This April 18 event featured Eunice Lin Nichols, Co-CEO of Co-Generate; Bobby Duffy, Professor of Public Policy and Director of the Policy Institute at King's College and author of Generations: Does when you're born shape who you are?; and Manu Meel, CEO of BridgeUSA and a social entrepreneur passionate about empowering young people, for a discussion on the myths and realities of the intergenerational divide and bridging.
Míriam Juan-Torres González:
Hi everyone, and welcome to this event of the Uncommon Threat Series co-Creating Society of Belonging. This is for those of you who don't know, a series featuring conversations with diverse advocates, scholars, artists, business leaders, and other thinkers, all of whom share a commitment to belonging even if sometimes they might not agree how to get there. A few things before we get started with this conversation, if you enjoy it, I would encourage you to subscribe to our ENNIs and you can find that on our website, democracyandbelongingforum.org. And also follow us on Twitter and Instagram at DNB Forum. And you can stay updated on everything that we are doing at OBI and the Forum and also future conversations. Also, I would like to thank our ASL interpreters, Kathy Lemons and Drew Davis who interpret, educate and serve. As well our superstar who's not featured here, but is Evan, who's our comms person and also is making sure that all of the tech and communication works well.
And I'll introduce this event. And I have to say we've been prepping this for a while. And I've been very much looking forward to this conversation because I think it's very important. There's a lot of misconceptions and I think that it's a topic that concerns us all. I think that if you follow social media, if you follow media, it doesn't matter, it doesn't seem like you can escape conversations around generations. I think we've all seen headlines about Gen Z and Millennials consume too many avocados or any other form. I will admit that I did say, "Okay, boomer" to my dad once, and he had absolutely no idea what I was talking about. But that may have been a language thing. But sometimes it's also framed through the lens of the divides that our societies are facing. We hear about polarization, we hear about division, and generations and intergenerational divides seem to be these insurmountable ones as well.
It seems like sometimes it is presented as generations being at war. But I wonder what are the misconceptions around these issues and what are the potentials? And also what are the myths we hold about each of the generations? And to have this conversation, I cannot imagine having a better panel button than the one we have today. So joining us in this conversation, we have Eunice, who's this co-CEO of CoGenerate. An organization that bridges generational divides to co-create the future. And Eunice has spent more than two decades bringing older and younger generations together. So hi, Eunice. Thanks for joining us.
We also have Manu Meel, who is the CEO of BridgeUSA. And is currently building the largest and fastest growing student movement to bridge our differences and change how we talk about politics. Hi, Manu. And finally we have Bobby Duffy, who's the Professor of Public Policy and Director of the Policy Institute. And he has worked across multiple policy domains and his most recent book is Generations: Does When You're Born Shape Who You Are? It's so wonderful to have you here as well, Bobby.
Míriam Juan-Torres González:
So I'd like to start us actually with a little bit of a more personal question, which is what brought you to this kind of work, to your interest to work across generations and bridging? And maybe Eunice, we can start with you.
Eunice Lin Nichols:
Yeah, thanks for having me here, Miriam. I always love it when people start in the personal place because I think when you talk about generational bridging or tensions, often it starts for us in childhood. And for me, I'm a daughter of Taiwanese immigrants and I grew up as many immigrant families do in an intergenerational home. So as soon as my parents could, they brought my grandparents over from Taiwan and they were a huge part of my upbringing. And as I grew up, I ended up having many aunties and uncles who were part of my life and grandparents who weren't related to me, sort of sprawling extended family unit. And it wasn't until I left for college that I really got funneled into a world that was really defined by young people. And then my first job out of college was also in a job that was defined by a lot of young people right out of college.
And I don't think I knew what I was missing until I landed in a job with my current organization, running a program that was specifically designed to bring older adults into public schools to help kids read by third grade, where staffed entirely by young people right out of college who were doing a year of service through AmeriCorps. And all of a sudden I was back in that sort of extended family unit. And it was like the things that I'd so appreciated but didn't notice or know about as a child on the surface, came to the forefront. And I found myself not wanting to live or work any other way than to be surrounded by the diversity of all these different viewpoints across generations. And I have found myself in this work ever since.
Míriam Juan-Torres González:
Thank you. Bobby, what about you?
Yeah, great. Lovely to be here and great to hear Eunice's story. That's such a lovely personal story. Mine's much more geeky in terms of my connection to this, which reflects the types of work that I do. So I suppose my interest in generational and intergenerational connection and difference first came I suppose from Bob Putnam's Bowling Alone book. So he was doing his analysis in the US and I was doing something similar, much smaller scale in the UK and we shared a lot of data. And for me it was very magical in that very geeky kind of way to be able to trace people's lives through these very simple lines of how they progress as they age. And what stays different between different birth cohorts and what becomes more similar over time. And how the different effects of age, period and lifecycle effects affect as all.
And then even more geeky as a politician here in the UK called David Willets, who did lots of economic analysis about how different generations were being shaped entirely differently because of changing economic circumstances. That completely different life courses were being faced by younger people who have a much tougher economic environment they're growing up in. So those two things, that was more like 2010, Bob's book came out in 2000, and then David's book came out in 2010. So I've been doing this for 20 odd years of just trying to piece those two bits of information together, which was Bob Putnam's work very much on the social capital side and the community connections that people had and were losing.
David's work very much on the economic side and how economic outcomes were being shaped by just when you were born. And I guess what I was trying to do was connect those two. And look about how both of those types of trends were affecting life chances, and how people viewed the world across different generations. And it's been a really brilliant analytical journey for me that I think has real world consequences and where a lot of the conclusion in the end, which I'm sure we'll get onto, is about the connections between generations in the end. How interconnected we are, but I'm sure we'll come back to that.
