A generation gap refers to the chasm that separates the thoughts expressed by members of two different generations. More specifically, a generation gap can be used to describe the differences in actions, beliefs, and tastes exhibited by members of younger generations, versus older ones. The subjects at hand may be vast and varied but can include politics, values, and pop culture. While generation gaps have been prevalent throughout all periods of history, the breadth of differences of these gaps has widened in the 20th and 21st centuries.

Understanding Generation Gap

Generation gaps play big roles in businesses because, in order to succeed, companies must find ways to balance the needs and views of individuals from different age groups. Businesses must be cognizant of the fact that changing demographics of their client base, including the typical genders of their patrons, can drastically affect their business cycles and bottom lines.

Key Takeaways

  • A generation gap is defined as the different thoughts possesses by different generational members.
  • A generation gap can be used to distinguish the view of both actions and beliefs.
  • Different generations can be categorized as either Traditionals, Baby boomers, Generation X-ers and Millennials.

History of Generation Gap

The term "generation gap" was first used in the 1960s. During that time, the younger generation in question – commonly referred to as “baby boomers” – showed a significant difference in their beliefs and opinions, compared to that of their parents' generation.

Sociologists use nomenclature to refer to different generational segments. For example, millennials, which are those individuals born between 1982 and 2002, are called “technology natives” because they have lived with digital technology their entire lives, and this is all they’ve ever known. Contrarily, older generational members, known as “digital immigrants”, tend to be less comfortable with personal usage of technology. Consequently, technology companies market products differently, to each group.

How Generations Are Distinguished

The current living generations have been divided into the following four major groups:

  1. Traditionals
  2. Baby boomers
  3. Generation X-ers
  4. Millennials.

Each generation has its own characteristics regarding vernacular, technological influences, workplace attitudes, general consciousness and ways of life.

1.   Traditionals: As Great Depression survivors, they were instrumental in shaping the United States into an economic and military power. This group is defined by Patriotism, teamwork, and drive. Traditionals tend to obey rules and respect authority.

2.   Baby Boomers: They witnessed increasing social and economic equality and came of age as the country was split by differing views on politics, war, and social justice. The Boomers participated in some of the greatest social changes in the country’s history, during the 1960s and 1970s, with the Civil Rights Movement and the Women’s Movement.

3.   Generation X: Born between 1965 and 1980, Gen Xers grew up with emerging technologies and political and institutional incompetence. They witnessed Watergate, Three Mile Island, and the Iranian hostage crisis. But they also observed major technological advancements. Mimeograph machines evolved into high-speed copiers, fax machines gave way to email. Heavy adding machines were replaced by handheld calculators, and computers shrank in size and processing speed. 

4.   Millennials: Born between 1980 and 1994, millennials have always known cable TV, pagers, answering machines, laptop computers, and video games. Technological advancements in real-time media and communication have driven their expectation for immediacy. But they have also seen untold tragedy, with events like the Columbine High School shootings of 1999 and the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Millennials are often defined by a concept known as "emerging adulthood”, where between the ages 18 and 25, they’re no longer fully dependent but have yet to achieve complete self-sufficiency. This developmental period is characterized by self-exploration and experimentation.

[Important: The aforementioned generational segments go by other handles. Traditionals are also known as Veterans, Moral Authority, and Radio Babies. Baby Boomers are also known as the “Me” Generation. Gen X-ers are known as Post Boomers and the 13th Generation. And Millennials are also known as Generation Y, Generation Next, and Echo Boomers.]