Here's the ugly truth -- generational clashes generate clicks.

Compare young people unfavorably to older folks, and people read in outrage (or pleased assent), share and comment. The same happens if it's the olds you're badmouthing. No wonder there are approximately a gazillion articles out there trying to diagnose exactly what's up with kids these days. Plus, saying people are basically people who all go through a similar life trajectory is comparatively boring.

But sadly for this outrage machine, it also appears to be largely true. If one meta-analysis of all the science on work and generational differences wasn't enough to convince you that Millennials are actually pretty similar to their parents, then perhaps two will do the trick. Because another one just came out and the results are clear.

Repeat after me: young people aren't lazy and entitled.

Sorry, professional Millennial whisperers, but you're pretty useless.

This latest research looked back at the results of an incredible 77 studies on generational difference, specifically focusing on the question of work ethic. Do young people have any less of it than older generations? The answer, as recently published in the Journal of Business and Psychology and highlighted on the Science of Us blog, is absolutely not.

The young are just as committed to hard work, delayed gratification, and pulling themselves up by their bootstraps (a suite of characteristics the research team groups under the term "Protestant Work Ethic") as their elders. And as the researchers point out that makes the small industry of folks who currently get paid to tell companies how to deal with the supposed differences of Millennials pretty useless.

"The finding that generational differences in PWE do not exist suggests that organizational initiatives aimed at changing talent management strategies and targeting them for the 'very different' Millennial generation may be unwarranted and not a value-added activity," they conclude.

Other "truths" about Millennials that aren't

It's also worth noting that this study isn't an isolated data point. There's a lot of scientific evidence that other "truths" about Millennials -- that they're more narcissistic than previous generations, for example -- rest on pretty shaky scientific footing and are hotly contested by researchers. Here's a whole Atlantic article laying out the controversy.

Or here's a thought-provoking New Republic piece arguing that trends that are usually put down to Millennials radically different outlook (less car ownership, a greater openness to freelancing) are really just signs that the generation is broke.

Read these stories and the latest studies and it's hard not to be convinced that a lot of the conversation around young people is simply self-interested stereotype peddling. Maybe we should all think a little more carefully (and read a little more deeply) before we weigh in on the so-called differences between the generations.

Do you think the oft-cited differences between the generations are real or just the product of media hype?

Published on: Oct 20, 2016
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