One of the standard ploys in journalism, marketing and political commentary is the generation game. The basic idea is to label a generation ‘X’ or ‘Y’, then dissect its attitudes, culture, and relationship with other generations…
.. Demographers have a word (or rather two words) for this. They distinguish between age effects and cohort effects. The group of people born in a given period, say a year or a decade, is called a cohort. Members of a cohort have things in common because they have shared common experiences through their lives. But, at any given point in time, when members of the cohort are at some particular age, they share things in common with the experience of earlier and later generations when they were at the same age.
Most of the time, age effects are more important than cohort effects. The primary schoolers of the 1960s were very like the primary schoolers of today and, of course, totally different from the middle-aged parents they have become. The grandparents of today are more like their own grandparents than the bodgies and widgies they may have been in the 1950s.
The same applies to the standard rhetoric that one age group applies to another. For example, Mark Davis in Ganglands quotes various baby-boomer pundits denouncing the younger generation as ‘slackers’ and dole bludgers’. In the 1970s, precisely the same thing was being said about the younger members of the boomer cohort, then in their late teens and early twenties. In turn, much of the prejudice about dole bludgers was derived from the mixture of horror and envy which greeted members of the first wave of baby boomers, the hippies of the 1960s, with their rejection of the work ethic and indulgence in sex and drugs.
Age-group posturing of this kind changes in response to changing social circumstances, but only very slowly. As far as the role of younger age-groups is concerned, nothing much has changed since the discovery, or invention, of the teenager in the 1950s.
From John Quiggin in Crooked Timber with “The generation game”.