COVID-19 and Careers: On the Futility of Generational Explanations


It is common to broadly group people of different ages into “generations” and to speak of distinctions between such groups in terms of “generational differences.” The problem with this practice, is that there exists no credible scientific evidence that a) generations exist, b) that people can be reliably classified into generational groups, and c) that there are demonstrable differences between such groups. We have already noted an emerging generationalized rhetoric that has characterized how people of different ages have been affected by and reacted to the COVID-19 pandemic. These narratives have been especially present in discussions of how work and careers will be affected by this crisis. In this essay, we outline problems with applying the concept of generations, especially for researchers seeking explanations for how COVID-19 will affect careers and career development. We urge researchers to eschew the notion of generations and generational differences and consider alternative lifespan development theoretical frame- works that better capture age-graded processes.

Journal of Vocational Behavior
Cort W. Rudolph
Associate Professor of Industrial & Organizational Psychology