Míriam Juan-Torres González:
Thanks Bobby. Manu?
Yeah, thanks Miriam. And thanks to everybody for organizing this. If Eunice's story is personal and Bobby's is geeky, mine is totally random. So I had no interest as many folks might know. And currently I'm actually in rural Pennsylvania, basically a stowaway until our next event later in the evening where we go to the local college here and talk about again, exactly this work. And I had no interest in politics, democracy. I didn't really know anything about sort of the complexities of a lot of the topics that we're going to talk about today. For me what happened was in 2017, my freshman year, I was a pre-med student at UC Berkeley, which I know the institute has a lot of connection to. And it was February, we're walking back from my math seminar. And I remember this sort of helicopter flying overhead in their protests and shouting the distance. And this is Berkeley, so we like to protest a lot of things.
And so I just assumed this is another sort of protest. And what we quickly realized was, I remember there was this cafe window broken and walking past this cafe window and inside it said CNN, "UC Berkeley students protest free speech." And I thought, well, that's peculiar. And turned out that that was actually the largest protest in the history of Berkeley since the '60s and the original free speech protest. This was right after... Some folks might remember, when Milo Yiannopoulos came to campus. And the next day, me and some random people who are now some of my best friends, we basically just thought, let's just create a space for the students on campus to heal. That was it. We invited the chancellor, we invited the school administrators, we invited the young people on campus, some that had protested, some that weren't protesting, the random bystanders like me. And it turned out that that space was deeply impactful.
And it turns out that people actually like to have conversations both across generational, political and ideological differences if it's constructive and it's moderated and presented well. And that instance of Bridge Berkeley turned into Bridge Notre Dame, Bridge Colorado Boulder, and ultimately becoming this movement that we call BridgeUSA. And I'm just grateful along this journey to have gotten to know amazing folks like Eunice and CoGenerate. Gotten to meet new people like Bobby who are really driving a lot of the literature in this work, and to learn more about institutions like the OBI. So I'm grateful to be here. And I'm sure as we'll get into it, we might be critiquing some of these generational labels, and so I'm excited for that.
Míriam Juan-Torres González:
Thank you, Manu. And along those lines actually, I wanted to start by asking Bobby a question. It's going to be a very big question. But given the book you've written, I think that you're very well positioned to speak about this. But as I was mentioning, there's a lot of discourse around generations about the device being insurmountable or stark. And I'm wondering based on your research as well, how useful you think it is to have this generational thinking. And also are there any needs, is there a lot of substance to a lot of the discourse that we hear? Yes, we'd love hear from you in that.
Thanks, Miriam. Yeah, as Eunice said just as we were chatting before, a nice easy question to start with. Thanks for that, Miriam. No, if I were to sum up the book in one sentence, it is that generational thinking is an incredibly powerful idea that's been horribly corrupted by terrible myths, stereotypes and cliches. That's effectively what my position on it is from all the analysis that we've done and lots of very smart writing by much smarter people than me. Because when you look back at the history of generational thinking, it brings in some of the biggest thinkers in philosophy and sociology. So Auguste Comte a French philosopher, actually thought that generational change was the key determinant of societal change. That you couldn't really have societal change without differences between generations that moved us forward, because we all get stuck in our ways once we get past a certain age.
And you need that injection of fresh ideas to keep pushing us forward. And then you have brilliant sociologists later, like Karl Mannheim from Hungary who gave us a lot of what we still use today about how generational identities are formed through common experiences, often traumatic experiences that bring peer groups together. So these are really big ideas of life and death and traumatic experiences and all those types of things. So it's a shame that the type of analysis that we tend to get more often on intergenerational and generational thinking these days is things like millennials have killed the napkin industry, which is a real headline from an outlet. And then it's not just millennials, it's not just young people, Millennials or Gen Z that get picked on. Baby boomers as well get picked on, not so much for killing things. You could fill a whole presentation, this whole session on what things millennials are supposed to have killed. But boomers get picked on too, but more for ruining things.
So there is an Atlantic piece that talks about how boomers have ruined everything, for example. So you've got this labeling of these birth cohorts, is not just a way to stereotype and cliche things. But particularly in our current information environment, it's also a way to encourage the vision and conflict as you said in your introduction, Miriam, because most of these headlines and analysis are set up as conflict between one generation and another. And it's an incredibly handy shorthand for headline writers to use these now pretty well recognized labels as a way to pit one group against another. And the information environment that we have right now as you all know, and lots of people listening to this will know much better than me, is built around that sense of conflict. That we know that more emotive, more angry, more conflictual information travels further and faster than more consensual and less emotive information in this type of environment.
So it's kind of that interaction between these handy shorthands, they have some truth in them alongside this new information environment creates this sense of division between the generations. And it becomes really quite self-destructive. So one of the big themes in the book is how often on big issues like climate change, we set up old against young for example. So when Greta Thunberg was made person of the year by Time magazine in 2019, they called her a standard-bearer in a generational battle between old and young. But when I look at the data on attitudes to climate change, there's actually very little difference between the oldest generations and the youngest generations in their level of concern about climate, for example. And even when you look at action, there's more boycotting of products or services for social purpose reasons among older Gen X and younger baby boomers, than there is among millennials and Gen Z.
