Why is Thabo Mbeki a PR’s nightmare? Why can’t you get your teenagers motivated to take on new business opportunities? Why does your father still wear a suit and tie everywhere? Why do today’s young people feel the need to pierce every part of their body? The answer lies in the generation in which you were born, writes GRAEME CODRINGTON, South Africa’s leading generational theorist.
“Why can’t everyone just be normal?”, asked my mother-in-law. After a brief pause, she added, “Like me!” Isn’t that so true? We only have one way to view the world, and that is through our own eyes. Our view of the world is normal for us. But what about everyone else?
First impressions count. The built-in capacity that each person has to make quick judgements about the world is an involuntary ‘reflex’ based on an underlying system of values. It lets us decide what is right and wrong, good and bad, normal and weird. Each of our worldviews has been defined by the influences on ourselves and our families, especially the events and emotions of the era when we were in your youngest and most impressionable years, before the age of 10.
It’s really globalisation that’s creating these generational trends � worldwide, people have had similar experiences or had to face similar situations at the same time. Not surprisingly, people of the same age who’ve been exposed to similar historical and cultural pressures, view the world in similar ways. The two World Wars, Civil Rights, the Great Depression, Apartheid, the advent of TV, personal computers, the moon landing or Challenger explosion, parenting the permissive Dr Benjamin Spock way (only the Bible sells more than his first book in America) have all been generation defining. And we can therefore see certain value system similarities in people of the same generation.
Understanding that different generations have grown up in different worlds, developing different worldviews and value systems, even if we’ve been staying in the same house, is a great starting point to bridging the generation gap that threatens so many relationships at the moment. Don’t expect others to think like you do, be motivated by those things that motivate you and don’t expect them to have the same aspirations as you do.
So, do you fit your generation?
The Silent Generation : 1930’s and 40’s
Grew up when children, ‘should be seen and not heard,’ they were raised by over-protective parents during the Depression and World War II and learnt in the midst of failed banks and businesses, not to trust others for their security, so they save, pay cash and panic if a cheque bounces. They are conformist, reasonably aloof and fairly authoritarian. Behind the scenes types, they wear suits to the corner caf� (Mbeki struggles in vain to overcome his staid image which contrasts with Mandela’s flamboyant shirts).
The Boomers : 1950’s and 60’s
Probably the most well-known and analysed generation in history, it was raised on Dr Spock permissiveness, which, along with the Pill, led to the sexual revolution of the swinging 60’s. They are seen by other generations as loud, brash and highly individualistic. They never stop talking and are always right. They believe there’s a solution to every problem â€? Neil Armstrong is an icon and they believe that if man can walk on the moon, ‘we can do anything.’ Rebellious, they trashed campuses, marched out of their schools on June 16, 1976, smoked pot, and remain highly moralistic and idealistic. They’re happy with authority, as long as they have it themselves, which they do – witness the young heads of State, America (Clinton) Britain ( Blair), Russia ( Putin). They grew up in relative affluence, with each family and community having more money than they had ever had before (remember when the Rand was stronger than the Dollar, and houses were a mere fraction of today’s prices?). They’re legislating against the excesses of their own youth â€? banning smoking, fighting against sex, swearing and violence in movies. They’re obsessed with health and wellness, attempting to be “forever young”. They’re more highly educated than any other generation in history, run the media and are lords of the 10 second soundbite and gurus of the motivational circuit. They flaunt their assets â€? power dressing, flashy cars – and are prepared to pay to get what they want.
Generation X : 1970’s and 80’s
‘X’ is the unknown factor in an algebra equation. The defining characteristic of Xers, one of the most investigated and berated generations in history, is that they don’t have one â€? a nightmare for marketers. The term, ‘latchkey kids ‘ was coined for Xers who spent long hours in empty homes and grew up on their own while their Boomer parents were working to sustain the yuppie dream of middle class suburbia or simply to survive in townships gone mad. As divorce rocketed, they spent alternate weekends with, ‘dad’s girlfriend’ and ‘mom’s previous ex-husband.’ They’re skeptical of relationships – peers and friends have become surrogate families. They were expected to grow up quickly (which they did in schools that were microcosms of adult communities with drugs, violence, sex and murders). They manoeuvre through a sexual battlescape of Aids and blighted courtship rituals (the legacy of the 60’s revolution and feminism), dating and marrying cautiously. They are risk-taking, challenge-lovers who buy experiences such as canyoning and bungee jumping in preference to Boomer-type assets. Indeed, the Gap between Boomers and Xers is the biggest ever. Xers see Boomers as pompous and dangerous while Boomers regard Xers as wild and soulless. Their most famous cartoon character, Bart Simpson, is irreverent, self-reliant, doesn’t care what adults think about him, is often in trouble BUT always lands on his feet and usually fixes up the messes of his father â€? all Xer characteristics. In our down-sizing workplace they realise long-term commitment won’t pay the dividends it did to their parents and grandparents so they opt for the car, cell phone and big salary NOW, attracting the unfair label of selfishness and disloyalty.
The Millennial Generation : 1990’s and 2000’s
This is the first generation to not remember the “old” South Africa – they are too young to remember apartheid. Their births also coincided with the ‘Baby on Board’ car stickers heralding a shift away from social trends of child neglect and negativism towards protection and support. Popular culture now stigmatises hands-off parenting and recasts babies as special. The new status symbol is a stay-at-home mom. Child abuse and safety are hot topics, and politicians define adult issues (like tax cuts) in terms of their effect on children. They receive free health care and education. They’re confident, assertive, optimistic, incredibly brand-conscious, and, raised in dual-income and single parent families, are extremely money-wise.
Parents listen when they advise on car (or grocery) buying; they own cell phones, credit cards and fund raise for school functions without teacher or parental support. Indeed, they regard their parents as out of control, hold their parents’ hands in scary movies, keep the light on to comfort dad when he’s just read Harry Potter â€? the biggest selling children’s book ever. Millennials are readers. Hollywood’s replacing the Xers child devil and lost kids movies with child angels (Home Alone: Matilda) and child superheroes (Power Rangers: Kundun). However, this generation lacks heroes and has substituted celebrities like actors, models, pop and sports stars whose claim to fame is being famous for who they are rather than what they do. Style is more important than content. They play video games, listen to music on digital compact discs, programme the family VCR and surf the Net for homework projects. They’re smarter than their parents. They’re civic minded, practical, get involved.
So, do you fit?

TomorrowToday Global