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10:32 PM June 27th, 2013

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By: Michael L. Tan, June 27th, 2013 10:32 PM

I’ve been preparing for a lecture on demography (the study of populations) and anthropology (the study of culture).  One of the case studies I’ll be using is that of American-coined generations of “baby boomers,” “Gen X” and the “millennials.” The premise here is that a shared exposure to key historical events, social developments, even technological change, results in a generational culture.

Summer of Love

A recent issue of Time magazine focused on the millennials but explained how the members of each generation came to be what they were. For example, those born from 1943 to 1960 are referred to as baby boomers because right after World War II there was a surge in birth rates.

The baby boomers are described as a generation “who came of age in the Summer of Love” (meaning the late 1960s). It was a generation that saw affluence, but many of the yuppies (young upwardly mobile professionals) “lost fortunes in the stock-market crash of 1987,” and many are unable to retire because their savings were affected by the crisis in the late 1990s.

Generation X, those born from 1961 to 1980, are characterized as “kids of working moms and divorced parents,” growing into adulthood “marked by a sense of ennui,” with economic prospects somewhat bleak, meaning this is the first generation that may not be able to earn more than their parents.

Then we get to the millennials, also known as Generation Y, born between 1980 and 2000. This is the generation that grew up with the Internet, and older ones are now carving out careers, but still amid an uncertain economic environment.

The Time articles give more details on how each generation was shaped by its times. The millennial generation is said to have a stronger sense of entitlement, growing up in an environment of numerous consumer goods. Despite continuing economic uncertainty, this generation’s access to the Internet means its members get more information at their fingertips, which means more opportunities, so this generation is not as rebellious as previous ones.

There’s much more in the Time articles but reading these made me think: Do these generational divisions, and characterizations, apply to Filipinos? What are the main forces—economic, technological, social—that shape the culture of whatever generations we might identify?

Great optimism

Let me give a very tentative breakdown of our generations, at least with the middle and upper classes, with readers encouraged to jump into the discussion, perhaps from your own experiences of a generational culture.

I think we have much to share with the American baby boomers. I am from that generation and saw how the Philippines went through a period of great optimism in the postwar period. We were, after all, one of the most advanced countries in Asia. There was probably more social mobility at that time, greater chances to move up the economic ladder as long as you got to college.

Like their American counterparts, Filipino baby boomers saw challenges to social and moral norms. We aped the American hippies, rocked and rolled. There were mind-altering drugs, too, mainly pot (marijuana) and downers. Many from the baby-boomer generation were caught up by the nationalist movements, the First Quarter Storm of 1970, and then martial law, and for some baby boomers, a life underground.

The baby boomers struggled through the last years of the dictatorship, and rejoiced at Edsa with high hopes for a better future. The baby boomers are now approaching, or have reached, senior citizenship. Some are lucky to be financially stable but others face uncertain senior citizenship because of global financial problems.

We can probably retain the American generational divide and talk about our version of Gen X—those born between 1960 and 1980. This was a generation that grew up knowing only one president—Ferdinand Marcos. I began to teach in 1985, and I remember how difficult it was to get students to challenge the status quo. They were lucky because they came of age in an age of restored democracy. Some were brought to Edsa in 1986, sharing their parents’—the baby boomers’—euphoria.

Edsa

This was the generation that left the country in large numbers, as overseas work became the major economic activity for the country. If Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo could keep herself in power for a decade, it was because overseas work provided a safety valve that prevented discontent from boiling over. Besides that, our Gen X was more cynical about politics, seeing how Edsa I and II have been betrayed. I’ve wondered if Gen X’s problem drugs—shabu, for example, with its terrible mood upswings and crashes—reflect a change in ethos.  The baby boomers downed themselves, chanting a mantra of “Peace, man.” Shabu is different, ambiguous, X-factored.

Our Gen X is now in midlife, fascinated by the new technologies but not always comfortable with them. Like their American counterparts, many have not been able to do as well as their baby-boomer parents. Many in fact have some degree of dependence on their parents, which can translate into less personal autonomy.

Then the millennials, born from 1980 to 2000. Again, like their American counterparts, Filipino millennials have seen, and are captivated by, the new technologies. Although the Philippines has lagged behind its neighbors, there is still enough of Asian prosperity spilling over. Many of this generation have joined or will join the diaspora for a better life abroad, but large numbers now stay, benefiting from the world of outsourcing, which has allowed young people economic independence and, often, strong consumerism: Buy, buy, buy. Businesses rejoice, calling this a demographic dividend. Many of this generation are innovative and entrepreneurial, but I worry, too, about extravagance and of a generation that might find itself struggling later in life, with little savings.

All said, if the descriptions of these generations bear close similarity to those of the Americans, it is because we speak of the middle and upper classes. For the poor, the similarities are superficial: shared sartorial fashions, for example. Poor or rich, we wore bell bottoms in the 1970s, with jokes sometimes about the SDK, not the radical Samahang Demokratiko ng Kabataan but Samahan ng mga Double Knit. From one generation to another, the poor have limited mobility, Gen X, Gen Y, millennials not carrying any significant meaning.

What will the next generation be called? Your guess is as good as mine. I thought of K to 12 and smartphones and tablets shaping this generation. You tell me what you see in your children.

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E-mail: mtan@inquirer.com.ph

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