So in both attitudes and actions, there isn't that division. But we're sending this message that there is, which is not only wrong, it's also self-destructive because we need people to come together on climate change, not divide them around this. So there are real differences. I don't want to go in too long about this, Miriam, you don't want the whole book. There are real differences between generations, really important things about how growing up in different circumstances have changed the life chances of different generations regardless of their socioeconomic circumstances.
That in the same socioeconomic circumstances, you're just much less likely to own your own home in places like the US and UK if you were born in more recent decades than earlier decades. You can kind of see that wealth generation has got a real cohort basis to it. But then there's all this other stuff that is made up or exaggerated that is creating this sense of division, which is a real shame because again, as I'm sure we'll come onto there is enormous value in intergenerational connection as so much of the great work of people hear has shown. But all of this narrative kind of accentuates division and conflict rather than that benefit of connection.
Míriam Juan-Torres González:
Thanks, Bobby. And Eunice, precisely you've been dedicating your life to actually bridging this divide or so-called divide. So it would be great to hear as well about how you think about generational bridging. And we're also particularly interested in the opportunities and urgency around what you guys have called Cogeneration. And just to promote it because I think it's great as well CoGenerate produced a report called, Is America Ready to Unleash a Multi-generational Force for Goods? So I highly encourage everyone to read that report, but I'll pass it on to you Eunice.
Eunice Lin Nichols:
Thank you, Miriam. Well, we really think of Cogeneration as a focus on co, the width piece. We're a small organization, but we're really staking our claim on what generations can do together and not just what one can do for the other. And really combating, I think what Bobby talked about in terms of these enticing headlines about generational division and war, what can we do today by bringing generations together to solve problems that are frankly common amongst all generations? So we're focusing on that width part. I'll add to some of the context that Bobby gave talking about some research that we did recently, because we wanted to know... We go out there and we say it's better if older and younger work together, but sometimes we would get the question, but do they actually want to do that? Is that something that will be reflected by the people?
So we said, we'll go out and we're going to ask that question. And we worked with the University of Chicago, their national opinion research center to do just that. And we discovered a couple of things. One is that by a huge percentage, people do want to work across generations for the betterment of their society. But most often people say they don't know how to do it or they're not in contact with other people that they could do it with. And another interesting piece was that young people actually said in the greatest percentages that they had a desire to work with older generations, even more than older generations said they wanted that with younger. Although everybody said they wanted it, but young people and people of color of all ages were the most wired for that. And I wonder if there is a piece of that. I started my story in a personal place, but I think for a lot of young people and people of color, actually older adults in their personal lives have played an important role in their lives.
And sometimes you spin it out to the media level and the media's telling a different story than many of our lived experiences. There's something about aggregating people into large groups and then putting labels on them that kind of perpetuates a lot of the narratives that are out there. So a lot of what we're focused on right now is creating pathways for younger people and for older people to be actually in contact with another kind of proximity. And then the other piece is purpose, that when younger and older are working together towards a common solution, that you can break through all kinds of divides. And so that's been where our work is. We've seen in the coming out of the pandemic a lot of shared interest between older and youngers around solving problems of social isolation and loneliness. That impacted both generations older and younger in disproportionate amounts.
Mental health is an issue that older and younger report both being interested in, even climate and the environment. I think older adults get a bad rap for having destroyed the environment, and yet there are so many older adults that want to leave a better legacy for younger generations and are becoming allies in the movement for change. And even if you look to pop culture and what our shows are telling us, whether it be a more sentimental movie like A Man Called Otto or a zombie apocalypse show like Last of Us comedies, like Hacks, we are seeing evidence in other parts of culture. That stories where older and younger are both bringing expertise, their lived experience and the uniqueness of who they are to the table are making life better and solving problems together.
Míriam Juan-Torres González:
Míriam Juan-Torres González:
Oh, sorry. Go ahead, Manu.
No, I thought I was just going to jump in just to sort of keep it relatively casual. I know the people that are listening they're interested in a little bit of also dialogue back and forth. Miriam, you know what's fascinating? I'll be pretty brief because I know we've got a lot of questions to get through. There's this one quote that encapsulates my entire thinking on this, and it's by Robert F. Kennedy and is that, "Youth is not a time of life, it's a stage of mind." There's a lot of young old people and a lot of old young people. There's I think two sort of just axes that I think this entire question boils down through. And I think Bobby's touched on this a little bit in the book, and Eunice, I know you all see this through CoGenerate. The first is ideological. The myth that I spent almost I would say 70% of my time trying to break down is that the entirety of Gen Z is progressive.
The second myth that I try to shatter is that, just because you're young doesn't mean that you're destined to be great and build a world that is better than all the other older generations. One of the analogies we often use, I spend a lot of my time with actually the elders of the '60s Free Speech Movement at Berkeley. One to get perspective and two to sort of contextualize our moment. And through BridgeUSA, the organization that I help lead we found is that the '60s is one of the most progressive generations in the history of the United States. And that generation is the same generation that now my generation criticizes. The point of all of this is that I think we lose ourself in thinking through these labels and using them as filters to make assumptions about the propensity potential and impact that we have just given our age.
The last thing that I would just say is this is such a relevant conversation for us as an organization because... And I was just letting our team know when they were briefing us for this event beforehand, BridgeUSA we work on 70 different colleges and high school campuses. We have about four to 5,000 students that enter our semester every year that go through our programming. There's a sister organization called Braver Angels that does exactly what BridgesUSA does throughout the United States, but with older folks and communities. They have alliances. And we are actively right now trying to figure out how we create intergenerational cooperation between the two communities.
