This is an automatically generated transcript from Descript.com, please excuse any errors.
Turi: Today we’re over the moon to be talking to Bobby Duffy. Bobby is, um, the director of the policy Institute at Kings college, London and professor of public policy. There. He was previously global director of Ipso social research Institute. Bobby, it’s a tremendous pleasure to have you with us.
Thanks so much for joining us. Um, so the occasion for us to meet is the publication during a recent publication of your book generations, which looks at some of the differences between generations, some of the stereotypes, correct, incorrect, et cetera of the various generations. But I think perhaps more than anything else reminds us that it’s a useful model to approach the world through. Can we start with that? Could I ask you to explain what a generation is and why it makes sense for us to think generationally?
Bobby: Yeah, I, this is a big piece of sociological and philosophical thinking. It’s a big idea that runs through lots of the great thinkers about how society. Form and develop and change. So it’s, um, generations, as we kind of understand them now in the kind of the ones you hear around baby boomers, millennials, those types of social generations, um, are based on the idea that. But people are more likely to shape their views, ideas, behaviors during those formative years, uh, you know, late teens and early twenties and that the context in which you grow up shapes you, and that sort of naturally builds in differences between each successive cohort of generations.
And it it’s, it’s based on these fundamental building blocks of that. The fact that we individually bore a born age and die and society flows on in this constant, um, uh, entrance and exit of members of society. So you’ve got this kind of lovely, big ideas of how we, how we are shaped as individuals and how society is then affected. Um, by that, that constant flow in and out of society and that’s, um, very powerful and you can see, we kind of intuitively get it. That one generation is going to be different from another, because we get that. We have got more in common with our peers than we have with. Parents grandparents or children and grandchildren, um, through those formative experiences.
And that’s kind of, that’s what it explores and that’s, um, why it’s important. Is it interesting from my perspective, it’s, it’s very future focused. Cause it’s all about what comes next. If you truly understand what’s different between generations, you have a much better idea of what’s coming up in the future. In fact, you could go as far as state, as you can’t really understand the future, unless, you know, what’s different between generally.
Turi: You quote, the Spanish philosopher or Tega you guess say saying the concept of the generation is the most important one in history because it’s how history moves, changes, wheels and flows. Um, you slightly sound like Shakespeare when you’re talking about this, the, the, the trajectory of a human life. Um, but these, this kind of meal Fe of human lives, which, which counts as what culture builds as, as all these generations layer upon each other. It’s also a very interesting one.
Bobby: Yes, no, like I say, these great thinkers, like I’ll take a, I’m seeing it as fundamental and it goes, comps is the same, um, that we effectively, uh, because we change, we get formed and are more flexible in our youth, but then that flexibility.
Um, and adaptability kind of goes as we, as we get older, we get kind of stuck. Um, so competence is very much of the view that progress in society fundamentally rests upon death. Um, the death of, uh, people in one cohort passing on to a new cohort. And if, if we didn’t do. If we didn’t have that constant, uh, re renewal, we would effectively turn into a stagnant pond.
Is the, the kind of, um, kind of thinking behind that. And it, you know, there’s lots of people who’ve done salt experiments on what would happen if we lived forever. And they all come to the pretty similar view of, uh, we get stuck in our ways and society would get stuck overall
Turi: that. That’s quite beautiful. Also quite frightening, this idea that somehow as you bookend this one, the early experiences of our teens, I suppose in early twenties are the most formative. They sort of set our attitudes to the world. Not much changes for 70 odd years or three school years in 10 or whatever it is. And then the only way for society to move on is that a mass, a mass call, a kind of there’s that line about that, that academics, um, say that, you know, th that research really only changes academic progress only happens one funeral at a time.
Bobby: Well, more than that happens. There is more than that. And this is like the, the theoretical or analytical underpinning of the book is the distinction between cohort effects, period effects and lifecycle effects. And that’s, um, what the book isn’t saying. Um, and it is a sort of slight departure from. The big, um, most sociological theories on this is that it is that a cohort effects. The differences between generations are not determinant of everything. That’s very clear that there’s these three effects that, uh, effectively explain or tied up in all types of changes you see individually in a society level that can either be, um, a cohort. Uh, generation is different from each other and they stay different over time, or it could be a period effect where something happens and it changes the context for everyone.
