Cda/US people around 40--how do you differ from those 15 years older?
November 27, 2022 9:17 AM   Subscribe

If you are a North American person around forty, what differences have you noticed between yourself and your work colleagues/friends/family in their mid-fifties? Bonus points for female perspectives. Comments from the fifty-something side also welcome, although I'm particularly seeking views from the younger side of the equation. Looking for everything from dress to attitudes to use of language, technology, etc..

I'm working on a piece of fiction and my main character is a Canadian woman who is "pushing forty," while I'm in my mid-fifties. Lately I've read a few novels where it's been pretty obvious that the writer is remembering themselves at a younger age, without investigating how much things have changed. For example, one otherwise decent mystery novel had the MC taking taxis rather than ride-sharing, using paper maps rather than GPS, etc.. I'm hoping to avoid things like that in my story, and maybe even sprinkle in a couple of details that might help "ground" the age of the character. Please share what you've noticed, from small differences to bigger ones.
posted by rpfields to Society & Culture (52 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
From the Department of Not Exactly What You Asked For:

I’m 68, retired since Pandemic Summer, so no co-irkers (hooray!)

Here’s how my outlook has changed since 40, and even since 55. I’m a more compassionate person now, just through observation of hard luck; my own and other people’s. In the before days, it might have been said that I had an emotional intellegence I.Q. of zero.
When little kids get in my way, it’s easier to passively ignore them rather than bark.
I never apologize for the state of my house to visitors, and spend much less time worrying about my “presentation” to others. My motto for the past decade:
If I am wearing it, it is ipso facto chic.
I’ve let go of many unnecessary worries, though new ones have crowded in. That was true of 40 to 55, also.
posted by BostonTerrier at 9:27 AM on November 27, 2022 [2 favorites]

I am "around forty", but I am not female.

Use of communication modalities: many people I know around my age hate to use the phone. Instead, they switch quickly between SMS text messaging, internet messaging, chat forums, and email as they think is appropriate and based on what their recipient supports. These messages tend to be more concise, and discussion-oriented. Older folks, in my experience, tend to prefer phone and email. Their communication tends to be more verbose, and oriented towards longer format communication.

Scheduling: many people I know will make up their schedule, and meetings with other people, ad hoc based on how their day goes. They may, for instance, say they'll meet up in the afternoon, give no specific time, and work out the exact time via messaging as above. In the extremum, some people won't make any plans more than a week or two out. Older people I know tend to give more exact times, and expect that those exact times will be followed.
posted by saeculorum at 9:30 AM on November 27, 2022 [10 favorites]

I'm an American queer cis woman in my early forties. The main things that have come up at work are comfort with internet technology, comfort with language and ideas around marginalized identities, and normalization of tattoos and piercings.

Tech in particular would be tricky to capture just right. I'm "would never use paper directions, but still always has a paper copy of her plane or event ticket because she doesn't fully trust that her phone will work right for e-tickets, and has a Lyft account but prefers to take taxis when possible because of various somewhat irrational feelings about safety and the gig economy" years old.

With friends I can't think of much, honestly, probably because I've opted into friend groups that are a lot like me at various ages. The main differences tend to be around family structures and home ownership. Most of my friends 15 years older are married and either have kids or wanted them, and own homes if they want to. Most of my friends my age are voluntarily childless, may be partnered but have no interest in marriage, and may or may not own homes depending on whether they happened to have bought pre-2008.
posted by Stacey at 9:32 AM on November 27, 2022 [6 favorites]

I'm a few years younger than 40, but getting there. Female and Canadian. The biggest difference I notice is family stage - most of the people I know in their 50s have older teens or adult kids while most of my peers and people a few years older are somewhere in the toddler-elementary school range (and some are still having babies now). This has a huge impact on daily activities and just overall vibe for a lot of people. Not really relevant if your character doesn't have kids, but some of her friends likely will. Also if she doesn't have kids, she's likely to experience pressure from some people in her life about it that a 50 year old wouldn't - especially if she's pushing 40 and not there yet.

