Can a Generation be Defined by Character Strengths?
August 31, 2015 by Dr. Ryan Niemiec ·
Depending on what generation you are from you have probably heard many stereotypes and interpretations about who you are. Much of what is said is inconsistent. Gen X has been referred to as both the slacker generation and also a generation that is competent, confident, and achievement-oriented. Baby boomers are sometimes called the “me generation” but are also seen as family oriented.
But, how do these groups view their best personal qualities? We found remarkable consistency across the generations in terms of character strengths identity. We also found some interesting differences among the generations.
The VIA Institute on Character, the world’s leading authority on all-things-character-strengths , dipped into its database containing millions of people who have taken the VIA Survey of strengths. It examined the character strength profiles of hundreds of thousands of people in the United States across the 4 main, living (adult) generations. (We examined both raw scores and the rank-order of strengths in order to provide these results for you).
Generations examined across the following birth years
- Traditionalists (aka, “Silents,” born between 1925-1946)
- Baby Boomers (born between 1947-1964)
- Generation X (born between 1965-1980)
- Millennials (aka, “Gen Y,” born between 1981-2000)
Character strengths across generations
Interestingly, these strengths were in the top 5 for each generation:
- Honesty– speaking the truth, acting sincerely.
- Judgment– critical thinking, not jumping to conclusions.
- Fairness– giving others a fair chance.
- Kindness– being caring, doing favors and good deeds for others.
What are the strengths that uniquely characterize your generation? Or your parent’s generation?
- Love appeared in the top 5 of only one generation – Gen X.
- Humor appeared in the top 5 of only Millennials.
- Traditionalists were uniquely high in both Curiosity and Love of Learning compared to all the others.
- Gratitude was a top 5 strength for both Traditionalists and Boomers.
- Teamwork and Hope were highest among Millennials.
Downward Trends across generations
In a world where everything comes immediately, perhaps the craving for learning diminishes? We can ask almost any question to a Google search engine and have the answer in seconds. No longer are we left to wonder and ponder. Our curiosity for an answer is immediately quenched. Isn’t the joy of curious to allow it to linger…to fester a bit…to allow it to tantalize our minds? I hope curiosity is not becoming a strength of the past.
The diminishment of Forgiveness raises some concerns. What does it mean for society if we are more susceptible to holding grudges? Not as quick to let go of minor irritations? Is this a recipe for fighting over peaceful reconciliation?
Upward Trends across generations
Let’s end on a positive note.
Humor was the only strength to steadily and consistently increase from generation to generation in both raw score and rank-order. This is where social media supports us. Humor can be wonderfully expressed through the communication of videos, stories, and images with silly and funny twists. It is a constant stream of engagement and joy for those who are plugged in.
Humor brings smiles and laughter and is a lubricant for positive social relationships. This, coupled with the consistently high strengths of kindness and fairness, two strengths that are “other-oriented” in nature, bodes well for connecting with others and building relationships. After all, many scientists now view the building of positive relationships as the most important pathway for greater well-being.
Celebrate the Positives!
The results show that each generation has all of the 24 character strengths within it and thus has many good qualities to learn about, build upon, and celebrate.
Go forth with strength!