And we’re all affected to some degree, like a pandemic, a war, a and economic crisis. Those are classic period effects, big blacks. One of it events like those, but also. Um, slow grind of evolutionary change. And then thirdly, lifecycle effects is we do change as we age. There is, it’s not that all individual growth stops in your twenties, early twenties. We change as we go through life stages and, um, leaving home, getting a job, getting married and. Uh, retiring. All of those types of things do are related to our attitudes, values, beliefs, behaviors. And, uh, so it’s the interplay of those three effects that is, uh, explains, uh, how society changes overall. And the job of the book is to try to work out, which is most important in. Different situations. And it’s almost always a mix of these effects going on at the same time, but sometimes ones, some are very dominant, uh, much more dominant than others in different circumstances or, um, with, uh, different sorts of issues. And you can see things like, you know, um, massive period effects of people’s concern about terrorism, and then how we reacted to terrorism when there was a lot of terrorist attacks in Europe, for example, Um, you can see obviously the economic effects of the financial crash, uh, you know, less of the period effects, but you can also see lifecycle effects of, you know, from the mundane ish things.
Like we just get fatter as we get older and you can kind of see helps the body weight. Decreasing in each generational cohort that I look at nearly
Turi: also accelerated by period effects like coronavirus lockdowns.
Bobby: Absolutely. It’s a good example of the interplay. It is a, yes, the context changes and that, that life cycle effect is affected by, by things like that. And you can never fully unpick these things, but yes, uh, you got things like that. Um, but then you do have truthfully. The kind of cliches about I’m liberal 25 conservative at 35, those, all those various sayings that, um, that play with that, as you do see a, uh, incremental increase in your likelihood to be conservative for each year, you age. And there is, uh, uh, all sorts of things that work at a lifecycle level, as well as these other levels.
Turi: Can we, can I ask you to give. Quick overview of the five big generations that you discuss in the book. And I think that which, which broadly you think map across the west, um, in a way which is coherent and then perhaps ask you. Define them, perhaps I can ask you to go through them. So start starting off with the greatest or the silent generation, and then sort of give us a sense of what formed them, why they get to count as a generation, what the key drivers of their, let me nail the guys of that generation realizing how do we categorize them into that thing and then, you know, what defines them.
Bobby: Yeah. Yeah. That’s a big question. Uh, so I start in the book with pre-war generation because I enrolled together silent generation and greatest generation, which is the labels that mostly use just in the U S really about, um, that, um, those two cohorts has anyone born pre 1945. I sort of put together and it’s because really today there are a very small proportion of the population.
And, um, it is, uh, the distinctiveness within the muscle to being lost in, in that do really only talking about the, the youngest of that cohort still being around. Um, so it’s, uh, at that pre-war generation, then we have baby boomers, 1945 to 1960. Um, so very large cohort NEMA clues in the name with them. It really is a demography driven generation. All right. It’s actually, obviously there’s, there was two baby booms within the UK, for example, it was a different pattern of baby boom within the U S some most European countries had some sort of baby bin, but not all. So it’s not all was demography driven. The other, I mean, the defining element for them in many ways is the post-war boom and, uh, uh, sort of luck of timing around economic growth that benefited them coupled with.
That the demographic weight, meaning that there they are a political powerhouse in terms of, um, drawing policy and politics towards them because they vote a lot and there’s a lot of them. Um, so they’ve got, uh, they had a lot of, um, uh, up until today, you know, it’s still ongoing with triple lock on pension. Uh, who’s going to pay the social care levy and in the UK, it’s a lot of political decisions go their way. And you’ve got generation X, which is my generation, and we have the sort of middle child, the forgotten middle child it’s often said because no one talks about gen X very much. Um, these, these smaller cohort, ,
Turi: what’s our bracket, 65 to
Bobby: 66 to 79.
Turi: Much shorter, much smaller little demographic. What defines us?
