How Did Generational Differences Go from 31 Flavors to Vanilla?

vanilla ice cream

Image by stu_spivack via Flickr

I just read a new report from the PEW Research Center on the comparative opinions of Millennials (18 to 29 age group) and older age groups, and was struck by how few differences materialized for most of the topics.

The survey, which was part of a larger survey about opinions of the last decade, asked people from different generations to rate whether a given thing was a “change for the better.”  The box below shows opinions on various technologies.  Not surprisingly, opinions for most of the items were similarly positive for age groups across the board, except for the eldest among us (65+) who clearly do not like social networking sites and blogs.  But people ages 18-64 are all embracing new tech with relatively few reservations.



Now let’s go to topics that have historically been generational blockades.  When asked if they believed “Green products” to be a change for the better, Millennials’, Xers’ and Boomers’ responses were virtually identical (77, 73 and 70%).  The environmentalism divide that used to separate the young and old(er) appears to be disappearing. Only those 65+ came in on the low end of greenness (45%).  

More interestingly, when asked about “Racial and ethnic diversity”—that once controversial playing field where affirmative action and racial quotas sparked fiery debates—those ages 18-64 are again in near-perfect, high-pitched agreement (67, 65% and 58%). Only those 65+ can still lay claim to the diversity critic moniker (49%).

Here’s a good one: when asked about “More surveillance and security,” the Millennials and Xers say “bring it on!”  You want to pat me down, X-ray me, go through my bags and videotape me?  No worries, we’re on board to the tune of 66 and 61%.  Boomers, those traditional stalwart defenders of privacy, were a bit more skeptical on this one (52%) but only a hair more skeptical than their elders (54%). 

On “Genetic testing,” for some reason Millennials and Boomers are on the same page (60 and 56%), while Xers and 65+ folks are in closer agreement (51 and 44%); but, again, not really a generational divide worth talking about.

On “Acceptance of gays and lesbians,” Millennials and Xers are in agreement (44 and 45%), with Boomers not too far behind (37%). But on this one those 65+ are in an entirely different ballpark: 21%.  

And perhaps the grand unifier of the generations, a question I am so glad PEW decided to ask—are “Reality TV shows a change for the better?”–yielded a marvelous result:  7, 10, 7 and 8% respectively.  Gen Xers are still a bit nostalgic for The Real World so they came in higher than everyone else—but overall, we’re all pretty sure that reality TV has helped devolve our species.



For some of these questions, generational agreement isn’t at all bad. We could do worse than have most age groups approve of green initiatives. Still, sameness seems strange considering the long history of generational discord in this country. Maybe we’re on the brink of a new era of kumbayaness?  Or are we all so burned out from the last decade that we just don’t have the energy to disagree?


10 thoughts on “How Did Generational Differences Go from 31 Flavors to Vanilla?

  1. I think the real reason there is not much dissension between 65+, Boomers, Xers, Millenials is because a perpetual adolescence has been encouraged in the American character since the end of World War II, and the onset of the Cold War. While I don’t want to sound like a crotchety Boomer (I clock in as one of the last of the Boomers having been born in December 1962), and certainly there are wonderful, responsible, caring people in every generation, I do believe that the “60 is the new 40,” “40 is the new 20” credo is crap. Our youth-centric society should encourage people to be young at heart and in mind. Instead, the focus is on maintaining the physical appearance of a teenager. I think we all can benefit from the new technologies at our disposal. However, I have one caveat. We should make sure that our technology, and the use of the internet, doesn’t prevent us from face-to-face human contact, commitment, and engagement. It’s easier to think of other generations as “other” when we don’t actually have real discussions and experiences intergenerationally.

    • Amen, loudmouthkid, from a seriously older generational (I don’t know what they call us Depression kids who were still too young to be in the Greatest Generation.) Young at heart & mind is valuable in a zillion ways; young in physical appearance gets really foolish. I know 30-somethings having plastic surgery who are going to look pretty weird at 65. (I have more wrinkles than I would prefer, but at least they match.) Your best point is that last, though. When technological wonders displace personal relationships & personal contact the losses are huge, and often irreparable.

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  3. Boomers and the “generations” (I notice that the length of years comprising them varies greatly) following them are the first postmodern generations, so they are into environmental awareness and care and acceptance of diversity and pluralism in a way that the pre-Boomers, who are a modern era generation are not. Postmodernism (its consciousness and structures) emerged in the mid-to-late sixties (decade, not age range lol).

  4. The stats for reality shows makes me so proud as a Millennial! But with the huge rise in reality shows ranging from dwarfism to dating a celeb to Jersey girls, I wonder what the next generation will feel about them? Hopefully they see the light!

    Very interesting and informative read.

  5. Young people can’t begin to imagine how stark the divide was between many of us Boomers (I was born 1950) and our parents’ generation. Aside from honoring their sacrifices in World War II, we found almost nothing redeeming about them. They were not only retarding true progress, they had set the world on a course for destruction.

    Come to think of it I still think that about the Greatest Generation.

  6. “How did generational differences go from 31 flavors to vanilla?”

    Because generation-splitting social and political issues don’t come up that often? Strikes me as a good thing, if that’s the case.

    Meanwhile, this is making me dizzy. I’m suddenly back to being a Boomer–just when I thought I was a “Gen Jones.”

  7. Interesting. In agreement with loudmouthkid, I wonder if there isn’t more to it. Take for example the Millenials with their helicopter parents. These kids seem to share identical beliefs with their parents (at least based from my observations in the classroom). You just know when a 16-year old is blurting out their parents’ political views verbatim. Being a child of 2 boomers, I know I share many beliefs with my hovering parents as well. I’ve discussed the pervasive influence of our parents with other boomer offspring and have found similar feelings. Not that our parents were controlling our thoughts, but because they have done so much for us, it’s almost like they do the thinking as well. Without them, where would we be? Surely, their beliefs must be correct, right? I’ve found that out of most of my same-aged friends, I probably am more of an example of dissedent beliefs with my parents. One are I am not in disagreement with my father is that I would never sacrifice liberty for a pseudo-sense of security. That startles me that more and more people do.

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