“OK, Boomer” and the Generational Gap in the U.S.

Cara Caulton, Staff Writer

In an increasingly heated political climate, many clashing ideologies have been attributed to generational differences. As more and more young people become involved in politics and the general workplace, the frustration between older and younger generations has become inflamed. This frustration has been highlighted by the “Ok, Boomer” meme, which has caught the attention of news sources lately. Although the seriousness of this internet meme has likely been blown out of proportion, it does represent a growing gap between generations in a world that has changed significantly since the 1970s and 1980s when baby boomers were young adults.

Students at IHS had all heard generation-related stereotypes, with varying degrees of belief in their validity. Everyone recognized the significance of technology in Gen Z and Millennials’ lifestyles, much more so than baby boomers and Gen X. Specifically, the internet has become the dominant source for research and news purposes. Junior Jack Welsh noted, “There’s a tendency for older people to not be as eager to search out information or as able to search out information… There’s a lot more susceptibility to fake information because of the long-standing belief that the news is inherently reliable.” Senior Hana Bajwa agreed, saying, “The way we get our information [from] different sources… I feel like baby boomers don’t really know what’s reliable and what’s not. They think that we’re the stupid ones, but I feel like we know what’s the difference because we grew up with [technology].”

However, millennials and Gen Z have been assigned labels such as lazy, entitled, and incapable by many Gen X and baby boomers. Sophomore Taylor White says a common stereotype is that “Millennials are whiny and their parents are the ones who did everything for them, so they have a hard time doing stuff for themselves.” Freshman Aayan Siddiqui explained, “Now young people are less self-reliant… in the U.S. stuff like college and housing has gotten more expensive so it’s harder for people to become independent and find their own way.” Millennials are frequently criticized for their lack of financial independence by older generations. Much of this is due to the changing job market and economy, which has increasingly made college more important and more expensive than it was in the past. Sixty-nine percent of high school graduates attended college in 2016, compared to the fifty percent of high school graduates in 1975. And as a result, how young adults define financial success has changed. Sixty percent say it’s being debt free, a significant goal when eight in ten early adult households carry some debt. And when defining adulthood, 75 percent of millennials say it is financial independence from one’s parents.

For many young people, the costs of college seem unavoidable. We are told that a college education is crucial to our future, much more so than it was in the past. Some of the fastest-growing fields–STEM, healthcare, and community services–all require a college education. These changes may be overlooked by older generations who did not face these specific challenges. Welsh insightfully pointed out, “Belief that society shouldn’t change seeps over into belief that society hasn’t changed, and that people are experiencing the exact same thing you did. Therefore, any failure they have is their own fault and not because of social systems that have developed.”

Many students expressed that younger generations valued issues such as mental health, equality, and other more ‘progressive’ policies more than older generations. Bajwa said, “I feel like generations are definitely divided on stuff like mental health. Especially baby boomers, are just kind of like ‘suck it up’, y’know? But then anxiety and depression and especially suicide rates have been going up a lot recently. This generation is definitely trying to advocate for mental health.” Younger generations are also growing more open to the meaning of national identity and what being an “American” means. Among 18-34 year olds, 21 percent said being born in America was important to being American, compared to 40 percent of people 50 years and older. On the topic of religion, 44 percent of 50 and up individuals said being Christian was an important part of being American compared to 18 percent of 18-34 year olds.

However, it is important to note that these are generalizations. Every individual is different, and encouraging biases and writing off other’s opinions on the basis of age does little to promote understanding. White said, “My family members that I interact with are really understanding and open, and they’ve also had their fair share of hard times to deal with, so some things they can relate on a personal level, too. I feel what people go through, no matter the generation, is around the same.” Acknowledging the things that bind us together, while exploring with an open mind the experiences that separate us, is important to reaching an understanding with those different than us. For both sides, when frustrations peak, it can be tempting to write off others as ignorant or whiny or just not worth one’s time. On the topic of if older generations were out of touch or if younger people are just condescending, Bajwa said, “I feel like it could be a little bit of both. We need to understand how older generations used to be like… but I feel like baby boomers also have to learn how we are living our lives, too. We just need to understand each other from both of our perspectives.”