I am often asked if the typical generational patterns and attributes we observe in the U.S. apply globally. In the past, the answer is mostly no, except for parts of Western Europe and Canada, and even there are differences and variations based on factors other than geography. In more recent years looking at the Gen Y/Millennial generation and those younger, there are many more similarities around the world since communication is instantaneous so we have access to the same news at about the same time and are influenced by the information on the Internet. But this converging applies mostly to the educated top of the social pyramid.
Here are some notable differences, with thanks to Andreas Fried from Universal Consensus.
• Boomers and the older half of Gen X in China had two very formidable influences: The great Chinese Famine in the early 1960s in which an estimated 36 million people died from starvation; and the Chinese Cultural Revolution from 1966-1976 in which China’s education system was brought to a virtual halt.
• The generations before the fall of communism in the former Soviet republics, including Russia had few similar influences to the Western nations. Now the young people are trying to catch up in several ways.
• The Gen Xers in Japan had quite a different experience from their American peers in the years they were entering the workplace. Japan in the late 1980s and early 1990s experienced a “Bubble Generation,” relatively untroubled and free spending.
• As for Gen Y/Millennials, Fried thinks the global convergence of that generation is occurring mostly at a “visible” level, such as with tech usage, popular culture and fashion more than with values and behavior, which I imagine probably are still greatly influenced by parental and religious attitudes and national or ethnic culture
• Chinese Gen Ys are often referred to as “little emperors” born under the one-child policy of the ruling communist party. They may get a lot of attention, but they may have the huge burden of having to support two parents and four grandparents. Fried says Western Gen Yers are more worried about their own pensions or lack thereof than about their parents’ economic well-being or retirement.
Given world conflicts and the ever-speeding pace of change it will be interesting to see how much convergence or divergence of generations develops. More multi-national, multi-cultural and cross-generational conversation is a clear necessity.
Weiss Haserot www.pdcounsel.com