventurous and disappointed with what life had brought them.

The baby boomer generation was extremely large because of the relative political stability after the Second World War. They were much more optimistic than their parents due to the economic boom from post war reconstruction and the following years of steady industrial development. Baby boomers tended to reject the traditional values of their parents, religion and became much more individualistic and liberal.

Baby boomers idealistically looked for social change. They experimented with different ideas, lifestyles, sexual freedoms, ways of thinking, as the hippy movement exhibited during the late 60’s. Baby boomers were free spirited, open, tried to be fair and took up social causes. This was the time when the civil rights, anti-war and women’s movement emerged and politics became a mass event where two clearly defined sides (liberal and conservative) developed. The heroes to many at the time would have been John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King, and Malcolm X, etc.

Baby boomers were witnesses to rapid development of technology and came to appreciate and accept it. They saw the space race, the arms race, the invention of the transistor, television, the green revolution in agriculture, and great improvements in medicine, i.e., the first heart transplant. Baby boomers probably got the idea that mankind could control and harness nature during this time. They became the healthiest generation so far and life expectancies increased dramatically.

Baby boomers in their mature working years accepted the system, not only becoming part of it, but being the ones responsible for building it to what it is today. The 70’s and 80’s were the time of rapid corporate growth where the baby boomers were workaholics. They competed with their peers and became a relatively financially well off group. They respected success and achievement as an important institutional foundation. Having the latest gadgets (colour TV, Mobile phone, luxury car, etc) became the baby boomer status symbols defining class to some extent.

When baby boomers got to the top of the corporate and political ladders, their conservatism came out. The words ‘politically correct’ became a euphemism for taboo subjects, Gordon Gekko’s cry of ‘greed is good’ reflected a desire of many and much of the western world adopted the philosophies of ‘Reaganomics’ and ‘Thatcherism’. Subconsciously the baby boomers hoped for immortality, which could be seen in what was built during the baby boomer era was something meant to last as a legacy. Baby boomers believed what worked yesterday will still work tomorrow and try to deny the transition of time and change. This is reflected in some baby boomers still eager to maintain the helms of the empires and institutions they helped to build and their failure to provide for retirement provisions and death.

Generation X is a dramatically smaller population group than the preceding baby boomer generation. Generation X grew up during the final years of the Vietnam War, Watergate, and through the Reagan and Bush Senior era in the United States. They also witnessed the end of the Cold War, the expansion of globalism, the introduction of the early home computers, radical changes to the media industry and the early days of MTV. Generation X grew up with continual change and continual introduction of new technologies. As a consequence, Generation X is accustomed to a changing environment.

Generation X is generally better educated than their parents. They became adults during the late 1980’s and have been described as pragmatic, perceptive, savvy but amoral, and more focused on money than on art. They believe in sex before marriage but not the free sex that was practiced during the baby boom era, probably because of the event of HIV/AIDS. Generation X is also known as the divorce generation. Couples tend to break up rather than stick out and work through relationship problems like previous generations. There is not the same social stigma about divorce and it has become the easiest option. Generation X as a group has tended to respect their parents less than previous generations.

Generation X’ers generally earn less than their fathers, but the combined incomes of couples, where the female has her own career, is more than the family incomes of the baby boomer generation. Generation X is also generally hocked in debt through heavy credit card utilization and paying off mortgages and student loans. Generation X has had to struggle financially harder than their parents due to a number of economic downturns over the last two decades. Although some became millionaires, there are many that have had to struggle to make ends meet in this generation.

Generation X is now beginning to turn 40 and starting to replace the baby boomers as they retire from corporate life. Generation X tends to work in highly skilled and specialized jobs, like working in a ‘collegial’ manner and like to be valued for their talents. They are attached more to their profession than the company. They also accept changing technologies and new ways of doing things much more readily than the baby boomers. Generation X sees entrepreneurship as a viable and challenging career option.

As parents, Generation X has looked after their children well and struggled to give them all they want. Although they have many things in common with their children, the excitement of new technologies and multitasking, etc, the children of Generation X have generally seen things very differently than their parents.

Generation Y is another large populous group like the baby boomer generation. They have grown up with computers, multi-channel satellite and cable TV, mobile phones, instant messaging and other high-tech gadgets like iPods, etc. They have been the most cared for generation in history, and even though news is accessible in an instant exposing the problems of the world, they are most sheltered and protected. Generation Y, also known as the Millennial Generation has been shaped by the events and trends of the late 1990’s and Millennium decade, where 9/11, the Gulf War, Afghanistan, global warming, the boom and bust have had profound effects on their sense of morality and civic natures. The advent of the internet, mobile phones, instant communications and social networking sites have connected this generation to their peers around the clock, where this generation is truly socially orientated.

