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- a body of people who were born in the same period, variously defined.
- the period between the birth of such a group and the birth of their children, which, for demographic purposes, is usually accepted as 30 years.
in biology, a group of individuals with the same degree of kinship in relation to their common ancestors; the immediate offspring of the preceding generation. The longevity of a generation corresponds to the average reproductive age of an aggregate of individuals in a given species.
in demography, a term referring to people born in the same year. (The term “cohort” is also used.) The interaction and succession of generations constitute the age structure of a society. The term “generation” is also applied to a stage or step in descent from a common ancestor (grandfather, father, son, and so forth), with the interval between steps usually reckoned at 30 years.
A society’s age structure and the relationships that develop between generations are biological, social, and historical in character. They are biological in that the alternation of generations is linked to the natural life cycle, and social in that the division of functions among age groups and the criteria for this division depend on the socioeconomic structure of society. They are historical because each generation begins at a particular time. The members of a generation are united by certain lifetime experiences, and therefore, each generation is unique and unrepeatable. In demography, generational analysis makes it possible to discover long-range trends in population dynamics, as well as changes in the patterns of reproduction of the population and the length of productive life, for example.
Among the problems studied by sociologists and ethnologists are the relationship between age groups and the social structure, the social division of labor, and the methods of socialization and education of young people. The relationship between age groups and other factors may be rigid and direct or fairly flexible and indirect. In primitive society there was an inflexible, formal system of age groups (sometimes called age classes by ethnologists). Membership in them was formalized and associated with certain specific rights and obligations. In modern society the formal boundaries between age groups have been partially erased and have become indefinite. Nonetheless, age remains an important social and psychological characteristic.
In research on cultural history, the concept of the “generation” has primarily a symbolic meaning. It is associated less with a common time of birth than with the common, meaningful experiences of people who participated in or who lived at the time of certain important historical events (for example, “the generation of the October Revolution,” “the generation of the Great Patriotic War”). The concept is also applied to people linked by common intellectual orientations or attitudes (for example, the “lost generation”). The “life span” of such conventional generations is conditional and chronologically loose, and their designations are purely descriptive. The problem of generations is often discussed in connection with the problems of young people and the youth movement.
In non-Marxist literature there have been attempts to make the concept of the “generation” the basis for universal historical periodization (for example, in the works of J. Ortega y Gasset and J. Marias of Spain) or to represent the “conflict of generations” as a universal moving force in history (L. S. Feuer of the USA, for example). Marxist sociology rejects so abstract an approach. The age structure of any society is closely linked with its socioeconomic class structure. Therefore, the actual relationships among the representatives of different generations, including the relationships between parents and children, may be understood only in the context of the more general social situation (the pace of historical development, the character of social conflicts, and the level of ideological cohesiveness or division in a society, for example).
REFERENCESUrlanis, B. Ts. Istorih odnogo pokoleniia. (Sotsial’ no-áemograficheskii ocherk.) Moscow, 1968.
Preemstvennost’ pokolenii kak sotsiologicheskaia problema. Moscow, 1973.
Eisenstadt, S. N. From Generation to Generation, 2nd ed. New York, 1966.
Riley, M. W., and A. Foner. Aging and Society, vols. 1–3. New York, 1968–72.
I. S. KON