BLUF

Philip Cohen claims that generational titles are meaningless, stereotypical and undermine our understanding of social change.

Summary

The practice of naming generations based on birth year goes back to the supposed ‘Lost Generation’ of the late 19th Century. But sociology professor and author Philip N. Cohen argues the tradition has devolved into a never-ending competition to be the first to propose the next name that sticks, bringing little to social science and public understanding regarding 'generational change'. Cohen believes:
  • The supposed boundaries between generations are no more meaningful than the names they’ve been given. 
  • There is no research identifying the appropriate boundaries between generations.
  • There is no empirical basis for imposing the sweeping character traits that are believed to define them. 
  • Generation descriptors are either embarrassing stereotypes or caricatures with astrology-level vagueness.
  • Generation labels are widely adopted by the public but have no basis in social reality.
  • Critics say generational titles such as ‘baby boomer’ and ‘Gen X’ are baseless categories that drive people towards stereotyping.