The Millennial personality according to Strauss and Howe is based on a rejection of the perceived laxness of their parents during the 60’s and 70’s and their exposure to globalization, multiracial and multi-ethnic diversity. Their traits therefore contrast with their parents. They ignore tradition and religion, where they were bored going to church and didn’t see the point of it. Generation Y have become agnostic, secular, unengaged, or picked up their own mix of beliefs as they have gone along. They have a religious apathy as they have been taught to be materialist. Generation Y is idealistic, reactive, and adaptive, even though they are perceived by those outside their generation as problematic and irresponsible. The majority are not interested or even apathetic towards politics and politicians. However paradoxically young people were at the front of the rebellion in Burma during 2007, the 2009-10 Iranian election protests and the overthrowing of the Mubarak regime in Egypt in February 2011. Friends and relationships are very important to them. Personal networks form part of their own support system and are also the source of entertainment and news, which filters the way the deal with the world. Many generation Y’ers have both a real and virtual world, with the average person spending around 5 hours a week playing on-line games and the heavy players spending 5 to 6 hours per night playing.

Generation Y has become over-reliant on their parents, often returning to live with them after graduation in their adult life. Although this is seen as an easy way out to life by some, their attachment to their parents may have more to do with genuine family orientation. This has probably come about as a reaction to the divorce culture of the previous generation, where Generation Y appears to be strongly attached to their mothers.

Generation Y appears to be a self confident generation. Based on influence from their workaholic parents, Generation Yers believe they must build strong resumes and become skilled to get on in life. They believe that success comes through hard work and this external drive is what motivates them, rather than inner ambitions. They are not like the previous generations where college was a place of enlightenment. Although they enjoy school and university they don’t forget the reason why they are there is to get good grades. Generation Y has a ‘work hard, play hard’ outlook to life.

Although Generation Y tends to be externally motivated, they are still very calculative and rationalistic about long range plans, thinking carefully about finance, the value of certain degrees and potential salaries, etc. However with this powerful external motivation and lifestyle, many young people are coming down with anxiety and stress.

Generation Y have a sense of entitlement, feeling the workplace should be built around them and have a high expectation of their employers. They tend to question and what to know why things are done the way they are. They seek responsibility and flexible deadlines have a desire to be praised by their employers. They seek praise almost instantly in a similar manner to receiving rewards in video games that they play during leisure.They seek a fun workplace with meaning attached to the work they do and approach their tasks in a participative manner. Balance in work and leisure is important to them.

Generation Y is generally good at multitasking and have entrepreneurial initiative. They generally want to make a difference and feel strong about social responsibility. However, although most like to follow rules, increasing competitiveness is increasing and for some, cheating in exams is seen as a way to get ahead. Cutting and pasting any information from any source to do an assignment is something they do without thinking of where the information comes from and issues of copyright. They are used to getting immediate answers to any question through the internet.

Recent economic conditions have made things very difficult for this generation where many are facing difficulties in getting work after graduating. Youth unemployment is very high and causing social unrest as youths face many hardships. This generation is less likely to be able to afford buying a home than the ones before them.

Generation Yers have high expectations of themselves, constantly trying to solve their own problems and take the challenges that come their way. They can work quickly but need definite objectives to motivate. Traditional motivational measures such as promotions and bonuses don’t excite them much. Due to their upbringing, generation Y is adaptable to change and value mentoring and training. Generation Y has an entrepreneurial spirit, tremendous energy that can give them an advantage, but they are still naïve about the business world. However they are prepared to go into business and fail if necessary and move forward after that. They prefer to start with partners as they know the value of collaboration and co-operative learning. However entrepreneurship tends to be a means to an end rather than an end in itself unlike previous generations.

Generation Y has many implications for the market environments now in the present and in the future as more join the workforce and collective income dramatically increases in the next few years. Millennials expect a greater range and variety of things whether it is in the classroom or workplace. They expect a continual flow of new and exciting products entering the marketplace. This generation is more cautious about new products than any generation before it. Although they are loyal to brands, they expect brands to earn their loyalty. It is estimated that 50% of 18-24 year olds have personal debts totally more than $14,000 in Australia.

Conventional marketing campaigns are felt to be intrusive and Millenials prefer to get their information from their peers with recommendations from ‘thought leaders’ and follow ‘urban trend setters’. Traditional TV, radio and leaflet advertising is not effective with Generation Y. Thus marketing campaigns must put propositions directly to consumers through the means that they use to communicate, i.e., internet, You Tube, Facebook, blogs, etc. Products must reach across to individual personalities and reflect the way they see themselves. Methods like underground marketing that utilize direct approaches through the consumers own world are more effective. Underground marketing uses multi-media approaches with viral advertising (often through social media) to create a sense of shared meaning and experience through participative activities with target consumers. The product offered although mass produced can be highly differentiated bringing a sense of uniqueness to the consumer who will identify with his or her ‘one off’ product. Such an example would be the Toyota Scion which is marketed separately from other Toyota cars and can be highly differenced through selecting from a wide range of accessories available at the retail outlet. Other examples of successful products or services that have utilized underground marketing strategies include Harley-Davidson, Red Bull Energy Drink and the US Army recruitment computer game.

