Characteristics of the “IPOD” generation

Being the age that would be labelled the “IPOD” generation (18-34) often known as “Generation Y”, I was quite depressed to see that think tank Reform have defined this acronym as ‘Insecure, Pressurised, Over-taxed and Debt-ridden’; my first reaction was ‘No, we’re not!’ However, on closer examination of the report (PDF 811KB) it is interesting to see that a number of key trends that are affecting the whole of the UK population seem to be impacting and manifesting themselves to a higher degree in this generation. Given that this generation is the future, I thought it might be interesting to highlight some of the findings set out in this report by Reform and Ipsos MORI. The report is based on a deliberative workshop with 35 “IPODs” and hundreds of discussions that Ipsos MORI run every year. The aim was to understand what kind of government IPODs want to see, and the relationship they want to have with government. The discussion was stimulated by four scenarios that set out future life in Britain.

In British culture as a whole, “IPODs”, or “Generation Y”, have received rather a bad press; labelled as apathetic and uninterested in politics, as well as binge-drinking consumers with a short-term mindset. However, this report argues that the truth is more complex. It argues that the past decade has seen the balance of taxation and public spending tilt against young people in an attempt to address the pressure that the dependency ratio has put on public services, so that they now face a large burden without being able to expect many of the benefits. With the current economic situation, this is likely to become increasingly difficult and there is a risk that IPODs will become even more disaffected from the government. This generation is also faced with increasing levels of debt from higher education, stronger labour market competition, lower growth in earnings and severe difficulties in getting onto the property ladder.

The report also aims to counter some of the prevailing myths about young people, their habits, culture and assumptions in a rather innovative way, identifying six key themes for policy-makers to bear in mind when communicating, and setting these out in the form of a “playlist for policy-makers”. These are also relevant for any VCOs working with young people. However, it might be worth bearing in mind that as the report was written as a tool to influence policy, the research is probably more useful than the recommendations at the end.

Some of the trends the report highlighted were:

  • Despite their debts, IPODs have grown up during a time of economic plenty; they are less likely to adhere to traditional ideologies, laissez-faire, live and let live, and tolerant of difference (see attitudes to ethnicity).
  • They are very confident people, demanding a lot from employers and corporations (see rising expectations). They are sophisticated, creative consumers who are likely to question companies’ green credentials (see corporate responsibility), and very critical of hypocrisy in big business and government.
  • At present, however, IPODs feel disconnected from the public realm. (See engagement in formal politics) They tend to vote in smaller numbers than other groups, express more cynicism about government and politics overall, and focus on the personal sphere rather than the political. They tend not to look to politics to provide a credible answer to society’s problems as they do not to connect the ups and downs of their daily lives with the macroeconomic sphere or with decisions made in local government or in the House of Commons.
  • The media often characterise young people as lazy or apathetic, however, perhaps the most defining characteristic of this generation is that they are very busy, simultaneously working, learning, cementing friendships, asserting their identity through choice of entertainment, and amusing themselves, literally all at the same time. (See time and energy deficit). They actively revel in their busy, pressurised, fast lifestyle, and thanks to mobile personal technology, there is never a moment left unfilled.
  • They have different approaches to community, seeing themselves as members of a large number of different, overlapping communities, which can be virtual and conceptual as much as geographically based. (See attitudes towards community responsibility). This links in with another growing trend where individuals are less willing to conform to narrowly defined identities, often based on multiple cultures and values. (See Future Focus 5 on changing social attitudes)
  • Despite this, it is still a myth that online worlds are inherently more interesting to IPODs than offline interactions. IPODS only see the use in technology if it is used properly and they are particularly wary of its use within public services and government. (See public attitudes to data use)

This Guardian article also explores many misconceptions about Generation Y, arguing that this generation has a lot of positive characteristics and are currently playing a more active role in politics in the US; being labelled as the key to Barack Obama’s success, particularly linked to online activities.

IPODs are valuable to the future of society; though IPODS may not have the majority of society’s wealth, they have skills and dynamism which can matter just as much in the modern economy. Managing the diversity of attitudes and tensions over fair taxation and public service allocation between different generations will be key to future cohesion, with a growing ageing population and pensioners outnumbering the under-16s for first time last week.These issues are also discussed in our forthcoming Voluntary Sector Strategic Analysis and Future Focus 5 which examines the attitudes of different generations to each other.


Last updated at 16:09 Mon 21/Feb/11.
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How will this affect your organisation? Have you considered it during your strategic planning? Can you share any interesting relevant links?

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