Smashing generational stereotypes

Let’s admit it, at some point we have all been there, expecting specific behaviours from certain age groups. Who hasn’t heard any of the following? ‘Young Gen Yers don’t care about anything, they are rude and spend all the time on their phones.’ ‘People over the age of 65 have no idea how to use technology and they spend most of their time sitting at home.’ They are generalisations, but very frequently made!

For decades, researchers have discovered much about how humans automatically categorise others in social perception. One of the areas we covered in our upcoming Generations piece, the latest wave of Future of Britain research, was examining assumptions of age-appropriate behaviours and lifestyles in order to challenge them.

According to a research study run by Future Foundations, stereotypes about age are stronger and more resistant to change than those about race, or gender.

Age prejudice is often socially condoned, it is not uncommon to see birthday cards bemoaning the fact that a person is one year older.

Our research uncovered some of the general preconceptions of the different generations;

  • The younger people are, the more likely they are to be associated with being creative, adventurous, digitally connected, but also a follower and more materialistic.
  • However, with age we start seeing some of the traditional values coming up. Older people are more likely to be perceived as generous, fair and polite.

Future of Generations

These perceptions are as strong, regardless of what generation respondents belong to, so even when they rate people from their own generation they have the same assumptions as people from other age groups.

This also came through the qualitative work we did;

‘Older people have more manners than 16-30-year-olds.’ Michael, 37

‘I think we, the younger, have more tangible and selfish goals and values than others. I think values change a lot during the years.’ Ana, 20

‘If a group of 16-19-year-olds were sitting together they would all be on their phone’. Nicholas, 50

Interestingly, the picture is very different when people rate themselves! Through the usage of projective techniques, we uncovered the fact that we see ourselves in a more positive light than we see people from our own generation.

So, for example, if we look at those aged 16-19, they are more likely to see themselves having traditional values like being polite, fair or generous than people from their own generation.

Future of Generations 2

And the same for the 65+, when they rate themselves they claim they are more digitally connected and less close minded, boring or old than how they perceive people from their age group.

Even if it sounds like a cliché, our research proved that we are as old as we feel, and the older people are the less likely they are to feel their chronological age. 77% of those aged 65+ felt younger than their generation. And 88% of those aged 65+ claimed that age is just a mindset, not a number.

If we are thinking about mindsets, there are times when even the two extremes meet. Our research shows some examples when people aged 16-19 show similar traits to those aged 65+. They both have a social conscience, watch the amount of alcohol they consume, are careful about what they eat and want to know where it comes from and they are both adventurous travellers seeking for authenticity, truth and locality in their trips.

So what?

In order for brands’ messages to resonate with different audiences, they need to avoid following age-related myths and assumptions. They should also avoid putting people in the “old” category, as we have seen that they often don’t see themselves in that light!
Some brands are already distancing themselves from using age-related stereotypes and are being brave;

A good example is Citroen, priding itself on being different and choosing 94-year-old fashion icon Iris Apfel as a brand ambassador for the new stylishly chic DS 3 – the choice is driven by styleCitroen

A Swedish department store promotes its sportswear with an unlikely frontwoman – the world’s fastest 71-year-old – the choice is driven by speed


Successful brands will have a clear focus on mindsets and current behaviours rather than age expected lifestyles and attitudes.

What next?

The study which inspired this blog is our current wave of Future of Britain called Generations, which addresses the changes in attitude towards youth, the  middle-aged and the elderly, accompanied by a blurring of traditionally perceived boundaries of age-appropriate behaviour and lifestyles.

The objective of Future of Britain; Generations is to challenge some of these assumptions, and stereotypes as well as understand intergenerational relationships, shared values and uncover intergenerational differences on attitudes towards categories and brands.

We will be launching this piece in the coming months, so watch this space for more updates! If you have any questions please contact us at [email protected].



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