Do young people have less respect for the elderly today than in past generations?
Heraclitus philosophized, 'The only constant in life is change.' So despite the glaring differences between younger generations and the elderly, both are the same in that they're ever-changing.
To aging seniors of today, certain traditional displays of respect, such as letting an elder enter the room first, dressing nicely in their presence, and deeming elders as automatically deserving of respect, are acts that possess little-to-no merit among today's youth. In the last two centuries alone, US households have shifted away from multi-generational families and living situations where the 'experiences and wisdom of elders' were embraced and respected. With homes switching to the nuclear family model, the advice, wisdom, and support that the elderly once offered their children has been sacrificed--not to mention the opportunity for grandparents to help actively raise their grandchildren in the home. Losing this influence could explain the dissipation of importance placed on some classic displays of elder respect.
Economic and societal advancements have also influenced the perspectives of each generation. With higher education and earnings, more dual-income marriages and divorce rates, smaller and single-parent families, and ongoing industrial and technological progress, young people's behavior and values--including their attitudes toward older people--continue to shift over time. According to researchers, 'industrialization and modernization have contributed greatly to lowering the power, influence, and prestige the elderly once held.'
Additionally, beauty and youth are increasingly worshipped in today's culture, and such a vantage point places the elderly in a position of being portrayed as incompetent and decrepit in much of the prominent media.
Unfortunately, shifting values in advancing times have resulted in the social marginalization of older people.
Generational conflict is the product of tensions that arise when a younger generation starts to come of age and begins to challenge the older generation. This clash results in a cycle of disrespect from a youthful generation towards society's elders.
While many elderly today claim that the younger members of their society are increasingly more disrespectful than in the past, these assertions are quite common in both ancient and contemporary writings. For example, Hesiod--a Greek poet who was active in the same period as the legendary Homer--railed against the youth of his day, sounding eerily similar to what an elderly person might say concerning today's youth.
For a more modern multigenerational example of younger generations lacking respect for the principles of older generations, one can look to the black community in the United States, where generational conflict has been present ostensibly for many years. Today there is a conflict between the remaining leaders of the Civil Rights Movement--who practice a brand of 'respectability politics'--and Black Lives Matter leaders who reject these approaches. But in the 1960s, it was the now elderly generation who seemed to be the firebrand generation, aka youth who did not respect their elder's worldview. Martin Luther King Jr. and his allies not only stood up to the rampant racism that afflicted the country, but also to criticism and sometimes disapproval from the elder black community. This cycle is not unique to these situations and reveals the disrespect that is bound to appear when the youth challenge their parents.
- A recent US Trust study revealed that what qualifies as “old age” varies widely among different generations: millennials think age 59 is old, while baby boomers believe you’re not old until you’re 73.
- According to the US Census Bureau, for the first time in history, aging adults (age 65 and older) will outnumber kids in America by the year 2035.
- China recently passed an Elderly Rights Law stating that, upon penalty of fines or jail time, “adult children ‘should never neglect or snub elderly people’ and should visit their parents ‘often,’ even if they live far away.”
- The WHO defines ageism as “the stereotyping and discrimination against individuals or groups on the basis of their age” and notes that “research suggests that ageism may now be even more pervasive than sexism and racism.”