Generation Gap

The generational gap is a term popularized in Western countries during the 1960s referring to differences between people of a younger generation and their elders, especially between children and parents. Although some generational differences have existed throughout history, modern generational gaps have often been attributed to rapid cultural change in the postmodern period, particularly with respect to such matters as musical tastes, fashion, culture and politics.

These changes are assumed to have been magnified by the unprecedented size of the young generation during the 1960s, which gave it the power and inclination to rebel against societal norms, as reflected in songs such as the 1965 hit ‘My Generation’ by The Who and ‘The Times They Are a-Changin” by Bob Dylan.

However, sociologists also point to institutional age segregation as an important contributing factor to the generational divide. Institutions divide society into roughly three chronological age-based groups which operate in isolated domains. Those in childhood phases are segregated within educational institutions or child-care centers, parents are isolated within work-based domains, while older generations may be relegated to retirement homes, nursing homes, or senior day care centers. Social researchers see this kind of institutionally-based age segregation as a barrier to strong intergenerational relationships, social embeddedness, and generativity (the passing down of a positive legacy through mentoring and other cross-generational interactions). Some interventions resulting from intergenerational research have proven successful in bridging the generation gap, such as programs bringing ‘bookend generations’ (elders and preschoolers) together in intergenerational daycare centers where the elderly mentor the young.

As the ’40s ended and the ’50s emerged, marked differences between teenagers and parents began to emerge. From a transformation of the dating system (going steady and early marriage became the norm, as opposed to the ‘rating and dating’ trend that was fashionable before the war), to the new medium of television gaining widespread popularity and often portraying teenagers as juvenile delinquents. ‘JDs’ followed the standard black leather and denim jeans look set by Marlon Brando in the 1953 film ‘The Wild One.’ The widespread adoption of rock and roll also helped emphasize differences between parents and teenagers. Rock was loud, rhythmic, and energetic. Even FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover called the new music ‘a corrupting influence.’ Holden Caulfield, the hero of J. D. Salinger’s 1951 novel ‘The Catcher in the Rye,’ was a literary embodiment of teenage angst and alienation further fueling adults’ perception of teenagers as rebels.

The War in Southeast Asia and the rise of counter-culture hippies during the mid and late 1960s with diverging opinions about the draft and military involvement in Vietnam as well as the use of drugs were significant topics of the generation gap of this era. The cover of ‘Mad Magazine’ No. 129 by artist Norman Mingo, dated September 1969, showed a split Alfred E. Neuman, the ‘old’ Alfred on the left wearing a ‘My Country: Right or Wrong’ lapel button, and the ‘young’ long-haired Alfred on the right with a ‘Make Love Not War’ button, and the cover statement ‘MAD Widens the Generation Gap.’

The TV series ‘All in the Family’ focused on the generation, as a conservative-minded middle-aged man repeatedly quarrels with his independent-minded wife and staunchly liberal daughter and son-in-law.

The 1970s and 1980s are characterized as being an era rampant with child neglect, as shown by such phenomenon as latchkey kids. This period lies between the family-oriented 1950s and 1960s and the ‘Baby on Board’ parenting–focused era of the late 1980s to the present. The media notably labeled Generation X as ‘slackers.’

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