Boomers vs. Millennials: Can a focus on “age” rather than “generation” reduce the hostility?

What if the SuperAging revolution causes us to stop thinking in terms of “generations”? Can focusing on “age” itself — rather than what generation you came from — reduce intergenerational conflicts such as the notorious “OK, Boomer” phenomenon?

That’s the intriguing idea behind a new research paper, covered here, from professors at NYU Stern, University College London, and Wharton.

They studied Millennial and Boomer attitudes toward each other, and toward other generations, and developed a potential new strategy “to increase harmony between them.”

Their most interesting (though perhaps not surprising) finding was that Millennials and Boomers “express more hostile attitudes toward one another than toward other generations.”

But they had different reasons:

“Millennial attitudes were driven primarily by ‘realistic threat’ (the fear that Baby Boomers’ action hamper their life prospects). Baby Boomer attitudes were driven primary by ‘symbolic threat’ (fear that Millennials threaten traditional American values.”

So the Millennials had hard, concrete fears underlying their hostility toward Boomers. And the SuperAging revolution will, if anything,only reinforce those fears: SuperAgers are certainly staying in the workforce longer, and are certainly exerting an active influence on social institutions and public policy. If Millennials feel hard done by, this feeling is unlikely to flip because of a sudden passivity on the part of SuperAgers, who, if anything, are coming on more strongly than ever before.

So what to do?

“To circumvent these issues, we test an alternative intervention in which we challenge the entitativity of generations and promote instead the more fluid, unifying, and universal experience of age and aging. In doing so, we aim to reduce both perceived threat and outgroup animosity by weakening the very foundation upon which these threats and animosity lie.”

“Entativity” refers to the sense of “groupiness” among individuals. Do you belong to a group? Is it a distinct group? The classic example is that if you see a dozen people standing together at a bus stop, there is a low entativity — they are all, technically, in a group waiting for the bus, but they really have no other affinity. If you see those same dozen people enjoying lunch together in a restaurant, they have a higher entativity.

OK, on that basis — being part of a defined generation (Millennial, Gen X, Boomer) carries a high entativity. But could there be a different basis for that groupiness? The authors suggest “age” rather than “generation”. You’re a 40 year old, a 60 years old, an 80 year old, rather than a member of the Boomer or Millennial generation.

This gets you thinking about your situation at that age, your needs, and your future needs, so it may weaken the idea of threats coming from a particular generation. “We’re all in this together” — at 40, 60, 80, etc.

We urge you to read the full article, at the link, because it develops the idea in much more detail.

What’s intriguing here — and why we like this so much, obviously — is that, in a sense, we all become SuperAgers at any age!

Longevity becomes the focus, the common denominator, and we all think and plan for it no matter how far in the future it lies. SuperAging becomes the great equalizer.

Why not?




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