Bobby: Yeah, it’s interesting. Isn’t it? Cause we got, we obviously the name comes from, well, people argue about that, but the name, uh, most lately comes from Douglas Copeland’s book, uh, on generation X. And that came in, turned from a sociology book about gen X being. People who’ve rejected the sort of class system and, uh, you know, sort of plays to that nihilistic sort of, uh, antiestablishment view of gen X that, um, kind of came through in, in Copeland’s book. Uh, and, uh, I guess what defines us is that middle position. In some ways we didn’t have quite the economic fortune of the baby boomers, uh, And we didn’t have the sort of, uh, technological, digital, native, and more open emotional, uh, cultural context of millennials where everything was communicated. So we were in this sort of strange position that, and it does, it reflects in quite, um, serious. Things in gen X’s position in the UK where we are, there’s a horrible chart from RNs, which it shows where we, which is the office of national statistics, statistics, which shows, um, deaths from suicide and deaths from drug abuse, um, following generation X through.
The age range as we age, there’s a perfect hump that tracks our progress through life. And obviously these are small numbers. This is not, um, you know, it’s still a rare, rare event, those types of things, but, uh, is, I don’t think it’s a coincidence of, um, it’s just coincidence is that it’s a real thing where we’ve got the kind of middle position of if things didn’t go that well for quite a lot of this economically, uh, We looked like we were going to do well then housing, boom and crash and financial crisis sort of stopped quite a lot of that progress, but we also probably don’t have quite the emotional tools of, um, later generations where it was more open about mental health and.
How you’re coping. So in that kind of a, in many ways in the middle position is good because we can kind of see both directions. We’re quite a good hidden generation because we kind of get some, most of the technology and most of the different cultural contexts, um, of, uh, the younger generations. And we did better than millennials economically. So we’re not, you know, mostly on average. Um, uh, hasn’t been as tough economically for us, but there are downsides to it. And I think that cultural. Differences an important one. Um,
Turi: Copeland’s book itself published governors 20 years ago now more maybe, um, already flagged this issue with mental health. It was Prozac generation. Wasn’t it? It was, we were all on antidepressants and incapable of discussing ourselves.
Bobby: Absolutely. You can say the same in alcohol use and. It as in the younger baby boomers are the ones who most likely see overused alcohol. So we’re kind of, we’re in the ex. Excellent.
Turi: Okay. Let’s move on from us. It’s a bit depressing. What’s the boundary call who gets to, who gets to say 79 year. You’re a miserable despairing, a gen X-er and 80 you’re a millennial,
Bobby: uh, no one stroke MI stroke. Whoever wants to it’s why do you anchor it there? Do you think? Well, for me, I did these categories of existed, but you know, within a year or two in either direction doesn’t, you know, for, for, for quite a while and, uh, pew research center in the UK. A lot of people follow what they do and I more or less followed, um, slightly differently. And there’s different, different ways that different people do it. Then the point about this, I think for me, is that, um, exactly where you draw the boundaries. It doesn’t matter hugely. Um, it’s the. Data, whether when you look at this, um, does it tell you something useful and distinctive about these different cohorts? I’ve got quite an empiricist sort of view of does this look? So when I first started doing this, I did look at cutting at different sorts of ways, putting the boundaries in different places. And to be honest, it didn’t really, it didn’t show much of a different story because you imagined that the reality is that we are a continuous. Around no heartbeat boundaries between these things. You cannot say one end of it. Even with a demographic event like baby, boom, there’s, you know, where you draw the boundary on that is a, is a judgment rather than a really hard. Uh, cool. And, and if you think about it as well, in terms of you can’t bring it around, build it around events because it’s. What was exactly happening when you were born?
That matters. Um, it’s more when you were being socialized, but people are affected and socialized at different points. Individuals are, so there isn’t there isn’t a, um, There isn’t a really rigorous way in order to do it. And some people are arguing we should do away with these categories. They’re meaningless. And I kind of, I don’t understand because of the stereotypes and cliches, which we may come on to that there’s some terrible analysis out there. That’s very misleading, but the actual problem is more with how it’s presented, interpret these and over exaggerated. Rather than the fundamentals of this. Cause if the fundamentals being any different from any other social classification, because it’s the same with class social classes where you actually draw the boundaries on social class based on occupation, very, very judgment driven, very blurry at the edges, even income groups.
