We all know that different generations love complaining about each other.
Older people like to rant about “kids these days” being soft and not understanding the hardships they went through, while younger people complain about older generations being out of touch and stubborn about their old school views.
It is clear the biggest generational divide is between Gen Z and Baby Boomers, who often have vastly different views and values that cause them to butt heads.
A quick look on social media will show that Gen Z aren’t afraid to share their unflattering opinions on Boomers, with countless videos, posts and memes making fun of the older generation.
But it turns out Gen Z’s fixation with ranting about Boomers online may be more concerning than we think.
A new study analyzing popular TikTok videos made by younger people that use the hashtags #Boomer or #OkBoomer found that half contained “ageist stereotypes”.
The phrase “OK Boomer” became popularized in 2019, with the study noting this reflects “widespread beliefs among younger people that Baby Boomers are hindrances to societal progress”.
The peer-reviewed study, authored by National University of Singapore’s Reuben Ng and Nicole Indran, analysed 673 videos with these hashtags, which received more than 5.4 billion combined views.
It was discovered that 49.3 per cent contained negative age stereotypes.
Of these videos, 79 percent related to “negative encounters with older adults”, 58 percent included criticisms of the older generations’ values and beliefs and 40 percent featured references to “older adults antagonizing the young”.
“In over half of the videos, older adults were stereotyped by younger people as possessing values and beliefs at odds with those of the latter,” the study reads.
“This echoes past literature which indicates that younger persons tend to view their older counterparts as impeding their more progressive goals related to gender, sexuality and race.”
In the videos where younger people re-enacted encounters where they were mocked by older people for their youth, the creator would often complain about how they were “frequently typecast as hypersensitive, narcissistic or addicted to technology”.
The authors of the study theorised that widespread negative attitudes towards Boomers by Gen Z and younger Millennials may “function as a defence mechanism”.
“Negative encounters with older adults significantly predicted negative age stereotyping. Videos on this topic featured younger people attributing the negativity of such encounters to the fact that these people were part of the older cohort,” the study noted.
“Such negative contact may also intensify feelings of prejudice and the propensity to avoid members of a particular group due to the anticipation that future interactions might likewise be negative.”
Videos found to share negative views of Boomers were more likely to contain stereotypes of older adults being “cold”, while videos portraying them as “warm” were 43 per cent less likely to contain negative stereotypes.
In the videos where older people were being portrayed as “warm”, “friendly” or “sincere”, the creator would often use the term Baby Boomer as a demographic label rather than a negative or derogatory term.
In light of these findings, the study authors suggested more effort needs to be made to raise public awareness of ageism as a form of prejudice.
They believe this is particularly critical given recent findings that people egalitarian beliefs — specifically those who champion gender and racial equality — are actually more likely to endorse ageist views.
The study suggests that those in positions of power need to understand that unfavourable attitudes towards older adults may stem from a history of negative interactions with them.
“Since the depiction of older adults as being warm lessened the chances of negative stereotyping, it is crucial that younger people are exposed to counter-stereotypical exemplars of older adults, such as those who are more sociable,” the study stated.
It is also important to understand that ageism “cuts both ways” with the authors noting that effort needs to be made on all sides of the generational divide if society is expected to build “intergenerational solidarity”.
“Just as younger people should be mindful not to homogenise older adults as sharing the same values and beliefs, effort should be made to alert older individuals to their own cognitive biases and the effects of these biases on the way they treat younger people,” the authors wrote.
“At present, there is limited literature on interventions to tackle ageism against younger people. More research in this area should therefore be conducted to ensure that the needs and interests of younger people are not neglected in the global campaign to combat ageism.”