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Are Gen Z’ers That Different From Gen X’ers? How Much Should We Trust Generational Analysis?

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“Just because people tend to make bad generalizations doesn’t mean we shouldn’t study generational differences,” Jean Twenge says.

Millennials aren’t materialistic, according to the widely circulated cliché. They are less likely to own a car or a home than members of previous generations because they’re (allegedly) more focused on experiences than on things.

But wait: Recent research shows that, as they get older, Millennials’ rate of home purchasing rapidly catches up with those of their predecessors. It now appears they’re just as interested in nice things as the rest of us—if and when they can afford them.

Then again: A 2013 study found that, when they were in 12th grade, Millennials were quite interested in having lots of money and owning expensive goods. Indeed, according to that study, their materialism matched the “historically high levels” of Generation X.

Perhaps the Millennial stereotype we’re now debunking wasn’t based on solid evidence to start with.

Depending on your point of view, this confusion can suggest that attempts by researchers to find population-level differences between one generation and the next are either (a.) pointlessly generalized and hopelessly flawed, or (b.) a source of valuable insights into our evolving attitudes and behaviors.

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Thanks !

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