Do Generational Groups Actually Exist?

by | Sep 21, 2020

Some years ago, I attended a presentation by a prominent social researcher who spoke about segmentation of consumers by age groups – Baby Boomers, Gen Z, Millennials and so on. I left the event thinking it was intriguing, but it didn’t quite gel with my experience of working with people.

A new report by marketing research house BBH Labs now challenges whether generational groups such as Gen Z even exist. The study basically finds that generational grouping is little more than the marketing equivalent of a horoscope. 

Interesting, but pretty much useless.

The analysis reveals that people who are crossword fans have a lot more in common with each other than do people born in a particular decade. It is passions, habits and temperaments that unite us, not generational groupings.

If these groupings are largely useless, you wonder how it is that so many buy-in to the concept. The most obvious reason is that its a lot easier than doing the hard work required to understand people at a deeper level. 

It is also a convenient bludgeon for the critics and the self-important. The labeling makes it easy to pitch gratuitous advice at so-called Millennials that they should stop buying avocados if they want to succeed financially. 

Or to disparage so-called Baby Boomers with the condescending put-down ‘OK Boomer’. 

I have worked with people in their 50s who are more digitally savvy, creative and entrepreneurial than many people in their twenties. I’ve also worked with people in their 20s and 30s who have an astonishing grasp of complex issues that is lacking in many people with twice their experience.

We too easily pigeon-hole and label people, organisations and industries on the flimsiest of evidence. Take the time to do the hard work and you can stand out from the crowd for the right reasons.

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