Every Generation Thinks It’s Special in Its Own Special Way

A blog about business and economics.
June 5 2014 12:03 PM

How Each Generation Thinks It’s Special

Generations are mushy sociological constructs that lend themselves to gross generalizations about massive, diverse groups of human beings (not to mention endless TV specials about the 1960s). But man, they are fun to talk about. The Pew Research Center, which is a generally delightful repository of  comparisons between age cohorts, has a report today in which Americans answer the ultimate generational conversation starter: In essence, “Why are you so special?”*

Only a bit over half the respondents thought their generation was particularly unique. Of those respondents, 6 percent of the Baby Boomer contingent answered the question "What makes your generation unique?" with, simply, “Baby Boomers.” And that has to be the most meta, most Boomer thing ever uttered by any Boomer.

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Pew

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Oddly, the economy is somewhat absent from these responses, with the exception of those Silent Generation members who invoked World War II and the Depression (for which they are forever entitled to bragging rights). I say "oddly" because the economy of your youth a) really does seem to leave a lasting psychological impression, and b) is something that indisputably links you with millions of other culturally distinct individuals in your age cohort. The same way that you can mark off generations by the popular technologies that you grew up with, you could also divide them by the economic climates that shaped them—the Boomers, for instance, are as much products of the Great Compression and affluent middle-class society of midcentury America, but they apparently prefer to distinguish themselves by their "values/morals" (8 percent) and their "work ethic" (17 percent). Which is why conversations about generations can be so maddening and repetitive, if also kind of addictive.

*Technically, the report is pulling up a survey from 2010.

Jordan Weissmann is Slate's senior business and economics correspondent.

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