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Generation Gap: Definition, Causes & Effects

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Instructor: Yolanda Williams

Yolanda has taught college Psychology and Ethics, and has a doctorate of philosophy in counselor education and supervision.

The differences between generations, which can lead to difficulties understanding one another, are called generation gaps. Explore the definition and causes of generation gaps, and understand the effects on individuals and relationships. Updated: 10/11/2021

Definition of Generation Gap

Have you ever had the feeling that people older than you are hard to understand? Or, have you felt like people from younger generations just don't get it? Maybe you find it easier to connect with people who are closer to your age than those who are older or younger than you. You can probably thank the generation gap for these feelings.

There are currently six generations living in the United States: the Greatest Generation, Silent Generation, Baby Boomers, Generation X, Millennials, and Generation Z. Each generation has its own unique set of characteristics and norms. For example, the Greatest Generation (born 1901-1924) is known for its patriotism, hard workers, and loyalty to institutions. The Millennials (born 1980-2000) are characterized by their dependence on technology, detachment from traditional institutions, optimism, and open-mindedness. It is no wonder that many people from different generations have a hard time understanding each other.

Generation gap refers to differences in actions, beliefs, interests, and opinions that exist between individuals from different generations. So, what causes these differences?

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  • 0:00 Definition of Generation Gap
  • 1:15 Causes
  • 3:40 Effects
  • 4:20 Lesson Summary
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Causes

One factor that has heavily influenced generation gaps is the accelerating rate of change in society. In the 1800s, developments in society were slow. As a result, two or three generations lived lifestyles that were very similar to each other. There weren't many differences across generations. However, given technological and social advances that have taken place in the 20th and 21st centuries, the lifestyles of individuals even one generation apart are drastically different from each other.

Just think about all of the changes in technology that have occurred in the past 20 years. Many individuals from older generations are having trouble keeping up with the modern technologies that Millennials have become accustomed to. Due to generation gaps, a child may explain to an adult how to use technology, or a young adult will choose to spend his time on public transportation texting, while an older man passes the time reading.

Another factor that has influenced the generation gap is the increased mobility of society. In earlier generations, society was not very mobile. Most people stayed in the same area or country. There was little contact with people outside of one's general area. Access to information from other cultures was limited. However, with the increasing advances of technology, people began to be introduced to new things.

People began to experience other cultures through television and music. Websites, such as YouTube, made it easier than ever for people to connect with others around the world. The introduction of social media has also made connecting easier. People have begun to challenge their traditional customs and adopt some of these new cultural values into their own. As a result, this has led to disagreements among the different generations.

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