Generation XYZ – More than just clumsy stereotypes?
For years, various concepts on generations have been haunting marketing departments, Twitter communities or Feullitons with claims to interpretation. One thing is certain: above all, marketing trends, product innovations and working conditions in companies must always be subjected to the needs of the latest generation in order to continue to be successful in the market. A multitude of different labels have developed in this context: Baby Boomer Generation, Generation X, Generation 68, Generation Y, Generation Z, Millenials, Generation Internship, the TV Generation, etc. The latest concept is Generation C, Generation Corona or Generation Reset, which is either particularly depressive, suffers from anxiety and eating disorders or is decisively driving the reconstruction after Corona as a major correction of the previous aberrations with more quality instead of quantity. So even at first glance, the generation concept seems rather vague and contradictory. So what is behind it?
This shows that there is a tautology at the core of the theory: culture is created by generations and generations create culture. Thus, the concept is hardly empirically falsifiable – especially since Karl Mannheim also formulated the theory as a critique of the absolute and objective understanding of time, which defines generations strictly according to a quantitative number. Nevertheless, the concept is applied today in the same way, in which different birth cohorts are uniformly assigned to a certain generation – without taking into account whether individuals have experienced or perceived the potentially formative experiences at all.
Thus, not only is there no quantitative confirmation of the theory in science, but there is also a jungle of different labels for generations with inconsistent definitions of age cohorts, which sometimes differ by up to 10 years for the same generation. Further complicating matters are intercultural differences and inconsistencies: In Israel, generations are defined according to wars, in Greece according to socio-economic events and in China according to temporal decades. Unfortunately, to avoid this complexity, the best-known concepts from American society (Baby Boomers, Gen X, Y and Z) are often used for other countries as well, although the respective birth cohorts had a completely different horizon of experience than their American counterparts. The inconsistencies and contradictions, however, do not stop at the allocation to generations, but continue in the description of the defining attributes of the generations.
Thus, a large number of “gen experts”, institutes, agencies and consultancies publish descriptions, characterisations or recommendations on how to deal with the generations. The Millenials or Generation Y are thus alternatively described in an extremely positive way. (Howe and Strauss: Millennials Rising: The Next Great Generation) or rather negatively described (Tulgan: Not Everyone Gets a Trophy: How to Manage Generation Y). For a long time, Millenials, for example, were described as extremely urban, sceptical of traditional family models and particularly affine to car sharing. However, current statistics show that Millenials are moving to the suburbs and to the countryside, buying cars and houses and starting families. This is mainly due to the fact that Millenials are currently at an age where they are starting families and settling down. The supposed common consciousness of the Millenials generation cannot explain the behaviour, but only the age and the context. Anyone who studies the generational labels in detail will find a multitude of other contradictions, inconsistencies and logical errors. It quickly becomes clear that the concept of generations is neither evidence-based nor does it offer much added value – unless you are a “gen expert” yourself or run a corresponding agency.
At their core, these concepts and descriptions are merely socially accepted clichés and stereotypes that discriminate against certain age groups and are further normalised and propagated through constant repetition in the media and culture. That is why we at the savvy company advocate breaking away from this misleading pigeonholing and truly seeing people as unique individuals.
Both our quantitative analyses and qualitative research projects are always based on the needs of individual people and are largely detached from socio-demographic characteristics. Because on the basis of an evidence-based needs analysis, not only can people’s current behaviour be explained much more reliably and accurately, but future behaviour can also be predicted much more reliably. This knowledge is the key to sustainable growth in the market!