We need to talk about generations - Understanding generations

Explore our deep dive into generational and demographic analysis. Our experts unpack why current received wisdom around different generations can be misleading.

Key learnings

  1. A fresh look - Much of what is written about generations is misleading, or in some cases, simply wrong. Yet using a generational lens is a really effective way to understand why societies and consumers change. 

  2. Where and when you were born matters - Just because you were born in the same year as someone, doesn't mean you have the same experiences or trajectories in life.
  3. Prepare for population decline - Thirty-six countries' population are already shrinking. What will this mean for your country's economy and society? 
  4. Time to face some hard questions - What order of importance should we really be giving Generation Z? Do we know enough about how to market to the over 50s? Are Gen X about to take over the world?

Marketing is overrun with stereotypes, hot takes and clichés. Some of the most enduring in the first two decades of this century centred on the post-1980 millennials, who were proclaimed as a new generation that would completely disrupt business. No longer. Millennials are firmly out of fashion these days. The buzz now centres on Generation Z, born post-1995 and now entering the workforce in significant numbers.

Ipsos | Generations | Understanding GenerationsYet the rhythm of the chatter about generations remains the same. Just like the millennials before them, articles about Gen Z being “a majority”, demanding “fundamentally different things” at work from older generations, or that their views on the environment are “completely different to everyone else” are in abundance.

But decades of research show that much of what passes as startling new insights about generational change can be misleading or wrong.

Let’s take as an example the line about Generation Z already being a “new majority”. A quick look at the actual data reveals that, even if we included ALL adults in the world today aged 0-15 in our categorisation, we only get to 40% of the population!

Ipsos | Generations | Understanding GenerationsAnd to continue with today’s prevailing Gen Z narrative, this is a group who are often made out to be obsessed about ‘brand purpose’ and climate change – but it’s actually older people that are more likely to boycott brands. Meanwhile, our Ipsos Global Trends research tells us that all age groups are equally worried about climate change. What young people are more worried about are those very immediate issues like low incomes and housing.

Ipsos | Generations | Understanding GenerationsOften pundits and commentators make two mistakes. First they get confused between genuine cohort effects which distinguish a generation uniquely, and “life stage effects” and “period effects” which all generations pass through - e.g. young people of all generations tend to be more likely to go out, exercise etc than older people. Second the whole idea that everyone born across a 15-year period will be identical, or very similar, itself does not work beyond some basic generalisations. This is what we unpick here.

Better analysis can help us all separate the myths from realities.

In this spirit, we hope this report provides ideas, information and even some provocation. We’re looking forward to discussing our research – and its implications – with you.

Happy reading!

Ipsos | Ben Page

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