Where, how do you draw the line on rich and poor? Um, depends so much on context, ethnicity, incredibly commercial. Uh, demographic characteristic where you put it into these really simple boxes and lose a lot of the detail, even gender now, more fluid in how people identified with different genders. So it is, uh, the social classifications have more blurriness and judgment involved in. Then you think, ah, you immediately think of, so that’s how I kind of view generations that you don’t defend these as definitive. You can look at them in different ways, but I always found that the way that these five work tells you something useful about society
Turi: gotcha. Helps you to identify. Differences. Uh, how has the surface differences helps the surface change in a way that if you were just looking at a giant wash of continuing shift would be hot attempt to pinpoint. I stopped you. I was just, you were just about to explain
Bobby: yeah. Millennials then another big cohort, um, sort of squashes us gen gen X in the middle of the, kind of, uh, both demographic and cultural heavyweights of millennials and baby boomers. We get lost in between. Um, so millennials. Uh, I mean, like the classic on this in lots of the fluffy at work is about technology to finding this group and it being started digital natives, but actually, you know, lots of millennials it’s early and later, millennials are pretty split on whether they grew up with, um, uh, a fast internet connection and all the things that float. Um, from that, I mean the, the real story. For millennials is much less technological and much more economic, which is just incredibly unlucky timing on first of all, housing boom in men that they can’t afford, um, uh, to own their own home in the UK and the U S and other countries actually, um, uh, wage stagnation.
Which really affected them, did affect Genex as well. But, you know, wages just haven’t gone up, um, and, uh, increased debts, less governments have, you know, three student debt, um, less government support, um, and then the financial crash. Um, uh, and so all of the economic metrics, very different for millennials and it’s, you know, particularly on wealth, a huge skew. Of wealth going to particularly baby boomers, a bit of gen X and then not millennials and them, they get much less share of the wealth than previous cohorts had at the same sort of age. Um, so it’s really, it’s none of this avocado nonsense. Any, or even the kind of technological
Turi: would you spell out the avocado nonsense
Bobby: well, there’s some horrible victim blaming that goes on with millennials where, um, there’s a lot of, uh, financial advice about, you could own your own home if only you’d give up your obsession with avocados on toast or coffees or, um, whatever else. And, and all of that is nonsense. It’s like the sense that there was a particularly.
Frugal or, uh, financially rigorous generation that came before he would have done better than millennials in the same economic circumstances is nonsense. It’s just these a massive forces, massive economic forces where, uh, previous generations got great windfalls of, um, stock market rises and, um, property booms. It’s just hasn’t happened for that younger generations. There’s really nothing. There’s not a lot they could do about it. Um, so that they’ve got a kind of double whammy of bad circumstances, but, and then also this victim blaming of it’s your fault for being frivolous. Um, which so yeah, lots of sympathy with millennials on how that, how tough that context has been.
Turi: When do, when do gen Z gen Z.
Bobby: Yeah, I took it. I took it from 1996 and it’s, uh, onwards and it’s, um, uh, with no endpoint, particularly as yet. Um, it’s just, uh, some people have already moved on to generation alpha, which they’re calling it, which they were calling it, which would be like a 11 year olds and under, within that. But I’ve not looked at that yet. I mean, I, I did a big piece for the new scientist. It’s a big feature piece on generation COVID and the extent to which we will start to see a definable pandemic generations. So I think, I think we don’t know the end of gen Z yet, but I mean, they’re, they are economically, it’s a continuum of, um, the bad luck of millennials and now they’ve got the pandemic to deal with. Uh, and the economic aftermath of that. Um, culturally, it is, I mean, they, they are the true digital. Natives, um, uh, they are, I mean, things like, um, some of the things that define them are, uh, that, that formative years point is really important with gen ed, I think because of the, some of the changes.
So you can see like utter generational generation break and smoking, for example, smoking cigarettes, because they just never grew up. Cigarette branded, you know, freely available, um, sponsoring sporting events, all of that type of stuff that we, that I grew up with, or even bits of millennials grew up with, uh, and, you know, hugely, hugely expensive cigarettes. So it was kind of like all of that public health work on reducing cigarette smoking was, it was deliberately in a lot of cases and generational policy as it is. Yes, we want people to quit immediately, but we also want to change the context so that next generations have no connection to cigarettes. Um,
Turi: August court, the sociologist, our social progress rest, essentially upon death. To not have habits than to change existing ones in other words.
