A Worthy Debate

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The theory of Generation Jones is somewhat controversial within demography circles. But it's a debate worth engaging in - especially today as marketers dig deeper into what drives consumer behavior.

When we first heard about Jonathan Pontell's book, Generation Jones, we dismissed it as yet another attempt to resurrect an old debate. Pontell, after all, isn't the first to take issue with the years that constitute the Baby Boom generation (1946 to 1964). Like others before him, he argues that the time span is too long; that Boomers born in 1946 have vastly different attitudes from those born in 1964.

Not many of us would debate that point. But Pontell goes a step further. He suggests that demographers have "skipped" a generation entirely, one that fits neatly between the Boomers and Gen Xers.

Even that doesn't exactly warrant a cover story. But what does deserve some attention is the idea of how we choose to define the term "generation" today. It's a debate worth engaging in, especially now as marketers seek deeper answers into what drives consumer behavior. Modern marketing's definition of "generation" is comprised of two disparate parts. First, there's the traditional definition used by demographers: the number of people in any given age group and what that portends about the size and shape of tomorrow's markets. Second, there's the issue of shared attitudes, a common history, and formative events. Both definitions are relevant for marketers.

"Every person I interviewed for this piece had a definite, passionate point of view about generation - much like they would about politics or religion," says Contributing Editor Alison Stein Wellner, who wrote this month's cover story ("Generational Divide," p. 52). "Generational issues are issues of identity. They strike at the core of who we are. It's frustrating to be lumped into a group mainly on the strength of something that we've had absolutely no control over - the year that we were brought into the world."

The theory of Generation Jones is somewhat controversial among demography circles because it confuses numbers and attitudes. Pontell believes, as many others do, that a generation cannot be declared until the formative years of its members have passed. This argument makes sense if you choose to define "generation" as shared attitudes and personality. But it makes less sense if you choose to define "generation" as a future market - no amount of philosophical debate can change the number of babies that were born between 1946 and 1964. Demographers may take issue with Pontell's assertion that defining Boomers by birth years is a mistake. But his argument is well worth listening to on matters of generational attitude and personality.

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