Generational clashes between Gen Z and Baby Boomers are no secret, with each side often criticising the other's views and values. On social media, Gen Z hasn't shied away from expressing their unflattering opinions on Boomers, with countless videos, posts, and memes mocking the older generation. However, a groundbreaking study reveals that Gen Z's fixation on ranting about Boomers online might be more troubling than it seems.
The study by Reuben Ng and Nicole Indran from the National University of Singapore analyzed popular TikTok videos featuring hashtags like #Boomer or #OkBoomer. They discovered that 49.3% of these videos contained "ageist stereotypes." The phrase "OK Boomer," popularized in 2019, reflects widespread beliefs among younger people that Boomers hinder societal progress.
Among the 673 analysed videos, with a combined view count of 5.4 billion, 79% were related to "negative encounters with older adults." 58% criticised the values and beliefs of the older generation, and 40% depicted older adults antagonising the young. In over half of the videos, younger people stereotyped older adults as possessing values and beliefs that clashed with their more progressive goals concerning gender, sexuality, and race.
Many videos depicted younger people reenacting encounters where they were mocked by older adults for their youth. The creators frequently complained about being typecast as hypersensitive, narcissistic, or addicted to technology. The study suggested that negative attitudes toward Boomers may serve as a defense mechanism, with negative encounters significantly predicting negative age stereotyping.
Videos that portrayed older adults as "cold" were more likely to contain negative stereotypes, whereas videos depicting them as "warm," "friendly," or "sincere" were 43% less likely to feature negative stereotypes. Interestingly, in videos portraying older people as "warm," Baby Boomer was used as a demographic label rather than a derogatory term.
The study authors emphasised the need for raising public awareness about ageism as a form of prejudice, especially given recent findings that those championing gender and racial equality are more likely to endorse ageist views. They stressed that efforts should be made on all sides of the generational divide to build "intergenerational solidarity." Younger people should avoid homogenizing older adults and be exposed to counter-stereotypical examples of older adults who are friendly and warm.
The study also underlines the importance of tackling ageism against younger people, as ageism "cuts both ways." More research in this area is necessary to ensure that the needs and interests of younger generations are addressed in the global campaign against ageism.
As ageism continues to thrive on platforms like TikTok, it is crucial to celebrate aging and foster solidarity between generations. By 2050, the world will have over two billion older adults, making it essential to combat ageism and build a harmonious coexistence between generations.