The Saeculum Decoded
A Blog by Neil Howe
Jun 012012

People often ask me about generations in non-U.S. societies. As someone who travels and speaks often outside America—and who does plenty of international research for clients—I have thought a lot about this question. I believe I offered a short answer to this question in an earlier post (on Spain). I have spent most of my time trying to figure out Europe and East Asia, whose generational line-up roughly matches out own, and the Muslim world, whose line-up is very different in certain important ways.

What about Central and South America?  Ten years ago, I was very unsure.  But after travelling in these areas and speaking to many residents there, I am growing more convinced that here too the generational line-up is similar in certain respects to our own.

Last summer, I flew down to Sao Paulo to speak to business leaders and the media in Brazil about emerging generational differences in one of the hottest of the BRIC economies.  Before going, I wasn’t sure what to expect.  But once there, I was hugely struck by how similar the questions asked of me were to questions asked here in the United States.  (Admittedly, they were talking mostly about Brazil’s emerging middle class families, who are stampeding to all the new malls they are building.)  Everyone who interviewed me told about how protected, special, group-oriented the new generation of youth is.  The people asking  the questions, in their 30s and 40s, all felt they had a much rougher childhood.  As for those in their 60s now in power (I’m thinking of the peers of Lula da Silva and Dilma Rousseff), many came of age with showy, left-wing, Che Guevera radicalism just like Boomers in the US.  (Though I know this radicalism resulted in a great deal more violence and death in Brazil and throughout much of Latin America.)  I saw one photo of Dilma Rousseff in the newspapers showing her as a 20-year-old with a bullet bandolier across her chest.  Made me think of Patty Hearst.

Anyway, with this introduction, let me introduce a Brazilian correspondent of mine who will deliver her own testimony on generational differences there.  She lives in Porto Alegre, RS, in the south of Brazil.

I’m 32 years old–so I remember, as a child/teen, the time we had a big inflation, till it changes with “Plano Real” (1994).  Also, I’m talking from a middle class perspective, with all the limits and subjectivity that it implies in my perceptions.

What do I see in Brazilians of different ages today? Well, personally, as a last wave Gen-Xer, I do not feel that my childhood has been so unprotected as the childhood of my friends a little older, in their 40s; I believe that, at least in my family, the concept of childhood already was more for “Three men and a baby” than for “Rosemary’s Baby”; but also was not as protected as the children who were born after, especially those in their 20s today.

I believe that we knew how to have fun.  The Millennials seem better behaved and more conventional, in general. Indeed, only in the last year was smoking prohibited in nightclubs here in my city, which was surprising for me, and it is a clear sign of protective behavior towards young people. Also I see a tendency to protect more children; on the other hand, I see a certain movement back to a childhood a little more relaxed, back to nature, and a search of a less stressing style of parenting.

Yes, there is a lot in common, but there are some things that are widely different, and maybe it gives to a certain “national flavor” that is unique. For example, the Puritan influence is very strong in the history of the USA.  Here, we don’t have this influence, so our Idealist type will be a little different. And, of course, historical facts affected us in different ways. The effects of the  World War II had more impact over the G.I.s in the USA, empowering them, than over the same generation in Brazil–or, at least, produced a diverse impact, considering the political context and our participation on the war.  In fact, the Civic type is the most difficult to identify, to me.  Oscar Niemeyer and Juscelino Kubitschek are good examples of G.I.s, maybe?

What bothers me is that we don’t have a good study on generations here in Brazil.  Every time the newspapers and magazines say something about Generation Y, it’s something very superficial, with no real basis, talking about the internet and the work force (only), and saying that this generation doesn’t like hierarchy and wants to go to the top quickly.

This is a very nice letter.  I was especially struck by her mention of Niemeyer (the great modernist architect-designer of Brasilia) and Kubitschek (the president who built Brasilia).  Brasilia, that vast utopian tabula-rasa New-World Constantinople built smack in the middle of the jungle back in 1960 as Brazil’s new capital.  Can’t get much more “G.I.” than that!  Niemeyer, in fact, was a huge modernist sensation even in the U.S. during 1950s, where he taught at Harvard and joined with Corbusier in designing the UN headquarters in New York City. His main problem in the U.S. was his communist party membership, which kept getting him deported.

Here is the stunning Niemeyer-designed Roman Catholic cathedral in Brasilia.  (Communist architect for a Catholic Church? I guess in Brazil it doesn’t matter!)