Bobby: Yes, exactly. So utterly different. Yes, exactly. That. And same with alcohol, um, to a large degree, different types of things, less, uh, rigorous, um, policy responses, but still, you can see very different than you’ve got trends, like three and 10 of the pre-war generation drink five nights or more a week. Um, and it goes down, you know, 20. Uh, 15% for us, for gen X and then, but it’s 0.0 it’s 0.2% for gen Z and it’s um, and that will go up a bit, but this is very generational. This is like stays pretty flat through your lifetime. If you were a very regular drinker drinking cohort, you kind of stay at that sort of level.
And we’ve got, um, utterly different view of how. Uh, on average across gens ed to previous cohorts. Um, so think things like that and then the sexual behavior as well. There’s, um, incredible, uh, drop in sexual activity. Um, uh, and part of that is a delayed adulthood thing where delayed adulthood is one of the big kind of generations on generation trends is cohorts are doing things. Um, leaving home
Turi: Starting to drink, learning how to drive, leaving home, having sex.
Bobby: Yeah. Having kids getting married, everything is going later. Um, I mean the sex one is quite interesting because it’s it, you could see, you could track millennials sex lives. Um, and it started later and then it looks quite similar to genetics by the time they get to their mid thirties.
But gen Zis starting in such a different position with like three and 10. Uh, not having had a sexual partner partner in the last 12 months compared to like a one in 10 for gen X.
Turi: Um, is that also because they’re quite a lot younger, what’s the, what’s the youngest gen Zed at this point. If you can guess if gen ed continues all the way through it doesn’t really have an end point.
Bobby: On those types of things, you only analyze the surveys that go from 18 plus. So, um, so that’d be 18 to 20 five-year-olds currently. Um, yeah. So your, um, what I tried to do in the book in order to unpick myths like that, that it’s effectively, what you’ve described there is exactly what I tried to deal with in the book is to separate out age effects. This is not just a feature of being young or younger. I would be looking at 18 to 25 year olds now with 18 to 25 year olds back when gen X were that age. And so you’re trying to strip a. Out of it to look at what’s truly different between the cohort. So when you look back to whenever that would have been the 1990s, uh, and you look at, um, gen X, uh, 18 to 25, only one in 10 of them had, um, had not had a sexual partner in the last 12 months, but you look at gen Z now where are also 18 25, 3 and 10 of them have not had a sexual partner.
Turi: So that is definitely a cohort piece. Y Y Bobby: yeah, it’s really interesting. There’s a big Atlantic piece on the sex recession. Um, and which picked a lot on young people for this, um, saying that there was a lot to do with risk perception and technology. Um, so more scared of meeting people in real life because they live their life digitally, more distracted by digital. Connection all of those types of things. I think it’s more than that though, to be honest, I think it is. I think it’s a part of this broader delayed adulthood point of we just doing things later. Um, and I think there’s a much broader period effect of all generations, all age groups were having sex less for all sorts of reasons. Economic. Um, social, all sorts of reasons.
Turi: Um, so can I ask you just quickly to unpack those? Just because sex is obviously a thing which interests all of us most, and it’s interesting to know that we’re doing it much less, but so when you say there are economic, social and technological reasons for us. No, not having sex as much as we used to.
Bobby: Yeah. Yeah, no. There is a connection between the kind of economic stress. And disruption and, um, and you can see that in Japan very much in, you know, more in the 1980s and, uh, where, uh, there was that, um, stagnation and you could see all the kind of economic success things, um, related to whether you’re going to partner up and everything else. You need to have that kind of stability to some degrees we’re living less stable, uh, lives. Now, you know, there’s a lot of young people. Living at home because they can’t make
Turi: Gotcha, harder to have sex. Exactly economic and I suppose social in some level at that point as a and then, and then tech, one of the things which emerged. From your book. And I want to flag here rather than asking you to go through all the various different, specific differences across sex and health and home ownership and driving and smoking, and which ha which emerge very, very clearly and very beautifully across multiple beautiful graphs in your book.
