A generation gap consists of the differences in opinions expressed by members of two different generations. More specifically, a generation gap can be used to describe the differences in actions, beliefs and tastes members of younger generations when compared to members of older generations regarding politics, values and other matters. 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 companies must find ways to balance the needs and views of individuals from differing age groups. Businesses must be aware of the changing demographics of their client base as gender gaps can have drastic effects on their business as well as the overall business cycle.

History of Generation Gap

The term "generation gap" was first used in the 1960s. During that time, the younger generation – which is now referred to as the baby boomers – showed a significant difference in their beliefs and opinions compared to what their parents' generation projected.

Since the emergence of generation gaps, sociologists have coined it as institutional age segregation and have divided the lifespan of an individual into three parts: childhood, midlife and retirement. One of the most notable findings in the study of the generation gap is the isolation of members of other generations when an individual is engaged in his generation's primary activity.

For example, millennials – individuals born between 1982 and 2002 – are called technology natives because the members of this generation grew up and lived with technology. The use of technology is a significant part of a typical millennial's activity. When a member of another generation – typically an older generation – approaches a millennial for help in using such technologies, a wide difference between knowledge on technology becomes evident. Older generations are not associated with technology as much as millennials are. As such, businesses focusing on technology isolate those generations that do not understand their products as much as millennials do.

How Generations Are Distinguished

There are many ways to differentiate generations from one another. These generations have been divided into major groups, known as traditionals, baby boomers, generation X and millennials.

Each generation has its own characteristics that impact the way society does business with the members of that generation. Generations can also be divided according to group's language, technological influences, workplace attitudes, general consciousness and way of life. Here's a close look at each generation:

  1. Traditionals: They survived the Great Depression and were instrumental in shaping the United States into an economic and military power. Patriotism, teamwork, “doing more with less” and a task-orientation very much define this generation. Rules of conduct, respect for authority, and following directions are all very important touch points for this generation.
  2. Baby Boomers: They saw increasing social and economic equality and came of age as the country was being torn by differing views on politics, war, and social justice. The Boomers also witnessed and 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. This generation experienced massive shifts in educational, economic, and social opportunities.
  3. Generation X: Born between 1965 and 1980, Gen Xers grew up with emerging technologies and political and institutional incompetence. Watergate, Three Mile Island, Bhopal, the Iranian hostage crisis, Iran-Contra and the Clinton-Lewinsky debacles mark the emergence of this generation. Mimeograph machines evolved into high-speed copiers, faxes plodded from 30 minutes a page to seconds, which then evolved into emails. Heavy adding machines were replaced with handheld calculators, which got smaller and smaller and more ubiquitous. Whereas computers were the size of whole buildings for the Traditional Generation and whole rooms for Baby Boomers, the computer now became a desktop appliance, and eventually even smaller.
  1. Millennials: Millennials were born between 1980 and 1994. These workers have grown up in an era of technology. They have always known cable television, cellular phones, pagers, answering machines, laptop computers, and video games. Technological advancements in real-time media and communication have driven their expectation for immediacy. The Columbine High School shootings of 1999 and the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, deeply affected this generation. A concept known as "emerging adulthood" also defines this generation. Emerging adulthood is the period between adolescence and adulthood, typically between ages 18 and 25, in which individuals are no longer fully dependent but are not yet fully self-sufficient, with the full responsibilities and independence of adulthood. This developmental period is characterized by self-exploration, experimentation and promise...and millennials have given these concepts a new level of importance in the evolution of "living your best life."

Dealing with Generation Gaps

Generation gaps become most pronounced in situations where people from different generations must communicate with each other. This can be in the context of families, friends, colleagues, acquaintances, and even romantic partners. In every generation, communication plays a vital role towards creating functional society. With recent breakthroughs in medical technology, people are living longer and choosing to remain in the workforce for longer. The different generations are mingling more now than ever before, and communication between these groups is increasingly important and challenging.