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Understanding Generational Differences Through Important Lifetime Events

What event or events would you say have had the greatest impact on the United States during YOUR lifetime? The Pew Research Center asked that question to 2,025 adult survey respondents in a June–July 2016 poll, the results of which were covered by Claudia Deane, Maeve Duggan and Rich Morin. The research points to important differences between the various generations in terms of what they see as the defining moments of their lifetimes.

It makes intuitive sense that these views are driven by the events the respondents lived through. A millennial who didn’t live through the Vietnam War and the draft obviously isn’t going to list that as a defining moment of his or her life. Similarly, a member of the silent generation may see the tech revolution as significant, but hardly as defining as World War II.

As the authors write, “The survey finds that Americans are primarily bound together by their generation and the major events that occurred during their formative years. For the oldest Americans, the Silent and Greatest generations, that unifying event is World War II. For Baby Boomers, the assassination of John F. Kennedy and the Vietnam War are defining moments. For Millennials and Gen Xers, the 9/11 terror attacks and the Obama election leads the list by a greater margin than for other generations.”

Not surprisingly, recent events are more prominent in the minds of younger survey respondents than they are for their older counterparts. “The top 10 list for these young Americans also varies from the rankings of other generations. For example, the Columbine school shooting makes the top 10 list of Millennials and Gen Xers but not Boomers or the Silent Generation. Millennials also are unique in that five of their top 10 events — the Sandy Hook and Orlando/Pulse nightclub shootings, the death of Osama bin Laden, the Boston Marathon bombing and the Great Recession — appear in no other generation’s top 10 list.”

The Pew survey results illustrate an important insight about different generations; their outlook is driven by the events that shaped their lives, and this largely spans other factors: race, political affiliation, sex, etc. This makes intuitive sense, but it can often be overlooked when communicating with customers, potential customers and employees.

Demographically, we often put our audiences into buckets based on race, religion, geography and various other factors while not necessarily putting enough focus on generational differences and the different life experiences that impact all of us.

What steps are you taking to ensure a deeper understanding of both your employees and your markets?

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