Um, um, but in this particular instance, um, what. What’s the role of porn, if any, what’s the role of tech? How does it change our approach to other people?
Bobby: Yeah, I mean, I think that the evidence is not that strong on this and it’s, um, the idea that in particular porn is a determining factor here is, has been, uh, explored a lot and there’s no conclusive. Proof that that is the case. Then you will find studies that say it, but then you’ll find studies that say there isn’t, um, and the, the big meta analyses tend to end up saying that it hasn’t doesn’t have that much effect on sexual behavior. Um, generally it’s not that doesn’t mean to say there aren’t instances. And it depends on the individual and the use they make of porn and all of those types of things. So it is, it’s like complex picture, but America is not the big thing. I mean, it’s more. The case has made more strongly about the destructive role of technology that we just fill our lives, looking at our screens.
And you’ve got, um, literally from, from the image of, you know, partners in bed together, but they’re just on their mobiles. Um, not really talking or interacting with each other, uh, three to the stress that that brings when, um, you’re effectively bringing your. Work office into the bedroom with you, if you’re just checking, checking, checking your email. Um, so yeah, th there’s is that technological bit, I think is, is more, is better. That’s that element of technological impact is, is better evidence. But, I mean, it is a, this the other thing, I mean, the thing that I’ve tried to make clear in the book is that there’s a tendency to blame baby busts and our future demographic problems on the youngest generation.
But these, these trends started a long time ago of, of a lesson later sex. And. Knock on effects on birth rates was coming, coming through for many decades. And it’s not just this latest generation that is utterly different. Um, but then I also do warn in the book, the gen Z looks so far off previous patterns on some of this, that it is going to accelerate that trend towards baby bust, um,
Turi: Especially across developed economies, like the ones you’re looking at. Um, Of the big drivers. We spoken about them Senator in an abstract way, there is the nine 11, which will change attitudes to tech, to terrorism, for example, and most likely tilt populations in a conservative way. Technology, the distractive power of the smartphone, um, economic disruption, like the 2008, um, credit crunch. And. Recession, which will knock a whole series of kind of timelines off. We’ll push them back because people aren’t able to develop economic independence. We’ve got, we’ve got tech, we’ve got society. We’ve got economics. We’ve got what for you, if anything is the most important driver of change between generations, what’s the, is there a thing or, or, um, or actually do they all play out in back?
Bobby: Yeah. I mean, I think, no, I don’t think there is a theme. I think it’s different in different, um, historic. Um, I don’t know. I think, uh, no, I think they all play a role in the, the task is to, um, uh, unpick those, I think, carefully avoiding the stereotypes, avoiding the, um, we have, uh, we have these sort of. Pretty strong, uh, tendencies, moral panic about new things that weren’t around when we grew up. So if you’ve got VC, anything that you were, that came as a great Douglas Adams quotes in this, as on this, about the extent to which things we, things we, uh, grew up with a completely natural things that were coming through as we were growing up were exciting. Things that when we’re older, that came through, as new stuff is dangerous and, um, it should be rejected. And it’s that, that kind of same sort of pattern of, um, uh, our tendency is to overemphasize the technological causes of things, the technological risks, and you can see it in the generation naming game.
There’s so many failed attempts. Generation naming that based around technologies like, you know, Nintendo generation or, um, , uh, all of that type of thing. We try and tie generations to these quite small platforms or tools or technologies when actually generations is a huge idea that’s affected by all of the things you listed of economics and, um, broader social, cultural change. Uh, well it’s politics, et cetera, et cetera.
