The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Talking about my generation

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I was delighted to read Philip N. Cohen’s July 8 Thursday Opinion essay, “Generation labels mean nothing. It’s time to retire them.” I, too, regret the trend to lump generations into homogeneous groups that all think and act alike. I am a baby boomer simply because that’s when I was born, but that doesn’t define my life. 

Members of each generation have their own beliefs and lifestyles and should be respected as individuals.

Anita Cohen, Baltimore

Six women and I, ranging in age from early 20s to early 70s, have been discussing our impressions of generational attitudes and influences. We are interested in exploring expectations of and attitudes toward girls and women, ourselves and our daughters, granddaughters, mothers and grandmothers. We are discovering that society heavily influences attitudes, but we all have experienced many exceptions to the stereotypes. 

It’s illuminating to talk about this with people of different ages. Generational stereotypes aren’t reliable.

Susan Patrick, Charlottesville

Philip N. Cohen criticized the use of generation labels. Generations are one of many analytical lenses researchers use to understand societal change and differences across groups. While there are limitations to generational analysis, it can be a useful tool for understanding demographic trends and shifting public attitudes. For example, a generational look at public opinion on a wide range of social and political issues shows that cohort differences have widened over time on some issues, which could have important implications for the future of American politics.

In addition, looking at how a new generation of young adults experiences key milestones such as educational attainment, marriage or homeownership, compared with previous generations in their youth, can lend important insights into changes in American society. 

To be sure, these labels can be misused and lead to stereotyping, and it’s important to stress and highlight diversity within generations. At Pew Research Center, we consistently endeavor to refine and improve our research methods. Therefore, we are having ongoing conversations around the best way to approach generational research. We look forward to engaging with Mr. Cohen and other scholars as we continue to explore this complex and important issue.

Kim Parker, Washington

The writer is director of social trends research at Pew Research Center.