Saturday, January 31, 2009

Generations: U.S. and Korean

We hear much about Gen X, Gen Y, and Baby Boomers in the states. (BTW I'm a boomer, on the cusp between the Younger and Older Boomers.)  I have found that understanding Korea's generational groups equally important.
Common American Generations
  • Gen Y (millennials) - Born 1977-1990, Ages 18-32
  • Gen X - Born 1965-1976, Ages 33-44
  • Younger Boomers - Born 1955-1964, Ages 44-54
  • Older Boomers - Born 1946-1954, Ages 55-63
  • Silent Generation - Born 1937-1945, Ages 64-72
  • G.I. Generation - Born -1936, Age 73+

Korea has some unique generational divides.  I found an article by By Park Sun-Young from the International Affairs Desk at Hankook Ilbo relevant. I pulled parts from the article I feel are most appropriate. For example, Park sees Korea three generational groups:

  • The "Shinsedae" or "new generation" between 26 and 35. (She also refers to this as the "2635" generation. It can also includes younger people.)
  • The progressive 386 generation between ages 36 and 45.
  • Older conservatives or those over 46

Ms. Park notes...Who are the new generation called Shinsedae? 
Since the early 1990s the term Shinsedae, which means “new generation” in Korean, has come to be used to refer to a specific group of people in Korean society. Though there were other terms for this new or younger generation -- such as the X-generation and the N-generation -- they all share a common denominator of being the “post-386 generation,” which means they are free from ideological or political bias.

The “386 generation,” named after 386 computers, was coined in the 1990s to describe those in their late 30s and 40s who were “born in the 1960s and attended university in the 1980s.” It is the 386 generation who spent most of their youth fighting for democracy under authoritarian rule and who had a shared generational experience and culture for the first time in Korean history. They are now in decision-making positions in all fields, including political, economic, social and cultural areas. The 386 generation will go down in history as a very active and passionate group of people who toppled a military dictatorship of more than three decades and built democracy in Korea.

The 1990s was an era of a widening generation gap. Farewell to ideology, a new generation emerged – a generation that is heavily immersed in consumption. This group of Koreans was born during a time of rapid economic growth, spent their childhood in a prosperous environment and experienced the 1997 Asian financial crisis. They are substantial beneficiaries of the nation’s democracy, which was achieved by the blood, sweat and tears of the 386 generation. And they are the first generation who went abroad for travel and study with the liberalization of overseas travel and the advent of an era of information and communications.

Unlike the 386 generation who fought for democratization and ideological issues, what worries this new generation most is the high unemployment of university graduates. While the 386 generation enjoyed a booming economy with plenty of jobs available, the new generation is struggling with unemployment and riding the tide of “fierce competition.”

When Korea was hit by the Asian financial crisis, they were in high school or college. Raised in an affluent society with full access to the Internet, this new generation witnessed their fathers being kicked out of jobs and their families collapsing. After having to submit resumes without success, they have faced the grim reality that getting a job is crucial but never easy. The Asian financial crisis changed the mindset of this new generation in Korea to put the economy before anything else.

Shinsedae, the new generation, would go to McDonald’s for hamburgers after burning the U.S. flag at a candlelight vigil in a protest against America. They do not think it is contradictory to accept the American culture on one hand, while claiming to condemn a U.S. action. These young people, the first beneficiaries of globalization in Korea, have strong confidence and pride in their country, especially after the Korean national soccer team performance in the 2002 World Cup and with overseas travel and study much more common.

Their version of nationalism -- which is based on the belief that Korea is not inferior whatsoever to the United States or Japan -- is fundamentally different from the nationalism of past generations with vestiges of Japanese colonial rule of Korea.

A survey conducted by the Chosun Daily also showed that more than a third of this new generation has a positive impression of Japan, often associating it with its computer games and comic strips. With regard to the question of where they want to immigrate or work, apart from Korea, Australia was ranked first, followed by the U.S. and Japan, respectively.

Those aged between 26 and 35, also known as the “2635 Generation,” represent 17% of the national population and 24% of the working population.

Questions? Comments?


  1. Great article on the new New Generation

  2. Another great article which highlights American Boomers vs. Gen y and the Internet. In comparison, Korean Boomers tend to surf lots at Work.