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College of Arts, Society and Education

Publish Date

7 March 2020

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Relationships between generations are better than ever

If Millennials, Baby Boomers and Gens X and Z would stop flinging insults and avocado at each other, they would find they have quite a lot in common, according to a social researcher headed to Cairns this month.

Associate Professor Dan Woodman is a chief investigator in the long-running ‘Life Patterns’ research study of the transition to adulthood of young Australians.

Our media and narratives tend to pit angry or entitled Millennials against complacent Baby Boomers, or portray Gen Xers as out of touch with their tech-obsessed Gen Z kids. But Dan suggests that intergenerational relationships within families and communities are better than they have been in years - with Cairns being no exception.

“It is now the norm for young adults to live longer in the family home, and mum and dad increasingly expect it," Dr Woodman says. "Yet, the primary reason young people are staying at home longer is that education takes longer, entry-level jobs are less secure and housing is further out of reach.

“Youth unemployment in Queensland is almost 14 per cent and although Cairns has done particularly well over the past year in creating opportunities for young people, underemployment and insecure employment are common and it takes longer for young people to find their feet.”

In Cairns, Millennials (aged between 25 and 39) are the smallest generational group at 18.8 per cent of the region’s population. The largest group is Generation Z (people aged between 4 and 24), at 25 per cent of the city’s population, according to the most recent census figures.

Around 21 per cent of Cairns people fall into Generation X (aged 40-54), and 22 per cent are Baby Boomers (aged 55-75).

A lens of generational difference

Dr Woodman says there is a tendency in society to understand the world through the lens of generational difference, even conflict, which is shaping the way people thought about the relationship between young people and their parents’ generation.

“What is most striking, though, is the similarities, and the fact that today’s young people share many of the same dreams for the future as generations past,” says Dr Woodman.

“There are important questions about intergenerational equity that Australia must face up to, but there is no generation war.”

The University of Melbourne’s ‘Life Patterns’ study has followed two generations of Australian youth through their young adult lives. Dr Woodman and his team have examined the data for new knowledge and trends to explain how two generations of young Australians are negotiating a rapidly-changing world.

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