And the number one question that comes to mind that Eunice touched on a little bit is, this sounds great in theory, but when the rubber hits the road and we have 70 chapters and we're thinking about cross-generational cooperation with their 80 alliances, will the two people actually come together in a joint event. We're thinking about this in terms of practical... If we hold a climate discussion event at this campus, will the older folks in that community and will the younger folks on a college campus actually want to integrate and work together? So that is where my brain is at. But the main thing that I would just say is, I think we lose ourselves by thinking that young people are certain stereotypes and old folks are certain stereotypes, and everybody in the middle is somewhere else. When actually generations have shown historically that there's impact across generations that's not confined to your age.
Míriam Juan-Torres González:
Thanks, Manu. And I wonder if you could briefly touch on what you were saying as well about the myths that you're trying to debunk as well, because you are working mostly at this stage at least in schools and in universities. And I'm wondering why with young people and why is it important to do these intragenerational bridging, so to speak? If you could address that.
Yeah. Two main reasons why we work with young people, one is just the age and where I happened to be in 2017. It was again as I said, a very random and spontaneous event that changed my thinking on both the world, and thinking about what I think is a way to actually create the world that we want to live in. But the second piece of this is, this is where I do think while generations don't necessarily have generational specific beliefs, I think that each generation can contribute to power in different ways. I think that generations relate to power differently. And that's the key. And the reason why we work so much with young people is because I think young people hold the microphone. Older folks hold actual concrete power. And so when you can combine the two, when you can use the levers of power that are hard in material. And you combine them with the microphone that generational youth movements have produced in the past, I think you can create profoundly impactful narrative change.
Great example of this is you look at the three most recent social movements in the United States, the Me Too movement, the Climate movement, Gun Control movement, all three require hard political power to actually effectuate their change. But also have been elevated to the mainstream because of youth involvement. So that's how we think about the importance of youth in this broader context and try to nuance. Well, there is some difference in how generations create impact, but I think it's specifically how they relate to power.
Míriam Juan-Torres González:
Thank you. Anybody want us to touch on that or I ask another question?
Eunice Lin Nichols:
I might just dive in because it's actually something that we've been marinating on from the Othering & Belonging Institute and John Powell, and the way he talks about a short bridge versus a long bridge. And has described generational bridging as a short bridge, because in some ways I think Manu, what you said about young people holding a microphone and older people holding actual power, that relationship to power changes over time with experience, with career, with money, other things. And so the short bridge is because a young person will become an older person and an older person used to be a young person. And if we can create the structures, the rooms that Manu's getting people into that many of our partners are working with, we get people into a room and work on a common issue.
What we learn is that the diversity of experiences and assets, a voice and a power and other resources can actually help accomplish more. And I think that we intuitively know that, but we have to sort of be re-triggered or reinvent spaces for that to happen. And if we can make that short bridge happen, in some ways I won't say it's an easier bridge but it's a path that you can actually see, then you can use that short bridge to then tackle some of these longer more challenging bridges.
Just to pick up on that theme, that is a really interesting one. And yeah, brilliant to hear from Manu and his perspective on this. And I think one of the realities that make sure all of your works are important is that when I look at the trends, the increased conflict between generations doesn't exist. There's no more conflict between young and old now than there was in the past. What has changed is separation, the increased physical separation of the ages and then the increased digital separation of the ages. Age groups is a new thing. So all of those academic work that says we're living through a dangerous experiment of age segregation in the US and the UK and other countries too, where humans are living more separately by age than we have done in any time in human history physically.
And then you overlay that with the digital separation where it's true you may have more older groups online doing things. But they're in different places doing different things to different intensities and digital lives are much more important to us than they were in the past.
That we've lost lots of those natural bridges, short bridges to that type of intergenerational connection. And that's our real challenge, not the fake conflicts that are being set up. And the trouble is it becomes a bit self-reinforcing because lack of contact makes people more likely to stereotype and misunderstand the other side. This is the polarization trends that you see in all sorts of aspects. But age-based polarization is a real issue. So in the UK in particular, we have now got the steepest age gradient in support for different political parties than we've had in all measurable history of political opinion polling.
And well, there's a number of causes for that about different political choices that people have made. But that separation and stereotyping between the generations is a really important aspect of that. And I would just throw in one as a sort of political scientist by background, is we've also got this long-term trend of putting culture change closer to the heart of politics than it was in the past. And where the switch if you look at political manifestos over the last 50 or 60 years, has been some great work that said that promises from political parties used to be economic. The majority of the promises where we're going to build a better economic future. And that's completely shifted around so the majority of the promises, that the bigger group of promises are around cultural factors in society. What sort of society do we want to be more progressive, more traditional?
And while it's absolutely correct, as Manu who says not all Gen Z are progressives, there is this gradient between old and younger where just naturally younger generations are a bit more comfortable with societal change than older generations just because they have been socialized in the different period. So as soon as you put culture change more at the heart of your politics, you are building in this sense of separation and conflict between the generation. So we've got these forces pushing us apart, which are physical, digital, cultural forces. And it makes these types of bridges that you are trying to build even if they're short, much, much more important and much more difficult or not so naturally supported. So we need proper active approaches to that, which is what you're all trying to do, I think.
Eunice Lin Nichols:
Yeah, if I could just build on that for a second, I feel like sometimes we've heard the description of sort of age apartheid of this is these structures. And really out of sometimes innovation and efficiency, the creation of separate spaces for older and younger, one of the things that we've been tracking at CoGenerate and trying to support are innovations that actually try to get at that physical separation. There's been a fourfold rise in intergenerational households since the pandemic. What are the ways in which as we have young people who are struggling with affordable housing, with older adults who are struggling to age in place, how might they be a solution for each other? If we actually looked at intergenerational housing at a mass level, organizations like Nestor Lee or SilverNest. Or there's an organization in Orange County that's helping students who are on the verge of being homeless because they can't afford to live where they're going to college, get housing at reduced rent with older adults who have a spare empty bedroom because they're empty-nesters.