Turi: One of the, sorry to interrupt. One of the, perhaps most, most obvious things I might say is that, um, the mere fact that we talk in cohort terms that we talk about generations at all, um, sort of suggests quite a banal, but important thing, which is that, um, our ideas, our product, our attitudes, our values. Our product at that time. Um, they are w w one of the beautiful things about your book is it, it, it anchors, um, attitudes, cultures, values, opinions, et cetera, in, um, in a flow. Um, and that is a very different way of thinking about opinion. It’s a very different way of thinking about ideas that I think perhaps most of us do. Um, I think of. My friend, Joe, who I disagree with on X, Y, and Zed, or my friend Josephine, who I agree with on we, we think of ideas as pertaining to the individual and, um, and perhaps pushing an open door here or making a point to loudly, which doesn’t need it to be made this loudly, but, um, your analysis of ideas and cause them in much, much broader sweeps, what space is there for the individually? In, um, in your model.
Bobby: It’s really interesting. I mean, I suppose because I am, I was brought up as a survey research and really, so I’m used to aggregate opinion, as in, I tried to represent what is, what is the balance of views across whole populations rather than delving too much into the drivers for an individual level.
So it sort of comes as second nature to me to be thinking of opinion, is a. Um, and it’s about a balance. And, uh, and then what flows from that, from doing that for years and years, is that the variety within that is vitally important. Um, and that’s where, you know, me understanding how that difference differs between generations is, is a key aspect of understanding society better. Um, so I don’t, yeah, I think that that is all, I think the, uh, Individual versus collective in. This is really interesting. Cause it’s sort of, uh, I think when I read the book, uh, recognized gen X in myself in lots of ways and then, and not in other ways and that’s um, and I’m right,
Turi: but so this thing of aggregate, um, is fascinating, but you also just talked about opposites. You also talked about the need for variety there. There’s a sociologist pollster also that you quote called Norman rider who saw society as an organism, um, and described. Uh, generational transfer as if I’m right. Demographic part of the demographic metabolism. I love this idea of a living creature that is aggregate society in some way.
Um, how therefore does this society change? Um, one by killing off, literally killing off at generations with particular cultural ideas. But, um, talk to me a little bit about the value of diverse. The value of this friction between generations.
Bobby: Yeah. Norman Rider is a demographer really? And he, um, yeah, this demographic metabolism is, uh, is a really useful idea, I think. And what it does get sort of getting to your point is that it shows that the. Benefit and energy in that tension that you get between generations, that there is, uh, for the two things it does expose it. It, firstly shows that it’s inevitable, the metabolism you need that metabolism, or you just die. Um, so that’s the same sort of point of.
New ideas coming through, um, new energy coming through or else everything just stops. Um, uh, but the second thing it does is it, it shows that it’s healthy and, um, and that it’s, uh, uh, from, uh, I find that really reassuring because what we get right now is an awful lot of focus on culture wars between young and old as if this is something. Really new and dangerous. Um, and, and culture wars are dangerous, but we’re not in a culture war right now in the UK, at least, and in other Western European countries. And, um, and that, that’s really important to think of this as a natural process where the younger going to different views from the old, um, but are currently what I see in the book is our current. Uh, no different from our current old than the gaps between old and young in the past on cultural issues like race or immigration or sexuality or gender identity or whatever the issue is that the issues change over time. But the gap between young and old is not unusual right now. And that’s really important to bear in mind because if you get the sense of.
Uh, coming conflict or generational war around cultural issues. And it’s just, it’s what I would call a period effect from. Right. That thing. It’s, it’s more that we’ve got a fracture, social media and media and fractures politics right now, which is emphasizing difference in extremes when actually the cohorts are not nearly as far as. As is often made out on there only a natural amount apart, that’s sort of the amount that you would expect or need in society. So that’s really important. I think that type of metabolism view really helps emphasize that this is a natural process, not a scary.
Turi: That’s gratifying and very, um, interesting to hear. It also feels as if we need a term to describe what happens in tra uh, or intergenerationally. We’ve switched, talked about cohort period and lifestyle effects inside of generation. But this thing of, um, I suppose, uh, systems that there will always be tension between generations is a great thing to bear in mind. Anyway. Um, one of the areas which you are slightly less positive about is polarization. You talk about some element of generations. Polarization at a political level. So if the culture was always there, if there’s always tension between the values and attitudes of one generation and the older generation and the younger generation, you do think there is, we’re in a moment of particular political polarization.
