Cities are made up of many pieces such as neighborhoods and social groups. We can describe these pieces by income, race and gender among other factors. Where we live and the opportunities and challenges we face also differ by age and over generations. The Generationed City research project studies these divisions.
The Conference Board of Canada has recently claimed that “Age Rather than Gender” is “Becoming the New Income Divide”. While gender inequalities, for instance in wages, have declined, we would maintain that gender inequalities remain significant barriers to attaining equality, and similar things can be said about race.
What is clear, however, is that there are growing divisions among generations in terms of employment prospects, earnings, housing situation, residential location, and various other characteristics. There are a number of projects that are examining these trends – for instance the Gen Squeeze project housed at the University of British Columbia that focuses on intergenerational inequalities in Canada. The US Census Bureau’s web application “young adults then and now” also documents the changing characteristics of young adults over time at various levels of geography.
At Generationed City we aim to be a conduit for urban generational research in general. Much of the research we are conducting at the moment focuses on young adults and Millennials. But the overarching focus of the research is to bring age and generation into the debates and research on the factors shaping social/spatial divisions and economic opportunities along with the more traditional factors considered such as income, class, gender, race, ethnicity.
Our intent is not to argue that age and generational status are somehow more important that other factors shaping society—our aim is to suggest that we need to pay closer attention to how current employment and housing challenges are impacting different generations since we are living in a context of rapid societal change that makes generational differences more pronounced.
We also want to offer a word of caution about generalizations made across generations and age groups. Just like with other categorizations there is the risk of over-generalizing, and even if at times unintended, these generalizations can re-enforce or help create stereotypes and inequalities. Agism, discrimination based on ones age, is a real issue, and some people are starting to speak of generationalism — discrimination based on one’s birth cohort. An example of the latter is assuming that everyone between the ages of 20 and 25 is noncommittal and lacks work ethic; these are values that are now often applied to all Millennials in the media without considering the negative stereotypes this can create.
The research on generational differences seems to have morphed into a competition in popular discourse and the media about ‘who had it harder’ and ‘which generation is better, friendlier, more dedicated’, and the list goes on. In our view, this is not particularly productive. The reality is of course that each generation does face very different kinds of opportunities and challenges. And generations have always had some degree of healthy competition about ‘who walked uphill both ways.’ However, turning these differences into some badge of honour on ‘who had it the hardest’ and is therefore ‘more deserving’ of social and economic benefits seems to have become more pronounced as the pace of societal change has increased. At Generationed City we maintain that this increasingly competitive discourse is hardly helpful in bringing people together to solve contemporary public policy issues. And we will need input from all generations if we are to deal with the growing economic uncertainty and inequalities around the globe affecting not just Millennials, but people across all current and future generations.
At Generationed City we aim to inform public and policy debates by highlighting how societal changes are impacting different generations in unique ways. Studying the housing and employment challenges of the youngest generation entering housing and job markets is also a bit like watching the canary in the coal mine—the young will be the first experiencing the loss of benefits, for instances, as union jobs are replaced with contract positions. But knowing the challenges facing different generations also helps in terms of developing policies that are responsive to the needs of different age groups —social and economic policy aiming to help people who are experiencing job losses ought to look different for someone aged 25 versus 63.
There are various definitions out there on how to best demarcate different generations. We tend to use the following but recognize that these are socially constructed and are not ‘fixed’. Our definition of Millennials, for instance, is now sometimes divided into Millennials and Gen Z.
Generationed City is a research project housed in the School of Planning, Faculty of Environment, at the University of Waterloo. Dr. Markus Moos founded Generationed City in 2014 as a means to disseminate his research, and that of his students and research assistants, to a broader audience.
Moos is a professor in the School of Planning and co-founder of the Atlas of Suburbanisms. His research mainly deals with the implications of changing urban economies and social structures for urban policy, particularly in the areas of social justice and sustainability.
The overarching aim of this research is to measure the impacts of socio-economic restructuring on the labour and housing market and commuting characteristics of different generations in major Canadian and US metropolitan areas. Conceptually and methodologically, the research attempts to critically examine and define the utility of youthification, generation, cohort, and generational change as analytical mechanisms, and contribute to advancing our understanding of the factors and processes shaping cities and societal change.
Most recent study
The current research looks specifically at the housing and employment challenges facing young adults in the US and Canada. If you are between the ages of 18 and 40, please consider completing our survey to help us with the research.We are interested in how the housing and employment challenges change as people age. We are therefore hoping to hear from people up to 40 years of age even though those over 35 would rarely be classified as young adults…no offence intended, we know of course that most 40 year olds are still very young!
If you decide to participate, you will be asked to fill out a 20-30 minute online survey that is completed anonymously. Survey questions focus on:
- Demography and household characteristics
- Current housing and employment situation
- Current, past and future characteristics of where you are living, such as type of neighborhood, your transportation modes and amenities
- Information on your income, housing costs and for owners, means of financing
Your answers to these questions will help us better understand the ways certain employment characteristics and your socio-economic status relate to specific housing outcomes, particularly in terms of the affordability challenges you may face; and the ways your situation provides you with different kinds of transportation opportunities and amenities. It is hoped that this research can help inform future policies that have potential to improve housing and employment challenges facing young people today.