College campuses I think are a huge area. I'd be curious to hear Manu's perspective on that. Traditionally we think of campuses as a place that centers young people and it should, but campuses are located near communities filled with older adults. There are professors who are experienced and have different life perspective than young people. How could we actually create bridges, even coursework that engages young people much more immediately and directly with problems that they could co-solve with residents and older adults in the community, if we thought differently about universities. And I think there is a movement globally where young people are demanding much more real life experience in their college days. They don't want to be in the ivory tower. And so there's a real opportunity to do the kind of work that Manu's doing and others, to make college the center of intergenerational connection and collaboration.
Well, I will add that and Bobby's comment to my testimonials of why we need to do this work. So thank you for that, Eunice. Just really quickly building off of this... And I know there's a question from the audience about how do generations actually work together at the institution level or at the local community level. To build on this a little bit, and this I think goes to the heart of Bobby, what you'd mentioned which is culture change. I think this is how we sort of envision a theory of change, which is that if the end goal is... I don't know, let's take bridging itself, if the end goal is that we want norms in our society that generally allow us and incentivize us to cooperate as opposed to divide, let's say that's the end goal, I think the way you try to achieve that is you have to have material change in terms of policies, institutions that effectuate and incentivize that in the policy world.
But you also have to have culture change that creates the norms for those policies to exist. And I think if we take this thesis that perhaps while there aren't generational differences in terms of... And it's counterproductive to look at generations and try to infer their beliefs, but if we do take the thesis that there is a difference in how they relate to power, I think one generation is better suited at the culture change piece, which is what you're seeing around issues like climate, guns, bridging what we're doing in this space. Whereas the material piece I think can really be impacted by the older generations when they sit in on those college discussions, those high school discussions. And this goes to the heart of what Eunice was just asking.
When you think about our campuses, the most effective intergenerational cooperation that I've seen is when the chancellor or the administration will take an interest, or the local community faith leader will take an interest in the conversation. They'll participate and then they'll extend that discussion beyond the college classroom. They'll take that and the learnings from it and actually apply it to the levers of power that they can pull. And I think when you can see that value gap and you can think about that relation power and manipulate it in a way that actually creates a more specific objective that you're looking for, I think that can be really powerful. So that's what I would add, Miriam.
Míriam Juan-Torres González:
Thanks... Sorry, go ahead Bobby.
No, it's just really interesting and I know you want to go into other questions, but it's just such fascinating discussion. And I think just to throw out one thing which is more from the technical academic literature. But it's just very interesting in light of your theory of change and the focus on power, Manu, is the framework that I use to understand societal change is based on stats of age period cohort effects, which effectively says that all change in society is down to those three things. It's either a life cycle effect where we change as we age and we go through this. It's like powerful currents that pull us through a particular life course, where power would be an element of that. You get more power as you age and you get to different life stages. Then you have period effects where shocks happen as well.
Things happen and it changes the context for everyone like a pandemic or an economic crisis. And then you get cohort effects which are pure generational effects as we would talk about, where a generation is different from another generation. But it's not to do with the fact that they're just young, it's they take that with them through the life cycle and they stay different from other generations. And I've found that the most important framework for understanding what's really changing and what isn't changing between generations, and most of the myths and stereotypes are from people mixing up mostly life cycle with cohort effects. They're actually talking about young people, and it's always been the case for young people that they have a particular attitude or lack of power or lack of income or economic wealth. And they will change as they age and that's not static, but people ascribe it to Gen Z rather than to young people.
So just as a final thought on this, one of my conclusions from... We did quite a lot of work in discussion with Pew Research Center about generational change because they do a lot of this type of analysis. And some of the criticisms of generational analysis is it becomes a shorthand for an age group rather than a true generation. So the suggestion I have is we should drop the labels. We should ditch the labels except where you're talking about true cohort effects where you're tracking people over time. If you mean 18 to 28 year olds, which is adult Gen Z, say 18 to 28 year olds don't ascribe it to Gen Z because you're apply implying that they're going to be like that for the rest of their lives. That you're comparing Gen Z with millennials or Gen X or baby boomers.
Now only use these generational labels when you are talking about cohort effects and tracking people over time. If you are talking about an age group, just use the age ranges because that's what you're describing. So there's a kind of framework underneath that that relates to a theory of change about why we see this change. But then there's a very practical point here as well about we've become really sloppy with how we use these labels and that is part of the problem.
Míriam Juan-Torres González:
Yeah. Sorry, Manu, I feel like you were going to say something.
No, I think we all three will just keep talking. So if you want to drive it a certain way, please feel free to do so. Otherwise, I can build on what Bobby's saying.
Míriam Juan-Torres González:
Go ahead, please.
The thing that I would add to this, and again, I know there's another question about attitudes and abilities and how this varies between generations. And Eunice, one of the founders of CoGenerate, Mark and I had talked about this before and I learned this from him, which is that again while we want to critique the concept of generational gaps, and that's where I started the conversation from my personal standpoint, I still think there's obviously this power difference that I'm forwarding. And I think the other one which is specifically on the question of attitudes and skills, is no matter how we want to make all generations feel good about each other, the fact is that older generations have more experience under their belt.
