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The generation gap is a popular term used to describe differences between people of a younger generation and their elders, especially between a child and his or her parent's generation. The term first became popularized in Western countries during the 1960s and described the cultural differences between the young and their parents.

Although some generational differences have existed throughout history, because of more rapid cultural change during the modern era differences between the two generations increased in comparison to previous times, particularly with respect to such matters as musical tastes, fashion, culture and politics. This may have been magnified by the unprecedented size of the young generation during the 1960s, which gave it unprecedented power, and willingness to rebel against societal norms.

Specific generation gaps[]

The 1950s, 1960s and 1970s: Baby Boomers vs. the older generation[]

As the '40s ended and the '50s emerged, marked differences between teenagers and parents began to emerge. From a transformation of the dating system (going steady and early marriage became the norm, as opposed to the "rating and dating" trend that was fashionable before the war), to the new medium of television gaining widespread popularity and often portraying teenagers as juvenile delinquents. 'JDs' followed the standard black leather and denim jeans look set by Marlon Brando in the 1953 film The Wild One. The widespread adoption of rock and roll also helped emphasize differences between parents and teenagers. Rock was loud, rhythmic, and energetic. Even FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover called the new music "a corrupting influence".[1] Holden Caulfield, the hero of J. D. Salinger's 1951 novel The Catcher in the Rye, was a literary embodiment of teenage angst and alienation further fueling adults' perception of teenagers as rebels.

The War in Southeast Asia and the rise of counter-culture hippies during the mid and late 1960s with diverging opinions about the draft and military involvement in Vietnam as well as the use of drugs were significant topics of the generation gap of this era. The cover of Mad Magazine No. 129 by artist Norman Mingo, dated September 1969, showed a split Alfred E. Neuman, the "old" Alfred on the left wearing a "My Country: Right or Wrong" lapel button, and the "young" long-haired Alfred on the right with a "Make Love Not War" button, and the cover statement "MAD Widens the Generation Gap."[2]

Generation X: The 1980s[]

The 1970s and 1980s are characterized as being an era rampant with child neglect, as shown by such phenomenon as latchkey kids. This period lies between the family-oriented 1950s and 1960s and the "Baby on Board" parenting focused era of the late 1980s to the present.

The 1990s and 2000s: Boomers vs. Generation X and Y[]

In the 1990s and 2000s, cultural differences concerning what should be the sexual norm, as well as new technology, political differences, workplace behavior, age of consent, age of responsibility, the education system, and many other political, cultural, and generational issues, has produced a generation gap between Generation X and Y and their Baby Boomer parents. However, many Baby Boomers grew up during the late 1960s, and can relate to their young offspring better than their parents related to them. Nevertheless, the portrayal of teenagers in popular reality television channels, like MTV, has caused concern for parents and a sense of alienation amongst teens and young adults of today.

See also[]


  1. 1950 Ad | New York Times Upfront | Find Articles at BNET
  2. Usual Gang of Idiots, Jacobs, Frank, running commentary, "MAD Cover to Cover", Watson-Guptill Publications, New York, 2000, Library of Congress card number 00-040820, ISBN 0-8230-1684-6, page 76.
  • Bennis, W. and Thomas, R. (2002) Geeks and Geezers: how era, values and defining moments shape leaders, Harvard Business School Publishing
  • Employee Evolution: the Voice of Millennials at Work