Table 1. Some comparisons between the generations.

Baby Boomers

Generation X

Generation Y

Time Period





Their parents experiences during the depression and WWII, the Korean and Vietnam wars, Television, Nuclear era, Space race, Cold war, Civil rights, Rock and roll, JFK, RFK and Martin Luther King assassinated.

Watergate, US hostages in Iran, Computers, Reagan era, HIV/AIDS, the women’s movement, the environmental movement and the end of the Cold war.

9/11, The Gulf war, Dot.Com boom and bust, internet, mobile phones and SMS and social networking.

Attitudes and values

A general optimism and satisfaction, feeling of social responsibility, work, health and wellbeing, personal growth, personal gratification.

Work is a challenge. Work is a contract and obligation, self reliance, life/work balance, pragmatism, fun.

Work is a means to an end, optimism, social responsibility, ambition, morality, integrity, ethics, self confidence, sociability.

Communication Technologies

Newspapers, written correspondence, post, time delays between communications, broadcast news, TV, radio, etc.

Printed media, TV, radio, telephone, computer, telex, fax, multimedia and internet.

Broadcasting, cable and satellite TV, email, SMS, chat and other real time internet based teleconferencing.


Money, promotion, public recognition, peer recognition and desire to be in control.

Time off, meeting one’s own goals, recognition from boss, skills training, mentoring and work/leisure balance.

Time off, skills training, meeting own goals, mentoring, work and play intermixed and being valued.

Working style

Workaholics, working efficiently according to the ways they know how to work, Work for causes and personal fulfillment, consensual and collegial, team players, like meetings, good at forming relationships and reluctant to go against peers.

Self reliant, want structure and direction, skeptical of authority, equality within the workplace, don’t respect authority, very direct in speech, strongly independent, cynical and want proof of concept.

Like short time spans, multitasking goal orientated, entrepreneurial, consensus and participative and collective action, like to be challenged, thrive on change, in constant electronic communication and always want feedback.

Problem solving

What has worked in the past can be replicated on the current problem and will work in the future.

Develop a list of potential scenario/solutions and then discuss each option.

Brainstorming, web search, peer discussion.


Stability and retirement

Work and leisure/family balances, whether they are appreciated.

The problem of the day, career.

Not all countries followed the same evolutionary generational path described above. Different histories, events and outlooks affected different countries in various ways. China went through turmoil and upheaval during the 1940’s and 50’s with the civil war between the KMT and the communists, the Japanese invasion, world war II and the eventual formation of the Peoples Republic of China in 1949. Even after 1949 there was poverty all over the country as it had to rebuild after all the turmoil. The time 1950 to 1970 was the period of the lost generation, first participating in the great leap forward and then the Cultural Revolution. This left a generation relatively uneducated and indoctrinated with the socialist way of life. It was not until prosperity came to China after its opening up to World trade in the 1970s that the coastal and city areas started to develop and prosper.

Children born between the years of 1970-90 are known as the lifestyle generation in China. They are a product of the ‘one-child’ policy and number between 230-260 million. Parents tended to spoil, pamper and spend the majority of their incomes on their children’s education and material wellbeing. They have become to be known as the little ‘emperors’ and ‘empresses’ in the family. These children became differentiated and individualist as opposed to the traditional and socialist orientation of their parents. There is a noticeable generation gap between this generation and those before them. They are optimistic but tend to be amoral due to the absence of religion in China for many years. The lifestyle generation is intensely urban yuppyish. They are fashion conscious but with less brand loyalty and more individuality, wanting to be noticed. They are ostentatious consumers and entrepreneurial. Due to the imbalance between males and females in the males favor, females are very selective of their future husbands. In terms of management, they are creative, want to be heard and look towards quick promotions, whilst lacking team spirit.

With succeeding generations in Japan, traditional values are being replaced with modern Japanese values, which have a number of similarities with western values. Japanese today are much more leisure orientated than the past generation. They look more for quality of life and are larger consumers than the past generation. They follow fads and fashions and seek outside leisure amusement with computer games, etc. They seek instant gratification and are much more individualistic than the last generation that valued collectivity, conformity and loyalty. However, young Japanese don’t have the same job security as their predecessors and have different views on loyalty and trust.

In India the boomer generation came after independence and became suspicious of traditional Indian institutions and government. Both Generation X and Y in India see economic growth and more prosperity as an opportunity to advance and consequently work hard to find their place within it. The rest of Asia is developing at different rates, the post war generation generally had to struggle. As this development generation saw independence from colonial rule and became more economically comfortable they gave birth to children who are more exposed to modern technology and global influences. The young generations of Asia now have many resemblances to Generation Y of the west.

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