And this might be more of my traditional Indian parenting coming into play, where we have to think about respecting our elders. But this really matters in this case which is, I talk about this a lot when we're meeting political leaders in the US or when our students are interacting with other folks. I think one of the key things that the older generation has and the younger generation does not that stems from more experience, is generally I would say there is experiential learning. There is wisdom. No matter how much I can tell myself that I can learn and I can read the books about what to do and what not to do, I always turn to my mentors when we're making hard and tough decisions because they've been around corners that I just have not. And it would actually be not only counterproductive, but I would tell some of my youth leaders and a lot of the other adjacent movements that I think it would be stupid.
I actually legitimately think it would be counterintuitive to us creating progress if we didn't ask the people that have done the exact same thing 30 years ago, what went wrong. And simultaneously I think the attitude that young people can provide is energy, and curiosity, and questioning, and skepticism. And I think if you can couple the intellectual humility that I think my generation should move forward with, combined with a deference to curiosity and skepticism that I think older generations could lean into, I think you have a very powerful cocktail for a theory of change that can lead to a lot of progress on a lot of different issues.
Eunice Lin Nichols:
I'm going to step in even though... So Miriam, push us somewhere else if you want. But this is a topic that is so near and dear to my heart on the personal and professional front, because I would say I spent most of my career mobilizing older adults in order to help lift up young people in a huge variety of ways. And I also like Manu have, grew up in a fairly traditional Asian context, huge respect for elders. It was interesting for me as a young person to then land in a space where I was the boss of many older people. And that's an interesting dynamic too. And the thing that I think where I've learned and grown, is to step in a space where you can both have respect for the experience of your elders. And it's a beautiful thing when elders are actively learning from young people.
And as I'm near 50 myself, I'm still just a few years away. But I've been waiting for that my whole life because my young adult life was filled with people in their 50s who are doing amazing things. So I've been one of those young people who sees aging differently because I worked always in a multi-generational environment. But the thing that I've been most excited about is the ways in which I and other people older than me are leaning into learning from young people, because young people I think beyond curiosity, and I totally appreciate what you're saying, Manu, are leading in different ways in a different society.
And even when Mark and I stepped into co-leadership, we have about a 20-year gap between us in age, very different in so many ways. But I feel like our learning on that was looking in some ways at the way young people are leading in more distributed ways, more democratic ways. Bringing in diversity at unprecedented levels into leadership. A lot of the ways I'm thinking about that are formed by humility and learning from those who are yet to come, but I am watching them and the leadership is there. And so I think the humility goes on both ends is what I'm saying.
Míriam Juan-Torres González:
This is such an interesting conversation and we can take it in many ways. And I'm hearing many things. I think there seems to be a little bit of a consensus of how the labels are incredibly misused, but there's also realities that do refer to age groups that are important. And I think about it, for me personally I think the impacts of the 2007 financial crisis in my generation and the people who were at university at that time, it's something that's shaped us and probably will inform our psychology for years to come. It's interesting to think about bridges in that sense as well because I know I felt a lot of bonding speaking with other southern Europeans, Italians and Greeks on this issue which maybe was a little bit different with some of my British colleagues and how they view work safety. And it's precise because of those impacts that we experience as a group that was coming of age and going into the labor market at that time. So there's some use in thinking about generations in some ways, but not in the clickbait aspect of it.
Just for the last part of this conversation, I guess I wanted to transition a little bit more in the how to, which I think that you were already tackling. But it's this question that we were being asked in terms of what are the qualities that are needed in order to do these bridging across generations? And also because I know that you build off each other, I would love to know what gives you hope. I think I've done a lot of research on divides and polarization, and I think that in terms of intergenerational cooperation, I do lean a little bit more positive because as one of you was saying as well, we've all been young. And if all goes well, we will all be old. And I want to hope that that also helps. But yeah, I'd love to throw those two questions at you, one more like practical in terms of the bridging and then the other one, is there something that gives you hope? Is this an area for a little bit more enthusiasm?
Should I go from the hope point of view because of much better experience and skills from Eunice and Manu on how do you practically implement this, which I'm really interested in as well. I have got a big interest in that because we are doing lots of work from Policy Institute in similar sorts of spaces, and particularly how do you create the right conditions for that to work? So I'm really keen to learn from Eunice and Manu and others on that. But on the hope side, look, I am really hopeful and because age is a terrible thing to try to divide people on for all sorts of reasons. It just doesn't stick very well. And there's like three or four that I talk about in the book. But just quickly running through those, first of all is your point, Miriam, is that if we're lucky enough, we're going to go through these different stages.
And you can't say that from nearly every other demographic characteristic. We don't kind of switch between them that much, but we will between age groups. So we've got that sentence, but we've also got deep love up and down the generation through our families, because we don't live in our peer groups very much. We do still live in our families and as Eunice says, there are actually more intergenerational households than there were in the past. But beyond that, there's more general things of it's not just that direct sense of love up and down on the way up. Younger people have a deep reverence and concern and value in contribution that people have made to society. There is this sense of if you've contributed, you deserve support. And that kind of cuts across lots of different political and social groupings. It's just a natural instinct that people have, an older people have seem to have contributed a lot.
So people do have that sense of you should be recognizing the contribution of people who've gone before. And then looking down, you've got the sense of legacy and people again, as others have touched on, legacy becomes really, really important to you in a direct sense through your family, but in a more general sense in what sort of society are you leaving behind as you get older. And so we've got all of these things that pull us together. So the hope that I have in many ways is just looking at the reality in lots of the survey work and qualitative work that we do. That there is huge support up and down the generations for government support and other types of measures that help age groups that you are not in yourself. That hasn't really shifted much, even though we've had this incredible divisive narrative around generations that have tried to pit generations against each other.
