Generational Generalization

Categorizing and bucketing people to make statements such as:

  • Baby boomers are…
  • Gen X always…
  • Millennials will never…
  • Gen Z will always…

…is called generalization. This is what we do when we immediately appropriate a singular behavior to over millions of people.

Flawed Logic: At the core of tagging generations with a certain attribute, there is an inherent logical flaw. Before exploring the flaw, here’s a background premise first.

Premise: Even though it may seem that a person always has the same behaviors, this is seldom true. People go through complex patterns in life. Often, people’s behavioral patterns change over time where you may not be the same person you were ten years ago. Personally, I have undergone a change over the last ten years, as I read old personal logs. A good way to check how you have changed is to catch up with a friend from 10 or 15 years ago.

The Flaw: The logical flaw is demonstrated henceforth. If at least 50% of the population undergoes a behavioral change in the next  ten years, then Gen Z will now split into Gen Z and Gen Z.1. If this continues over the next fifty years, we will have approximately ten generational behavioral patterns for Gen Z alone (or, ten sub-generations of Gen Z). By that logic, older generations (Baby Boomers, Gen X) are probably split into 15-20 of their sub-generations already by now. Hence, do the  tags from ten years ago for Baby Boomers or Gen X apply to that entire generation?

Possible Explanations: In most cases, when you see a behavioral pattern, it probably is due to a certain point-in-time condition: a market behavior, economic condition, choice of options, political scenario, environmental scenario or, a unique global phenomenon. It may have nothing to do with the people, but with their experiences of the environment and the peculiar condition affecting it.

There is one effect that comes very close to tying a behavior to a group of people in same age-range: peer effect. Even peer effects tend to be localized in certain planes. Peer effects don’t have the gravity to become a larger global phenomenon with the same age-range folks empathizing with each other.

Moral: Don’t generalize. Especially generations of people. It is all good when it is fun and games, but it starts hurting people’s career or social prospects when this is taken seriously. Plus, generalization leads to poor decision making, in general.

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