But it works both ways. Just as senior physicians bemoan the poor work ethic and cynicism of younger generations, younger people can find much to decry about their elders. To medical students in their 20s, the Baby Boomers (1946-1965) who now run many medical schools and health care organizations may seem excessively ambitious, materialistic and wrapped up in their work.

Likewise, the Traditionalists (before 1946), who until recently ran most such organizations, were said to be too risk-averse, linear and uncreative in their thinking, and excessively deferential to authority.

Generationalism is dangerous in part because it can become what the sociologist Robert Merton called a self-fulfilling prophecy, a false understanding of a situation that evokes attitudes and behaviors that cause it to become true. Convinced that members of other generations just don’t get it, senior physicians may fail to challenge junior colleagues in ways that could contribute to their professional growth. Such prejudices can also short-circuit the sharing of perspectives between people of different generations, who might otherwise learn something valuable from each other that could enhance their work.


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The notion that age tells us all we need to know about a person or group of people is dubious. To be sure, a 15-year-old is likely to be more adept than a 55-year-old at texting or posting an entry on a social media site. A 75-year-old is more likely to have military experience than a 25-year-old. But such generalizations gloss over far more interesting interpersonal differences in domains such as culture, life experience, temperament and character. We cannot reliably predict that a member of any generation is more industrious, creative or loyal than another simply by virtue of age.