An article appeared recently in the online magazine new geography which casts doubt on received wisdom in the United States about differences in participation and civic engagement between generations.
Some commentators and academics (Robert Putnam amongst them) have proposed that the difference in participation levels between different age groups is less to do with people’s age and more to do with which generation they belong to. The argument (simply put) goes that Baby Boomers (born 1946 – 1964) are the great moral and ‘civic’ generation; with Generation X (born 1965 – 1981) being cynical, individualistic and ‘low participators’, whilst the Millennials (born 1982 – 1998) have a deep commitment to community and helping others, and they put their beliefs into action.
Pete Peterson challenges such stereotypes and, using data from the latest (US) Civic Health Index, argues that Generation X-ers not only volunteer more than Baby Boomers and ‘retired seniors’, but had increased their participation in the last year compared to Millennials, Boomers and Seniors. One of the reasons why Generation X-ers are currently derided and Millennials applauded is, Peterson suggests, because of their respective political leanings, with Millennials overwhelmingly self-identifying as Democrats (52%) compared to Republicans (30%). He warns, however, that Millennials also display a strong libertarian streak, and express support for fiscally conservative policies. He concludes that ‘while pundits keep handing out participation trophies to the Millennials, maybe this year they should save a few for the enlightened sceptics of Generation X.’
Whilst we won’t be handing out any trophies on the Pathways project, we will be looking at the influence of life stage and age on people’s participation, as well as a host of other factors!
For the full article, and some useful references go to: http://www.newgeography.com/content/001374-get-real-aout-generation-x-stereotypes