Idea: Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, people around the world have faced an unprecedented crisis. The cataclysm has impacted Russia as well. Who will better deal the hardships—experienced baby boomers, Gen Xers who survived the 1990s, or Gen Yers who have had an easy life?
Findings: The people born in 1984-2000 demonstrated the highest levels of resilience. Xers are weaker but are prepared to take risks and fight. The boomers have given up the struggle and are waiting for the authorities to sort things out.
Russians born from 1984 to 2000 (Generation Y) have the highest level of resilience—the ability to deal with anxiety, stress and ambiguity. They do so with the help of individualistic values. Meanwhile, baby boomers’ values are more traditional; they are more socially oriented, which makes it harder for them. Financial instability is decreasing the level of resilience for all generations of Russians, according to a study by HSE University researchers.
In 1991, historian and business consultant Neil Howe, together with playwright William Strauss published a book that later became iconic: Generations: The History of America's Future, 1584 to 2069. The authors outlined a reasonable theory of generational change in the United States, describing the six key generations:
1. Greatest Generation, born from 1900 to 1923, won World War II, and built the post-war world;
2. Silent Generation, born from 1924 to 1943, survived WWII as kids and teenagers, passed through the transition era;
3. Baby Boomers, born from 1944 to 1964, during the population explosion, an unprecedented economic boom, and constant fear of global nuclear war;
4. Generation X, born from 1965 to 1982 (according to the Harvard Joint Center for Housing Studies, to the population explosion of 1984), during the Cold War, the rise of engineering technology and technocracy, and the growing political involvement of the population;
5. Generation Y, or Millennials, born from 1982 (1984) to 2004, during the boost of information technology, détente, globalization of the world and the key ideologies;
6. Generation Z, born from 2004 to…, builders of the future.
In fact, each of these generations is a demographic cohort (a group of people with mutual characteristics). But what can someone born in 1965 have in common with someone born in 1981? According to Howe and Strauss, they have one system of values. It evolves under similar life experiences, as well as social, economic, science and technology events that impact the lives of each member of a generation.
Boomers vs Millennials: Neil Howe on the crisis of generations
A joint system of values dictates similar life priorities, as well as attitudes toward work, co-workers, family, and leisure. Values impact the motivating power of certain factors and determine a person’s behaviour in each specific situation.
The difference in the set of values impacts people’s resilience – their strength that helps them interact with the environment, promotes their social adaptation and capacity to resist stress, anxiety and ambiguity. It is believed that resilience is summed up from three factors: involvement – a belief that only through one’s own activity can a person find something interesting in the world; control – a belief that one can control their environment and is able to achieve results in it; and risk acceptance – readiness to act despite the ambiguity and danger of a situation, along with a readiness to gain experience from any situation.
Vera Fedotova, researcher from the Perm campus of HSE University, studied the results of a survey carried out in Russian regions in 2018-2019. The survey included over 1,300 respondents born in 1943-2000 – representatives of three generations: Y, X and baby boomers. They were surveyed using three methods that investigate individual values, resilience, subjective economic well-being, and life-purpose orientations.
It turned out that Russians aged 19 to 34 are most resilient to stress and ambiguity. They are open-minded, connect with people easily, and enjoy setting complicated goals and achieving them. What helps young people overcome problems are their clear individualistic values. ‘These values are largely responsible for the evolving resilience, personal traits and skills that help them to turn problems into opportunities,’ said Vera Fedotova.
Freedom of choice is the priority for the young generation of Russians who have grown up in post-Soviet times with individualistic values. This freedom helps the Yers to endure stress and maintain inner balance.
Resilience in Gen Yers is also impacted by such life-purpose orientations as ‘I am a locus of control’ (I am the master of my life), and ‘Life is a locus of control’ (controllability of life). This is promoted by independence in decision making and planning, as well as ambitious goals.
Financial difficulties weaken the Yers. Resilience is lower if young people are challenged by a lack of money, worry about their future wealth, or are unable to have their basic needs satisfied. But even in this case, they demonstrate the highest level of resilience among all generations.
Gen Xers are aged from 35 to 55 today. They are ‘hardened’ people who survived the fall of the Soviet Union, the ‘chaotic 90s’, and all the economic meltdowns. They are also individualists in many ways. Their level of life-purpose orientations’ development is the highest. ‘They have clear goals and plans; they find their lives meaningful; they have achieved success in pursuing their life plans; they have found their calling and are a little freer in controlling their lives than Gen Yers and Baby boomers,’ the author said.
The level of resilience among Gen Xers is a little lower than among Gen Yers in terms of ‘involvement’ and ‘control’, but higher in terms of ‘risk acceptance’. ‘Life for Generation X means gaining experience and readiness to act at their own risk, despite success not being guaranteed,’ Vera Fedotova said.
The presence of goals in life and seeing oneself as a strong personality reinforces the resilience of Gen Xers. Like Gen Yers, they value freedom of choice and the opportunity to pave their ways in line with their own goals and meanings. This helps them fight stress effectively. Financial problems and anxiety about their economic situation decreases Gen Xers’ resilience.
Baby boomers who grew up in Soviet times demonstrate a different attitude. Today, they are from 56 to 75 years old, and their priorities are social order and confidence that their country is strong and able to protect its citizens. The older generation demonstrates the lowest indicators of risk acceptance and control, with higher indicators of involvement than Gen Xers.
Among middle-aged and older people, resilience is reinforced by a willingness to care about their families and help the people they love. Independence in choosing what to do is also important for them. The lack of belief in personal control over their life events ‘weakens’ boomers. Growing financial well-being increases the senior generation’s ability to cope with stress, while economic pessimism and financial deprivation decrease it.
The main conclusion of the study is that resilience does not depend on age. ‘When we came up with the idea for the study, we were quite confident in our assumption that the oldest people would be the most resilient,’ the researcher said, ‘but it turned out to be different. Russian people’s ability to cope with life challenges largely depends on their personality potential, values, life-purpose orientations, and financial well-being.’
In the context of the pandemic this means that the people born in the 1980s to 1990s, who now form the core of the country’s working-age population, will cope with the consequences of COVID-19 quickly and effectively.