In a 1969 Gallup Poll, 74% of respondents said there was a generation gap, with the phrase defined in the survey question as "a major difference in the point of view of younger people and older people today." When the same question was asked a decade later, in 1979, by CBS and The New York Times, just 60% perceived a generation gap. But in perhaps the single most intriguing finding in this new Pew Research survey, the share that say there is a generation gap has spiked to 79%--despite the fact that there have been few overt generational conflicts in recent times of the sort that roiled the 1960s. It could be that the phrase now means something different, and less confrontational, than it did at the height of the counterculture's defiant challenges to the establishment 40 years ago. Whatever the current understanding of the term "generation gap," roughly equal shares of young, middle-aged and older respondents in the new survey agree that such a gap exists. The most common explanation offered by respondents of all ages has to do with differences in morality, values and work ethic. Relatively few cite differences in political outlook or in uses of technology.
I agree that the gap is there, but I think that in many ways there are some answers to why. Speaking with large strokes of the brush, I will be making some generalizations.
- Younger people are being raised without as much discipline, more disposable income, and a more secular culture than ever before. This is leading to a more narcissistic lifestyle. Think of marketing - the biggest target age is the teen to young adult demographic.
- Our cultue glorifies youth culture as THE way to live a good life. Irresponsible behavior, selfishness, entitlement, etc. are contrary to what adult maturity is about - personal responsibility, sacrifice, others first, etc. Think of the movies/music/books that are popular today vs. 40-50 years ago when many older people were young.
- The "big" issues are different. Younger generations think of Vietnam, Vatican II, gender equality issues, segregation, etc. as ancient history. While environmentalism, Iraq war, torture, the Sudan, etc. are current.
- The technology gap is widening. It makes for comedy when the 5 year-old knows more than grandpa about the internet, but it isn't uncommon.
- Communication has changed. Few people over 60 text, use FaceBook or Twitter, know how to use all the features on a cell phone, etc. But, youth culture of today doesn't exist without these technological advances.
This list isn't exhaustive or scientific, but I consulted with myself and think I am correct in my assumptions.
Here is the big kicker in the study:
Religion is a far bigger part of the lives of older adults than younger adults. Two-thirds of adults ages 65 and older say religion is very important to them, compared with just over half of those ages 30 to 49 and just 44% of those ages 18 to 29. Moreover, among adults ages 65 and above, a third (34%) say religion has grown more important to them over the course of their lives, while just 4% say it has become less important and the majority (60%) say it has stayed the same. Among those who are over 65 and report having an illness or feeling sad, the share who say that religion has become more important to them rises to 43%.
God becomes important the older you get and the more you are smacked upside your head with life and our churches need to do a better job of training up evangelists to reach youth and yound adults without being condescending, out-of-touch, too preachy, or too wishy-washy.