Generations gapped

Culture | Are you a "Family Limited" or a "Renaissance Elder"?

Issue: "Here we go again," Nov. 11, 2000

No sooner had churches got baby boomers--with their narcissism and '60s music--figured out than they were asked to adjust to Generation Xers, with their cynicism and hunger for authenticity. Whereupon churches were told to get ready for Generation Y, with their cheerful materialism. Before sociologists run out of letters, it has become obvious to most observers that these broad generational labels--and stereotypes--do not do justice to the actual differences in Americans today. For one thing, multiple generations live together at the same time, defying the notion that one or the other defines American culture today. Furthermore, a particular generation will number among its members many different groups and personality types. Demographics experts for the Yankelovich research firm have recently devised new categories with which to classify Americans, all in an attempt to help marketers better target their sales pitches. To better describe the diversity of contemporary America, the Monitor MindBase study sorts us all out into eight different groups: Up and Comers. These are young adults who are upwardly mobile, active, and involved. They are "upbeat," live for today, and have "a sense of fun." Significantly, they are also childless. Young Materialists. These folks are "obsessed with style, status and the good life." And yet they are also plagued with cynicism. Stressed by Life. These are the people stressed out by having too little money and too many responsibilities, including single mothers struggling to barely get by. New Traditionalists. These are the busy families, typically affluent and involved in everything. Family Limiteds. These are the parents who are focused totally on their families and little else. Their families, being relatively self-contained, are their No. 1 priority, to the exclusion of involvement in the outside world. Detached Introverts. These are the geeks and the loners. They may be affluent, from their high-tech jobs, but they are anti-social, uninvolved with the world, and they live their lives watching TV or surfing the Internet. Renaissance Elders. These are mature adults who are "reaping [the] fruits of [a] well-managed life." After having paid their dues, they are now affluent, involved, and satisfied. They tend to have a "strong sense of spirituality and community," hold "traditional values," and are still engaged in enhancing their lives. Their children have flown the nest. Retired from Life. These folks are mature, but uninvolved in the outside world, which they see as a threat. They focus on their own homes and families and are skeptical of modern innovations to the point of cynicism. Each of these groups, in turn, is divided by the researchers into subgroups, for a total of 32 categories in all. Thus, the "New Traditionalists" are further divided into "Overbooked Moms" (who are stressed from juggling so many activities); "Heartwarmers" (who direct their families toward long-term goals); "Players" (pleasure-oriented parents who want everyone in the family to have an "active, fun life"); "Band Leaders" (who are values-oriented and plan many activities outside of the home); and "All Americans" (who have managed to be in control of their lives). "Young Materialists" are broken down into the self-explanatory categories of "Rhythm and Youth," "Young and Restless," and "Cynical Disconnectors." The other categories also have their subdivisions, with various nuances of traditionalism and progressivism and different modes of engagement or detachment. According to these demographics, "New Traditionalists," "Family Limiteds," "Renaissance Elders," and "Retired from Life" will tend to be cultural conservatives, holding traditional values and a strong sense of family. Though the study says little about religion, these groups are probably most involved in the church. The "Up and Comers" and "Young Materialists" populate the world as portrayed in the entertainment industry. They need to be reached by the church, though this may be easier once they grow up a little. The "Stressed by Life" and the "Detached Introverts" need help. Churches can play a role in offering support to the hard-pressed and the lonely. These categories, of course, are more fluid than they seem. They are not so much subcultures as they are stages in life. Many of the "Young and Restless" cadre have turned into protective, homeschooling "Family Limiteds" once children enter their lives. And once the children are successfully raised, empty-nesters can discover the outside world again as "Renaissance Elders," seasoned by life. The church is a place where all categories of people can come together, where they can find guidance for every stage of their lives, and where they can learn from each other in a community of faith that transcends narrow cultural divisions. More importantly, they can be equipped not just for this world but for everlasting life, in which none of these worldly classifications will mean a thing.

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Gene Edward Veith
Gene Edward Veith


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