It hasn't really affected our sense of support or sympathy up and down the generation. So even in this quite hostile environment towards age-based connection, it hasn't really shifted the dial very much because it's quite a hard thing, as I say, to divide people on because there's so many things that connect us emotionally and in a broader sense of what's the purpose of life generally. So that's my hope actually, even if it hasn't worked. This divisiveness in the end hasn't really worked and it's got quite bad in its narrative, and it's had very little effect. So we should take the hope from that, I think
Eunice Lin Nichols:
I love that, Bobby. And I'm happy to go next. I think that as we've been working with a whole host of innovators out there who are trying to break down the age silos and bring that proximity and purpose that I talked about earlier, bring older and younger together to solve community problems. A few things that feel like necessary conditions are the humility that we talked about earlier from both generations. I think sometimes one way to think about it is what is the space that older and younger are being invited into, and who is typically centered in that space? And so it's not one size fits all. So for example, if Manu you're hosting an intergenerational event and it's on a college campus where students reign supreme, and you're inviting older adults from the community in, you might want to think about the space differently of how do you help center the older voices that in that space will be more in the fringe.
There are so many spaces where older adults are holding or adults are holding the reins, and young people are invited in and can just be token like, oh look, we had some young people there. What would it look like to recreate the space to center the voices and experiences of young people and give them real power, that power dynamic that Manu mentioned earlier as well? And where might we need to create new spaces, where the power dynamic we have to exit the system that exists and create something new where you can start fresh. We work with organizations that are kind of already working in age siloed ways, coming together to figure out how to partner.
And that's really important work. But we see the level of challenge in breaking through bureaucracy, cultural habits, ways of being, funding. The way funding comes in for aging versus for young people makes it extraordinarily difficult. We have to do that work, but we've also been looking at more innovative spaces where things are being created fresh, where none of those rules apply and you can actually create something that is deeply co-generational from the beginning. So I think looking at the levers that you have to pull, and doing that by looking at who's usually centered and how do you invite in the other really authentic ways is important.
It's fascinating. And I want to focus a little bit more on the hope piece as well, because I think the bridging staff, all of that comes into play as long as you actually believe in the vision of what's possible. And that's something that we've learned throughout our organization. That's something that we've learned in our interactions. And this goes back to the quote that I had started with that Robert F. Kennedy quoted and it rings so true to me, especially in a conversation like this, which is that youth is not a time of life, it's a stage of mind. Quick story on this, Miriam. So last May I met one of the most inspiring people I ever met, and he just turned 80. His name is David Gergen. So David Gergen was the chief White House communications director for Nixon, Ford, Reagan, Clinton, kind of spanned the gambit. I call him lovingly the double door of politics in DC.
And over the last couple of months, we've really developed a relationship where I ask him a bunch of questions and he asks me questions and we challenge each other. And what was so inspiring about our conversation has always been that this guy... And I'm saying this that I know you'll listen to this, and I think he would be fascinated for y'all to bring on next. He has so much energy, his mind is so curious. It's thinking a lot. He's got questions. He had more energy than me. I was tired before David was tired. I was like, "David, what's your secret? What do you got going on?" And David was like, and it goes back to this quote that I keep thinking about in conversations like this. I think of course all the other stuff falls into place, but if we recognize that what really matters is you're thinking hard, you're curious, you're humble as Eunice says, regardless of where we fall in the age gap.
That we don't want to make judgements on people just by their age, but by their character, by their thinking, by their experience. That we have to understand the power dynamics. We can actually work together, again, not because it's some forced compromise because that's just what should happen in democracy. But because it's actually the lever and pathway to creating a better world that younger people could access the cultural powers and levers more, the older folks can access the material levers more. You have a profoundly powerful reason to actually have intergenerational cooperation. And I think the way that you make this case moving forward is this is not a defensive conversation. This is an offensive conversation. To build a better world, you need folks working together across generations, period. And I've learned this through almost every relation. I am here today because of my older mentors.
And I say that from a sense of empowerment, not indebtedness. And I think that that's necessary because that attitude I think helps engender, and unlocks a lot of what Bobby's uncovered in his research and the tremendous work that Eunice does at CoGenerate. So I think there's a lot to be hopeful about.
Eunice Lin Nichols:
I want to add one more thing based on Bobby. I love how you talk about lifecycle effects, period effects and cohort effects. Just like a personal experience on the period effect, I feel like there are two things that have shaped me as a young person then somebody in midlife. One was 9/11 which really rocked many people in the United States. I was just starting my job running this intergenerational program. I happened to be so lucky in that moment to be in a room with a group of older volunteers all over the age of 50. My young staff were wrecked by that. We were like zombies. We did not know how to interact in that space. Tapping into the experience of people who had fought in World War II, had been through war crisis and many attacks before, helped to ground the space in a different place.
I was going to cancel all our meetings. I was like, clearly nobody should be meeting. We should just be watching the news. And it was my older volunteers who were like, "No, no, this is the moment where we get together. Don't cancel anything. You might need to change what we're talking about, but we gather." And that was so profoundly important for me in my early 20s. And the second one was when the pandemic shut everything down. And I was once again because of the work I do, so fortunate to be in a space where I was now in a Zoom call but with older and younger people together.
