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Tales of our Time: The Generation Game

Michael Hayman | 16 November 2021

Gen X or Gen Z – it’s time to start listening to each other, says Michael Hayman in his latest Country & Town House column.

Talking to Generation Z is like eaves-dropping on the future,’ says generations expert, Dr Eliza Filby. The reason being that this group (b. 1995-2012) has grown up in an era of unparalleled technological change, their lives framed and forged by the three Cs of the 21st century: climate, Covid and conflict.

‘We are all products of [our] time,’ Eliza tells me, but as a self-declared ‘geriatric millennial’ herself (ie born in the ’80s), she clearly believes Gen Z are worth listening to. Not everyone is so open to dialogue. In the current wars of the ages, Baby boomers (b. 1940s-1960s) find themselves cast as the villains, since they are perceived as the ‘privileged generation’ who ‘have had a very lucky run of it,’ says Eliza.

This generational animosity runs both ways, of course. The frothy war on ‘woke’ is a favourite source of millennial-bashing in the tabloids, where polarising front-line issues include Brexit, transgender rights, climate change and poverty.

There’s nothing new in the so-called ‘rupture in values’ between generations, nor in youth’s ‘challenging of the status quo’. It’s what boomers did back in the Sixties, after all. But the internet has bitterly weaponised the generation gap.

Fortunately it’s not just a story of strife and loggerheads. Subtle shifts are taking place, which provide generational optimism. Eliza calls it the rise of ‘the golden age of the family’, no less.

It turns out economic hardship and enforced lockdown – with remote working and homeschooling – are teaching layered families to function together at close quarters. Understanding each other’s points of view strengthens the inter-generational dynamic.

Indeed, for all the stories of warring couples sprinting to a solicitor as soon as lockdown lifted, Eliza cites historically low levels of divorce and teenage pregnancies. While the pandemic didn’t invent these changed living conditions, it has certainly accelerated them, bringing with it the prospect of seismic social change, from the way we live to the way we work.

For such change to be positive, Eliza says, all generations need to get better at listening to each other. It’s a thought for this festive season, because, whatever age you are, we could all do with taking time to think about the future.

Listen to Dr Eliza Filby on Change Makers here.

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