Bobby: Yeah. By generation and yes. And that’s, what’s happening here. The UK is sort of falling is a bit of a trail that us has set, uh, a while back. But as it, as a different, you know, national story around Brexit and the run-up to Brexit. So I’m, if you view Brexit as revealing. And then reinforcing cultural tensions that have been building in the UK for quite a while.
Um, that has then been put fairly center stage in our politics. Um, what we’ve done really over the past five or six years is put culture change and concern or comfort with culture change at the center of our politics. Um, and as soon as you do that, You’re building in an age or generation based difference because we know that the younger cohorts are always repeated through history, more comfortable with a culture change than older cohorts. Who’ve got great, greater connection to the past. So it’s, um, we’ve, we’ve built in this inevitable. Uh, because we’ve had that, that greater cultural focus and that is worrying because it’s not a great thing to divide people on age or generation politically. And we have got the biggest gaps in the UK, uh, between conservative and labor supporters and in particular, on, uh, on age, you know, incredible age gradients that just weren’t there before for labor parties, borders in particular, and just, there was no age basis to labor support until the last few years.
And now it’s huge. Um, So I worry about that very much because it is, it becomes a bit of a dynamic on its own where, um, the labor party in our case is, uh, uh, thinks they have to some degree demography on their sides and they’re appealing to younger people. And they, they, you know, get pooled towards the leading edge of culture change because that’s where their, most of their supporters are, which is scarier for older people. And then on the other side, The, in this case, conservative and other parties, uh, also think they’ve got demography of working against them. So they, they got very, very, uh, motivated to emphasize the extreme, the more extreme elements of the other side of, um, the younger people. And you get this dynamic of taking campus politics national.
Um, uh, uh, to try to attract the base, the base vote to them as much as possible. So it’s um, yes, I think we’re where we are now with this, uh, age division in, in the UK is the worrying precursor to. Process of culture wars that you’ve seen in the U S where you, if you build in these agent and comfort with culture change, um, divisions within your politics, it does become quite difficult to wrote back from it. And when you do get caught in this dynamic, um, well, one side.
Turi: To hear a demographer, like you saying that we, we have put demography to central in, uh, uh, conversations, echos, a conversation that I had with, uh, Bob Talese, who’s a political philosopher saying we’d put politics far too central in our preoccupations. Let them drift back into the background. Um, can I perhaps ask you to wrap by today? A little bit about this beautiful idea that you flag at the end of your book of this 200 year present. Um, and how love has got everything to do with all of this?
Bobby: Yes, yes, no, that’s a, that’s a good way to end because it is, it’s like, um, that’s the. Picture context to the book is the connections between the generations up and down. The generations are so strong. And that’s you see that so much when you start to break things down by generations, what immediately occur you see is the connections up and down are really important to people and what my, what the. Book is trying to do in the end is not to be arguing about redistribution between current old and young or, uh, you know, who’s been the winners or losers in the current generations. It’s more to make the point that because we’re so deeply connected, looking at things, generationally is really important to us because we want each generation after us to do better than us. We’re deeply invested in. Doing better than us and their kids having a good life and, um, about flowing on because we don’t like to think we just end. Um, so the, the 200 year life idea is, is that a point of we are connected, deeply connected, directly connected to this rough span of, um, 200 years, went from our grandparents who are, um, children or grandchildren with evil have this experience.
They will. Obscene people we know and have deeply connected to will have seen that whole span of history. And it doesn’t give you that perspective on how, what happened in the past deeply affects us today and how we act today will deeply affect people in the future. And I think from the, the book in the end is about encouraging that longer term perspective. Um, Uh, and looking at things generationally naturally does that for you because you see these long sweeps of history and you see the difference in, but also the connections between people. So I think that is a, as much as anything, the main theme or objective of the book is to get us to lift our heads a bit from that short-term perspective, both to think about. Uh, our own family’s future. And how does that interconnect, but then more broadly to fight the short term ism that we as individuals and then societies overall a really drawn into, um, and the generational perspective is core to that. I think,
Turi: well, we, what a wonderful way to end this. Um, thank you again for giving us the benefit of your. Um, this kind of extraordinary topic of generations that, um, and how they impact the way we think about the world. This has been wonderful talking. Thank you so much.
Bobby: No problem really enjoyed it. Thank you.