Current research shows that, often, the biggest divide facing society is not a gender divide, racial divide, income or technology divide but the generational divide. Councils need to better understand how each generation “thinks, feels and acts”, the synergies and differences between them, and what this means for the way generational groups live and interact within the community.
Parramatta City Council is taking the lead in planning the future of its communities, with a recent study set to inform Council’s decision-making and planning for long-term social, environmental and economic sustainability. Council’s key objective for the study is to increase understanding of the differing attitudes, behaviours and values of generations X, Y and Z in Parramatta, in order to shape future planning and improve the social wellbeing and liveability of the LGA. The study considers three areas: work and study; living (play, recreation and leisure); and sense of belonging (community inclusion and participation).
With a younger population than most local government areas, Parramatta is an ideal case study on how to bridge – and celebrate – generational differences.
Lucy Greig, social researcher at Elton Consulting, said people from different generations can work well together despite their age gaps.
“Our study found that an intergenerational workforce with different values and attitudes to work creates opportunities for personal and business growth, as well as a need for strategies to enhance intergenerational communication and leadership,” Lucy said.
She said an important step in improving communication across generation groups is to promote understanding about differences between younger and older generations.
“Though attributing particular qualities to a whole generation of course involves generalisations, it is important to acknowledge that people are affected by the society in which they spend their formative years – our world plays an important role in shaping our perceptions and behaviours,” Lucy said.
She said Council’s study identified housing affordability, family-friendly workplaces, community building and healthy and active lifestyles as key issues to consider in planning for the future.
“Our study found Generations X, Y and Z are combining work with study, attaining higher levels of education – especially for women – and are increasingly focussing on achieving a good work/life balance,” Lucy said.
She said the biggest point of difference across the three most recent generations is the increasing importance of technology and how it affects home, work and community life.
“People don’t communicate in the same way anymore. Social interaction is increasingly mediated by technology – but that doesn’t mean young people aren’t communicating,” Lucy said.
“Technology use increases from generations X to Z – and is an important skill that can be harnessed in the workforce and beyond.”
Lucy said another generational shift between Baby Boomers and Gen X, as well as later generations, has seen teenage and young adulthood years extended and the ‘age of commitment’ delayed.
“This trend towards ‘teenage life’ may even re-emerge as Gen Xers enter their fifties,” Lucy said.
Through the generations: a snapshot
Generation X (1966-77)
- Currently establishing their careers having entered the workforce in the late 1980s in a climate of economic rationalism and job market insecurity.
- Many have had one or more career change due to the 1990s recession and the recent economic downturn.
- This ‘entrepreneurial generation’ is regarded as having fewer opportunities than the Baby Boomers – a factor which may inspire their creative and driven approach to work and study.
Generation Y (1977-1986)
- Grew up with high rates of family breakup, the internet and social media and high levels of prosperity.
- Highly motivated and educated, many combine work with higher education, and are popular with other generations in the workplace.
- Strongly value close relationships with friends – they are more ‘tribal’, attempting to create surrogate extended families to compensate for instability or dysfunctionality within their own families and using friends to cope with life in an uncertain, unstable world.
- They are ‘fearless of the future’, but for many home ownership is out of reach.
Generation Z (1986-2006)
- Also known as the iGeneration – grew up with mobile phones, computers and the internet, an increased awareness of global social and economic instability and climate change, and a world shaped by 9/11.
- Gen Zs are going into primary school already using the internet and computers and are the most ‘information intensive’ generation of all.
- High levels of technology use means that many Gen Zs have highly developed speed and dexterity, but this is also connected to reduced physical activity and increased childhood obesity.