The concept of generational divides is getting a little old—at least according to Pew Research—which is retiring the generational divisions in its polls.
- Terms like Millennial, Gen Z, and Baby Boomer have become common descriptors for certain age demographics, but those labels also come with their own baggage.
- Millennials and Gen Z, in particular, suffer from these generational divides, with many attributing stereotypes like lazy, freeloaders, and quiet quitters to the younger generations.
- Now Pew Research Center, one of the oldest research organizations in the U.S., is removing these generational labels to prevent further stereotyping.
- “Our audiences should not expect to see a lot of new research coming out of Pew Research Center that uses the generational lens,” Pew’s social trends director Kim Parker says. “We’ll only talk about generations when it adds value, advances important national debates and highlights meaningful societal trends.”
Why it’s news
Generational labels have become a ubiquitous way to differentiate between age demographics. As one of the oldest research organizations, Pew retiring these labels stands out.
According to Parker’s blog post about the organizational change, Pew no longer feels that the generational labels help readers understand the research they are given.
“Generational research has become a crowded arena,” Parker says. “The field has been flooded with content that’s often sold as research but is more like clickbait or marketing mythology. There’s also been a growing chorus of criticism about generational research and generational labels in particular.”
Pitting generations against one another is often not a fair comparison. For example, Gen Z describes an age range of 11 years old to 26 years old. Millennials are 27 years old to 42 years old. Of course Gen Z will behave differently in the workplace or market—they do not have the same life experience as Millennials or Gen X, the generation above Millennials.
Generations are at different life stages and will undoubtedly make different decisions because of it.
Pew’s generational divides have received some criticism in the past for forcing people groups into categories they may not necessarily identify with. University of Maryland sociologist Philip Cohen wrote an open letter to Pew in 2021, asking the research center to stop labeling age groups as Gen X, Millennial, and Gen Z because they had “no scientific basis.”
“With the exception of the Baby Boom, which was a discrete demographic event, the other ‘generations’ have been declared and named on an ad hoc basis without empirical or theoretical justification,” Cohen writes. “Pew’s own research conclusively shows that the majority of Americans cannot identify the ‘generations’ to which Pew claims they belong.”
Other research groups agreed with Cohen’s sentiment. YouGov survey, for example, found in a 2021 survey that just 39% of Gen Z respondents identified with their generational label.
Pew will still publish some studies comparing generations, but as Parker explained, “We’ll only do generational analysis when we have historical data that allows us to compare generations at similar stages of life.”