I’m going to report regularly in this blog on generational differences in other countries, using as much as possible reports from residents.

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  • Ever since I read The Fourth Turning I have been fascinated by the concept and trying to apply it to other countries. My guess has been that South America would be one or two generations offset because many of their revolutions occurred in the 1820s and quite a few formative wars in the 1880s. I will be interested to see if that is borne out as you post your reports. According to this report it is not. I am also interested particularly in the Philippines as that is the country in which I currently live. I would think that WWII would have acted as a synchronizing event even though their original revolution was in 1898. I think the current young generation corresponds fairly well to Millennials  but I would love to hear if you have done any research on the Philippines.

  • muzse

    As an Asian i would like to share some insights into the similarities described above in relation to the Topic of generations in other countries. I was born and raised on an island in Asia called Singapore. Personally i think it presents a mixed pot of cultures through the various generational phases, hence it could provide some insight to what Asia in general had experienced through the phases. Im 37, so that puts me as a Gen-X. And aptly so, as my experience as a Gen-X has been very similar to that which is experienced in other countries. Where my parents both worked and my mother had to take care of the house while holding a job down at the same time, hence both my parents involvement in my life stood on the margin of “Involvement only in significant issues” (i.e which school i should go to, signing my report cards, taking me to the doctor only cuz the injury on my hand has gone beyond a bump to a full blown swelling reducing mobility, punishment cuz i broke the rules (and the rules were few). Apart from events and issues similar to the ones ive mentioned, i was pretty much left on my own to wonder the streets and neighborhoods to explore, commit mischief, play and do pretty much anything i like within the laws (of course that was a grey area for most teenagers growing up in the late 80s and early 90s). My age group learnt to handle our own injuries and still make it to school the next day. My Gen in Singapore, seemed to have an understanding that life didnt deal out cushions to land on, and my Gen in Singapore grew up with Teachers who were given complete autonomy to dictate punishment (physically at times) to keep the unruly in check. And most of us from that Gen-X have grown up learning the realities that life dishes out as well, when you walk away from the umbrella that our parents provided us throughout our teenage and young adult life. Of course cultural differences must be considered as well. In Asia its a common practice for children to live with their parents till they get married or decide to move out, which can be into their late 20s and even some into their 30s. But this is not protectionism, its a cultural practice. Simply because living in till the age of 30 didnt mean they supported you on everything you did, or comforted you on everything that troubled you. You are left on your own to deal with your own problems and find your own solutions. But you always have a roof to sleep under simply cuz you are their child, which is a concept that never changes regardless of what age the child is.

  • Dyna Maxwell

    I hear a lot about the Asian cultural of living with your parent even into your 30s in the US too. I’m friends with a lot of Hmong Americans (from southeast Asia, they are an ethnic minority that allied with the US during the Vietnam War) who’s parents are first generation immigrants (a few are themselves). They’re in their late 20’s and early 30’s and still live with mom and dad. And it’s also not so much that their parents are protecting them but it’s more like these kids are supporting their parents. They pay their parents mortgage, does their parents taxes, translate for their parents when they have an appointment with the doctors, teachers, state officials, at the DMV, shopping, does their parents account, you name it. This is especially true for my friends who’s parents aren’t as Americanize. My best friend talks about how he likes to moved out and live on his own, but knows if he does it would be a financially hard for his parents.

  • I have also seen the Asian culture of living with your parents even into your 30s’. I have a lot of friends who are Hmong Americans (from southeast Asia, an ethnic minority that allied with the US during the Vietnam War. When we left, they faced great adversity). My friends who’s parents are first generation immigrants and a few who are themselves but came at a very young age are now in their 20’s and early 30’s and they still live with their parents. And just like the previous comment, its not so much because their parents are protecting them, but because they’re supporting their parents. These kids do their parent’s accounting, billing, pays the mortgage, pays the utilities, translate for them when they’re watching the news, go to the doctors, DMV, shopping, etc… My best friend always talks to me about wanting to move out but states doing so would be financially hard for his parents. First of his family to get a college degree and a good job. This is especially true for my friends who’s parents are less Americanized. After reading the Fourth Turning, and hearing these things from my friend, I just think to myself “yup, a Hero Generation.”

    I think there is an interesting dynamic with immigrants and their children, how they align with the generations between the two nations and why they do so. Thank you Neil for your work. It’s both very insightful and fascinating.