Generation gap

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For other uses, see Generation gap (disambiguation).

The generational gap is a term popularized in Western countries during the 1960s referring to differences between people of younger generations and their elders, especially between children and their parents. Examples of these differences include language, appearance, or technology.[1]

Although some generational differences have existed throughout history, modern generational gaps have often been attributed to rapid cultural change in the modern and postmodern period, particularly with respect to such matters as musical tastes, fashion, technology and politics. These changes are assumed to have been magnified by the unprecedented size of the young generation during the 1960s, which gave it the power and inclination to rebel against societal norms.

However, sociologists also point to institutional age segregation as an important contributing factor to the generational divide. Those in childhood phases are segregated within educational institutions or child-care centers, parents are isolated within work-based domains, while older generations may be relegated to retirement homes, nursing homes, or senior day care centers. Social researchers see this kind of institutionally-based age segregation as a barrier to strong intergenerational relationships, social embeddedness, and generativity (the passing down of a positive legacy through mentoring and other cross-generational interactions).[2]

Some interventions resulting from intergenerational research have proven successful in bridging the generation gap. Examples include multigenerational music groups, or programs bringing "bookend generations" (elders and preschoolers) together in intergenerational daycare centers where the elderly mentor the young.[3] Researchers find that positive relationships built between unrelated children and elders in these settings tend to be generalized to relationships within the family at home.[4]

Distinguishing generation gaps[edit]

There are several ways to make distinctions between generations. For example, names are given to major groups (Baby Boomers, Gen X, etc.) and each generation sets its own trends and has its own cultural impact.

Language use[edit]

Generations can be distinguished by the differences in their language use. The generation gap has created a parallel gap in language that can be difficult to communicate across. This issue is one visible throughout society, creating complications within day to day communication at home, in the work place, and within schools. As new generations seek to define themselves as something apart from the old, they adopt new lingo and slang, allowing a generation to create a sense of division from the previous one. This is a visible gap between generations we see every day. “Man's most important symbol is his language and through this language he defines his reality.”[5]


Slang is an ever changing set of colloquial words and phrases that speakers use to establish or reinforce social identity or cohesiveness within a group or with a trend in society at large.[6] As each successive generation of society struggles to establish its own unique identity among its predecessors it can be determined that generational gaps provide a large influence over the continual change and adaptation of slang. As slang is often regarded as an ephemeral dialect, a constant supply of new words is required to meet the demands of the rapid change in characteristics.[6] And while most slang terms maintain a fairly brief duration of popularity, slang provides a quick and readily available vernacular screen to establish and maintain generational gaps in a societal context.

Technological influences[edit]

Every generation develops new slang, but with the development of technology, understanding gaps have widened between the older and younger generations. "The term 'communication skills,' for example, might mean formal writing and speaking abilities to an older worker. But it might mean e-mail and instant-messenger savvy to a twenty something."[7] People often have private conversations in secret in a crowded room in today’s age due to the advances of cellular phones and text messaging. Among “texters” a form of slang or texting lingo has developed, often keeping those not as tech savvy out of the loop. “Children increasingly rely on personal technological devices like cell phones to define themselves and create social circles apart from their families, changing the way they communicate with their parents. Cell phones, instant messaging, e-mail and the like have encouraged younger users to create their own inventive, quirky and very private written language. That has given them the opportunity to essentially hide in plain sight. They are more connected than ever, but also far more independent. Text messaging, in particular, has perhaps become this generation’s version of pig Latin."[8]

While in the case with language skills such as shorthand, a system of stenography popular during the twentieth century, technological innovations occurring between generations have made these skills obsolete. Older generations used shorthand to be able to take notes and write faster using abbreviated symbols, rather than having to write each word. However, with new technology and keyboards, newer generations no longer need these older communication skills, like Gregg shorthand. Although over 20 years ago, language skills such as shorthand classes were taught in many high schools, now students have rarely heard of or even seen forms like shorthand.[9]

Language brokering[edit]

Another phenomenon within language that works to define a generational gap occurs within families in which different generations speak different primary languages. In order to find a means to communicate within the household environment, many have taken up the practice of language brokering, which refers to the “interpretation and translation performed in everyday situations by bilinguals who have had no special training”.[10] In immigrant families where the first generation speaks primarily in their native tongue, the second generation primarily in the language of the country in which they now live while still retaining fluency in their parent’s dominant language, and the third generation primarily in the language of the country they were born in while retaining little to no conversational language in their grandparent’s native tongue, the second generation family members serve as interpreters not only to outside persons, but within the household, further propelling generational differences and divisions by means of linguistic communication.[11]

Furthermore, in some immigrant families and communities, language brokering is also used to integrate children into family endeavors and into civil society. Child integration has become very important to form linkages between new immigrant communities and the predominant culture and new forms of bureaucratic systems.[12] In addition, it also serves towards child development by learning and pitching in.

