I’m a member of Generation X, as the author here describes it, the middle child generation between the Baby Boomers and the Millenials and Generation Y youngsters. Yes, I wear hoodies, have a side-parting and have been known to eat cereal for dinner. But is everything I do and think shaped by the generation I was born into? That’s what Duffy has set out to explore here.

Bobby Duffy – “Generations: Does When You’re Born Shape Who You Are?”

(28 July 2021)

There’s a lot of dissent and combativeness between generations set up in, mainly, the media. You might think the Baby Boomers have destroyed our financial prospects and pulled up the money drawbridge, leaving us younger folks to flail, or that Millennials are snowflakes – or that Generation Y are the amazing climate change activists who are going to save the world. None of that is quite true, as Duffy, a professor of public policy, uses a long cohort of data from 40 countries around the world to prove – he actively states he is aiming to debunk myths and find out truths.

The main point Duffy makes throughout the book is that everyone has period effects, lifecycle effects and cohort effects that change their behaviour and attitudes over time – and it’s not only the cohort or generation effect that wins out. Period effects include things like the Covid pandemic, which of course affected us in different ways, with older people more likely to become seriously unwell, but with those so-called selfish youngsters pulling together to support the general community. Lifecycle effects include health issues that grow with age, a solidifying of beliefs so we think it was better before, etc.

A lot of the effects on younger people who seem to be eschewing marriage and car ownership, etc., can be put down to financial issues – they tend to stay “younger” longer and get a late start, then catching up. Meanwhile, just as many older people are climate activists. Where there are generational differences, they crop up in these delays and in politics, and changing attitudes to equality, same-sex marriage, etc., each generation affected by the situation it grows up in.

Duffy doesn’t leave it there, both exhorting people to look more carefully at the stats rather than making assumptions, and also calling for more support for young people with regards to equitable access to housing, etc – and like Shon Faye in “The Transgender Issue“, he makes the point that improving life for one sector of the population tends to raise equality and living standards for all.

A decently argued and clear book. In my e-book copy, it was a shame that the copious graph illustrations didn’t work, although they were all described clearly so I could get the gist. An interesting book for those interested in sociology and public policy.

Thank you to Atlantic Books for choosing me to read this book and making it available via NetGalley in return for an honest review. This book was published on 2 September 2021.