And it was once again, the younger people who life was turned upside down, had not dealt with this level of crisis before. And once again the older generations were there to say, we will get through this and I'm living proof of it and here are some examples and held the space together. So I think for me, the hope is that if we can create spaces where the unique attributes, the experiences of older and younger are there together, we can actually get through some of these huge challenges together. If we can mobilize people around shared purpose, then we can bring the diversity of assets to bear. And I think there's nothing we can't solve, but we have to do it together.
Míriam Juan-Torres González:
I know we're almost at time and there's so many other questions that I would like to ask, but I'll leave the room for any closing remarks if you have any. I guess my other question is whether intergenerational bridging can actually be helpful to bridge other divides as well. I'm thinking about younger generations who are far more racially diverse nowadays in some countries as well, whether these [inaudible 00:56:5 and whether that all supposes more challenges into the intergenerational bridging? Big question to close I know, but we can go a couple of minutes over if necessary.
Sure. I can just jump in. It is a very big question. I think it could lead to another hour of conversation. I think I just want to actually elevate this question of race and then I want to close with on my side and what Eunice had actually talked about, in terms of the experience of what my generation is living with and growing up with. On the question of race, I think it's a serious one. It actually creates a lot of challenges to intergenerational cooperation. Oftentimes when we're working just by demographics, because we're a more diverse generation, there's more intermarriages, there's more intermixing, a lot of the stereotypes don't exist as much because I think we're both forced and empowered to confront difference in very productive ways. It is, I would say the number one barrier to cooperation that I've seen at our chapters. And I think I would love to continue the conversation offline of just how we... Because again, this week we're having a real world conversation about how we get 80 alliances and 80 chapters to work together.
It's a scaled conversation. And so when you have a racially diverse chapter mixing with a more sort of monolithic older generational alliance, how do we work through that? And I'd love the advice on that. So all of that to say I don't actually know. On the broader piece of just mindset, Eunice I think hit on this correctly. I'm 24, the four major events that have defined sort of my political memory, we were born with 9/11, so not even sort of cognizant of 9/11, born with 9/11, went to middle school around the great recession, went to high school during the 2016 US presidential election, for our folks in the UK during sort of the time of Brexit. And then graduated college into the year that was 2020, pandemic, the capital riots, the Black Lives Matter protests, not a great sample size of democratic progress and sort of boundless optimism.
And so I think to Eunice's point, our generation can take a lot from older generations that have lived through periods of tumult and supplement that knowledge. But I would say that that does produce a temperamental impact on I think how optimistic folks might feel, or how more likely they are to be apathetic. And that is something that I wrestle with and think through a lot. So I guess Miriam, I didn't really end necessarily on a note of confidence, but more of some key questions because I believe so much in this proposition that those are the two big questions that I think a lot about. The temperamental differences given our lived experience and the question of race, because I think that affects the possibility of cooperation.
Do you want some reflections on that, Miriam?
Míriam Juan-Torres González:
It's such a great way to think about it. And I suppose I don't have much to add actually to that sense of work. The one thing I've enjoyed most about looking at things generationally is it's made me much more relaxed about our ability to cope as societies with tumult. And what seems at the time like a terrible inevitable decline turns itself round in different sorts of ways. Not through just magic, but through action and people actually taking control and doing things. So it's not sitting back and waiting for action. But we have an incredible ability to react and adapt to different circumstances. And you can see. And that includes intergenerational conflict and or tension. Intergenerational tension is not a bad thing. If we had no intergenerational tension, society is probably not changing fast enough. That's the sort of thinking that was right at the root of generational thinking from Manheim and others.
If we are all just getting along across the generations with no different perspectives, then we're probably in a agrarian society where nothing has changed for hundreds of years, because that's the only circumstances that you get that because formative years are important to our experiences. They are in your teens and early 20s. And your different experiences during those types of periods as Eunice says, do shape you and do take things from that as older generations have done from theirs in different circumstances. So again, my sort of hopeful, optimistic point of taking a very, very longer view of this is that we are adaptable and also don't be too afraid of tension. Do be afraid of outright polarization and people not talking at all across boundaries and complete segregation and separation, but tension is good. And we just need to work through that in positive ways as Manu and Eunice and lots of other brilliant initiatives do.
Eunice Lin Nichols:
I wrote that down. I love that. If there isn't intergenerational tension, we're not changing fast enough. And so maybe I can leave us with just kind of a pragmatic perspective, which is bridging across generational divides is not easy. Like anything worth doing though, it requires practice and we can't get the practice if we don't put ourselves in situations where we can interact with people who are very age different than us. And so there are some of us in the audience who run programs and organizations, how might you actually experiment with bringing older and younger together and creating what Manu said. It's like people want to do it. They need people to create spaces that are held that are cognizant of being designed for that purpose. If you have the ability to do it, go do that. If you're an individual watching this, I would just say there are people in your life that are significantly older or younger than you, you might just not be seeing them.
It might be the older neighbor you've never knocked on their door. It might be the young person who's serving you your coffee at your local Starbucks. How might you engage in a conversation? It might be in your house of worship. How might you just take that step, have a conversation, it might not always go well. Don't let that stop you, persist in it and kind of lower the bar on success. I think we need to just exercise our muscles on taking that step and bridging and doing the work to build those relationships and connections. And then if some of us are successful in building institutional spaces where that can happen as well. And then there's the policy piece that I think Bobby and Manu talked about too. We need all players at the table to make this an opportunity to be seized.
Míriam Juan-Torres González:
Well, thank you so much. I think we could have kept talking for maybe another hour, but I really appreciate all of you being here. I appreciate our audience for all of their engagement. They've been sending a lot of questions. So hopefully we'll keep this conversation going in the future as well. Thank you so much everyone.