Attitudes to different generations

Intergenerational attitudes are changing. Older generations see some young people as a threat to their safety. This is driven by anti-social behaviour (tolerance of which is in decline), negative press coverage of young people and public behaviour, usually in groups, which looks intimidating.

On the flip side, youth attitudes to older generations may also be hardening. The ageing population means that a larger share of national income will be required to pay for pensions and healthcare, potentially leading to increasing debates on whether welfare gains for one age-group (i.e. the elderly) come at the expense of another (i.e. students). At the same time the economic downturn has reduced opportunities for young people (including high house prices (see housing market), university fees, and a more competitive job market), there is constrained public spending, and an increased understanding that climate change may limit future consumption. Taken together, these factors are contributing to a perception that the current generation will not be able to attain as high a standard of living as some older people today.

Within the categories of 'older generation' and 'youth generation' there is ample diversity - 60-year-olds are very different to 80-year-olds (see diversity of older people) and inequalities of income and educational attainment are particuarly striking in the young.  The increasing diversity of older people means that the way older people are viewed is shifting, which may lead to a decrease in stereotypes and prejudice towards older people. As the older generation participates more online – increasingly using services such as Facebook perceived as being for 'young people' - the cultural gap between young and old may diminish.

What are the implications?

  • A need to stimulate dialogue which fosters understanding between generations.
  • If conditions of equity between generations no longer exist, and more responsibility is placed on individuals, potential conflicts and tensions could arise.
  • There could be the development of social and political activism of and by different generation groups.

Moving forward

VCOs may have a particular contribution to make to improve inter-generational understanding, as they are often able to give a voice to marginalised groups within society, such as those perceived as anti-social in their behaviour or isolated older people. 

  • Can your organisation help facilitate dialogue between different age groups and the wider community?
  • How will changing attitudes to different generations impact on your organisation?
  • Intergenerational working shows that solidarity between generations is still strong. Would some of your projects benefit from having an intergenerational approach?

The threat of generation-based tension is heightened by ageism. Often viewed as something only older people experience, it affects young people as well.  Additionally, ageing means different things to different people.

  • In five years’ time, will attitudes towards young and older people be based in reality or fear and stereotypes?
  • What can your organisation do to combat stereotypes and recognise individuality and points of difference within/between different generations?
  • How can you ensure your 'offer' for older people reflect their diversity?

Want to know more?

What are today’s social evils?

Published by: Joseph Rowntree Foundation – a research and development charity

Date: 2008

Format: Web & PDF

What is it? A summary of the findings of a public consultation exploring the ‘social evils’ facing Britain today.

How useful is this? As a marker of public opinion on British society and attitudes, this is a useful document. In 1904, Joseph Rowntree identified what he believed were the worst social evils. The new list is the result of a web survey of 3,500 people and discussions with groups whose voices are not usually heard. It explores attitudes to young people, and reveals a strong sense of unease about some of the changes shaping British society.

Other comments:

How Ageist is Britain?

Published by: Age Concern

Date: 2005

Format: Web & PDF

What is it? A report on research

How useful is this? This report explores the nature and prevalence of prejudice and discrimination about age and ageing in Britain, based on interviews with almost 2000 people from a representative sample of adults aged 16+. It outlines some interesting findings, including the fact that ageism is experienced by people of all ages, and is (according to these findings) the most prevalent form of discrimination in Britain.  The report examines ageism, and presents recommendations for the Commission on Equality and Human Rights on how to best tackle this issue.

Other comments? The link leads a main page with further links to other publications related to this topic.

The Centre for Intergenerational Practice

Published by: The Centre for Intergenerational Practice

Date: 2008


What is it? A website aiming to support the development and promotion of intergenerational practice.

How useful is it? The website aims to promote intergenerational practice as an effective mechanism to improve the understanding and relationships between people of different generations and cultures, and develop the evidence base and understanding of intergenerational practice at national, regional and local levels.  Particularly useful are the network links, and the Intergenerational themed pages.

Other comments?

Last updated at 16:17 Thu 24/Mar/11.

Recent comments

Ute's picture


Attitudes to children’s play today range from outright intolerance to wishing for a return to a golden age. But every generation of children develop their own play. Inter-generational awareness of play means passing on traditional play and games to children, and adults finding out about 21st play of today’s children.

Caroline's picture


Third Sector Foresight

The government has recently announced new funding for volunteering programmes which bring the generations together, the aim being that bringing the generations together will help tackle issues in the local community. It might be worth looking therefore at your organisation’s work, and whether there are opportunities here for you.

Véronique's picture


Third Sector Foresight

The Generations Together programme has just announced that “it will fund 12 projects across the country where young and older people can engage with each other on equal terms, break down barriers and challenge negative stereotypes”. The prospectus for the fund, the application form and a question and answer document can be found on the OTS website .

For those interested in intergenerational practice, you might want to have a look at the write-up of the NCVO/Carnegie seminar on intergenerational connections which took place last October.

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