Sunday, October 25, 2009

Generational Stereotyping a Thriving Industry

In The Millennial Muddle, Eric Hoover argues that using generational stereotyping to explain the net generation is part of a thriving industry. But the characteristics assigned to this generation, he says, are often based only on "on a hodgepodge of anecdotes, statistics, and pop-culture references". In the case of Howe & Strauss' Millennials Rising, he makes the same observations we made in an earlier posting. The "core traits" that Howe & Strauss identify: special, sheltered, confident, team-oriented, conventional, pressured, and achieving are based on "surveys of teachers and about 600 high-school seniors in Fairfax County, Va., which in 2007 became the first county in the nation to have a median household income of more than $100,000, about twice the national average."

The Millennial label, Hoover says, " tends not to appear in renderings of teenagers who happen to be minorities, or poor, or who have never won a spelling bee. Nor does the term often refer to students from big cities and small towns that are nothing like Fairfax County, Va. Or who lack technological know-how. Or who struggle to complete high school. Or who never even consider college. Or who commit crimes. Or who suffer from too little parental support. Or who drop out of college."

Hoover observes: "To accept generational thinking, one must find a way to swallow two large assumptions. That tens of millions of people, born over about 20 years, are fundamentally different from people of other age groups—and that those tens of millions of people are similar to each other in meaningful ways. This idea is the underpinning of Mr. Howe's conclusion that each generation turns a historical corner, breaking sharply with the previous generation's traits and values."

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