Workplace Attitudes[edit]

USA Today reported that younger generations are "entering the workplace in the face of demographic change and an increasingly multi-generational workplace".[13] Multiple engagement studies show that the interests shared across the generation gap by members of this increasingly multi-generational workplace can differ substantially.[14] For example, fifty-seven percent of Millennials are willing to seriously consider a job offer from another company, and 47% would actively seek out new employment. By contrast, only 20% of mature workers are willing to consider switching career, and only 12% are actively seeking new employment. Fifty-nine percent of Millennials say the recession negatively impacted their career plans, while only 35% of mature workers feel the same way. However, according to the engagement studies, mature workers and the new generations of workers share similar thoughts on a number of topics across the generation gap. Their opinions overlap on flexible working hours/arrangements, promotions/bonuses, the importance of computer proficiency, and leadership. Additionally, the majority of Millennials and mature workers enjoy going to work every day, and feel inspired to do their best.[15]

Generational consciousness[edit]

Generational consciousness is another way of distinguishing among generations that was worked on by social scientist Karl Mannheim. Generational consciousness is when a group of people become mindful of their place in a distinct group identifiable by their shared interests and values. Social, economic, or political changes can bring awareness to these shared interests and values for similarly-aged people who experience these events together, and thereby form a generational consciousness. These types of experiences can impact individuals' development at a young age and enable them to begin making their own interpretations of the world based on personal encounters that set them apart from other generations.[16]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Howe, N. and Strauss, K. (1992). "The New Generation Gap", The Atlantic Monthly.
  2. ^ Northwestern University School of Education and Social Policy: Foley Center.
  3. ^ Stepp, G. (2007). "Mind the Gap", Vision Journal.
  4. ^ Fletcher, Susan K. (2007). "Intergenerational Dialogue to Reduce Prejudice: A Conceptual Model", Journal of Intergenerational Relationships.
  5. ^ Ramaa Prasad (1 December 1992). Generation Gap, a Sociological Study of Inter-generational Conflicts. Mittal Publications. ISBN 978-81-7099-351-3. Retrieved 7 June 2012. 
  6. ^ a b Slang and Sociability, Eble, Connie, Chapel Hill Press:University of North Carolina, 1996
  7. ^ Kersten, Denise (15 Nov 2002). "Today's Generations Face New Communication Gaps". Retrieved 23 May 2012. 
  8. ^ Holson, Laura M. (9 Mar 2008). "Text Generation Gap: U R 2 Old (JK)". The New York Times. Retrieved 23 May 2012. 
  9. ^ Owen, Andrew. "Gregg Shorthand". Retrieved 2012-06-07. 
  10. ^ Tse, Lucy (1996). "Language brokering in linguistic minority communities: The case of Chinese- and Vietnamese-American students". The Bilingual Research Journal 20 (3-4): 485–498. 
  11. ^ Del Torto, L.M. (2008). "Once a broker, always a broker: Non-professional interpreting as identity accomplishment in multigenerational Italian-English bilingual family interaction". Multilingua 27 (1/2): 77–97. 
  12. ^ Bauer, Elaine (2010) “Language brokering: Practicing active citizenship”, mediazioni 10,, ISSN 1974-4382
  13. ^ Armour, Stephanie. "Generation Y: They've arrived at work with a new attitude". USA Today. Retrieved 8 May 2014. 
  14. ^ "Winning the generation game". The Economist. The Economist. Retrieved 1 December 2014. 
  15. ^ "Millennial and mature workers attitudes align". Randstad USA. Randstad USA. Retrieved 1 December 2014. 
  16. ^ Furlong, Andy (2013). Youth Studies: An Introduction. New York: Routledge. p. 12. ISBN 978-0-415-56479-3.