28 Jan 2010


The post-eighty generation has become the focus of the recent political turmoil and is even considered as a social problem. This kind of crude classification often creates trouble. In Identity and Violence, Amartya Sen elegantly demonstrated that such narrow view was central to the current international conflicts. Think about Muslims. Commonly stereotyped, they can actually be viewed as members of other groups such as by citizenship, residence, gender, class, profession, employment, food habits, etc. Some of them may even be fans of FC Barcelona like me.

I will not talk more about politics, but it is interesting to share what my mentor taught me about generations. As usual, this is a brilliant utilitarian view.

The baby boomers (born roughly in 1946-1964) are hard working and hold key positions in many organizations at present. People from Generation X (roughly 1965-1980) generally receive better education and have high aims. On the other hand, people from Generation Y (roughly 1981-2000) are relatively egocentric and look for fun. Of course, this classification is crude and the years vary among societies depending on the pace of economic development. Anyway, this is not the main point of my mentor.

His point is since your supervisor is often one generation immediately before you, you will be recognized by him/her and be successful if you share the characteristics of that generation. For example, the most successful people from Generation X are hard working and good team players. In contrast, people who quarrel about workload all the time can hardly be appreciated and given chance.

Inevitably, our conversation turned to the future of our children. Generation Z is born in a wealthy and high-tech world. The children learn to use iPhone and Facebook faster than any of us, but they also lack face-to-face social interactions. To be recognized by Generation Y, these children must develop passion in some areas and be able to make friends with others.


  1. It may turn out that the boss of Gen Z is still Gen X. The government is looking into further postponement of retiring age now. In the future, Gen X may not step down till 65+. Gen Y simply get no chance or has lost the motivation to become the boss.
    See the example of Queen Elizabeth/Prince Charles.

  2. The phenomenon of generation-specific perspectives and attitudes was quite nicely described in the book "香港四代人" by 呂大樂, who was a sociologist and a baby-bloomer himself. He pointed out in his book that the post-war baby-bloomers were certainly hardworking but were also more privileged than their predecessors as well as successors to have the tremendous opportunities in their prime time as a result of the rapid Hong Kong economic fly in the 1970s - 1980s. The fact is 50% of the HK population in the 60-70's were <20 year-old, which means If you are hardworking enough during your youth, the bright future was waiting for you. Unfortunately, nowadays, only their hardship in working was selectively emphasized. For their immediate successors (born after 1970's), no matter how hardworking or how good a team player they are, the objective fact is their opportunities are significantly less. For the generation Y (born after 80's), they simply can't see their future.... who can blame them for looking for fun or arguing about heavy workload all the time?

  3. Aren't "passion" and "ability to make friends" sharing similarities with "hardworking" and "good team players"? There are always core values and characteristics that are independent of generations.

  4. The opportunities for climbing up the promotion ladder may be less. But opportunities for other things may be higher.