Three factors interact to create our sense of generational awareness and identification.
The Cohort Effect recognizes that each of us is born in a unique historical time. As we mature we share many profound experiences in a social context with our peers, principally when we are between ages 15 and 25. Broadly shared experiences—such as war, catastrophes, major technological innovations, popular culture—tend to modify each individual’s worldview and psychological adjustment because of the social milieu in which we live, especially as adolescents. This is how generations acquire unique personalities.
The Period Effect refers to the changing and evolving environmental events occurring around a generation through the lifespan, particularly after coming of age as adults. These period effects can be national and world events, emergence of new technologies, and/or high-impact popular media culture. This is how generations change over time as major external events cause adaptation to present circumstances.
The Age Effect is based on the idea that “seasons of life” influence how we interpret and act on the major events in our lives, and these developmental hallmarks tend to be consistent across generations. Every age or stage of life involves typical challenges and priorities, and these age-related challenges tend to be congruent across generations. This is how generations can be quite similar concerning adaptation to major life-stage themes, from parenthood to grandparenthood, and from marriage to retirement.
These three psychosocial factors or Effects interact to create “fundamental integrative attitudes” in youth and eventually “collective mentalities” during maturation, constituting the unique nature of each generation.
Which factor has the most impact on a generation at any given time? Nobody has a firm answer to this question. Each factor has potentially powerful influence, but each factor can be more or less significant depending on contemporary context.
Generation Reinvention, my most recent book, includes an original self-directed workshop that provides a vehicle for you to gain a better understanding of these Effects as they pertain to your colleagues and you.
When you undertake this workshop, you can gain perspective on your own generational influences and how much or how little your values and outlook differ from those typical of many Boomers. Greater generational awareness will help you become more effective at communicating across generations, especially through marketing.