Another big difference is that 40 would be a young adult/teen when the internet and to a lesser degree social media became big (Facebook became a big thing soon after I started university) which means our high school and university experiences were very radically different, but this isn't really relevant in day to day life decades later. I do find that older people are much less likely to be active on Reddit and most other social media platforms but are often very into Facebook and their smart phones.
posted by randomnity at 9:40 AM on November 27, 2022 [4 favorites]

I think that particular age gap, as it might well be *within* a generational divide not *across* one, is going to depend much more on race, class, family background, and location than it is just on age. People in their mid-fifties may well have been using computers since college; people around 40 might have started in late elementary school. Either way, though, they were there for the start of the mass adoption of the internet, and whether or not they were part of the adoption is going to depend more on other things. I'm 41, and hit the job market right out of high school just before the dot-com bubble burst. My high school friends who went to undergrad hit the job market in around '03, when things were a little less chaotic, but the ones who went straight on to grad school hit the market around '08, when everything crashed. Gen-Xers often hit the job market during the early-90s slump, so those experiences might very well be closely parallel.

"Pushing" 40 might be a little different, as a very slightly younger person might have started to see some of the post-Columbine security effects in high school and experienced 9/11 while still living at home, but other than different beloved childhood tv shows, there's really not much difference otherwise.

I have a lot of friends across a pretty wide age gap these days, and honestly I think where we grew up and what our economic and cultural backgrounds are make a much larger difference than ten or fifteen years either way, except in pop culture knowledge. Figure out those specifics as a priority!
posted by restless_nomad at 9:41 AM on November 27, 2022 [5 favorites]

Most of us avoid making voice calls at all costs, while older folks will if it seems more efficient. We will for example pay more money for takeout etc. to avoid making a call.

We've accepted that leggings are pants.

At least in my social circle, we are less enthusiastic about work travel but more enthusiastic about personal travel.

We really don't care about gender/ sexual identities but secretly roll our eyes at the "kids'" need to define everything.

We hate all the political parties and are usually resigned to voting for the lesser of two evils.
posted by metasarah at 9:48 AM on November 27, 2022 [8 favorites]

From a broader, albeit American-centric, perspective, the younger woman grew up with the assumption that women can and will be in almost any position of power: Prime Minister (1979), Supreme Court Justice (1981), Astronaut* (1983) Secretary of State (1997)... Depending on how close she is +/- to 40, and when her consciousness of the world began, to her, women may have always been able to achieve these things, such that the novelty of firstness may not register.
Additionally, prior to ~2015 or so my, perhaps willfully naive, perception of the world was that many of the sharp edges of sexism, racism and various other 'isms had been rounded off in the larger world or in public speech, such that encountering an old school bigot in the flesh was shocking and almost laughable. That may have contributed to how fucking horrifying the past 7 years have been for some (me) as it requires accepting that these hate zombies are still extremely viable and none of my young adult experience had given my tools to adequately confront them.

*yes, female Cosmonauts were in space well before, but see above: american-centric
posted by Cold Lurkey at 10:13 AM on November 27, 2022 [2 favorites]

Nthing the phone thing, and would add that my older friends seem more likely/willing to communicate via Facebook messenger (which I abhor), and to use Facebook in general.

I have exactly the same feelings about taxis that Stacey does (and a parallel feeling about hotels vs. airbnbs), but have fully accepted that tickets live in phones now. For most of my life, all the computers I've bought have been laptops.

My casual pants are jeans, and I still wear a lot of sweatshirts--my sense is that this seems 'young' to friends who are older than me, but is consistent with what friends my age or in their 30s seem to wear. I do not believe that leggings are pants, but I acknowledge that many people my age do (and not just women).

My hair is mostly grey and I do not dye it. I also don't wear makeup on a daily basis, though I do if I'm dressing up. I do spend time and money on skincare, partly because I don't wear makeup but mostly because it's fun.

Nthing the stuff about "life stages"--I'm partnered but not married (and not getting married or having kids) and many of my friends are similar. Those who are having kids generally did or are doing so later, and a lot are having complicated fertility experiences in their late 30s/early 40s.

Also, I'm assuming that what metasarah means by "we don't really care about gender/sexual identities" is "we're not bigots," which I agree with, but I don't think that translates into a kind of generational apathy. My communities definitely skew feminist and queer, and it's worth naming that we exist and we care a lot, though we are indeed not as into defining everything as younger generations are.

For context: I am 40, female, US.
posted by dizziest at 10:14 AM on November 27, 2022 [1 favorite]

I'm a 35-year-old woman in an expensive U.S. city, so this aspect of things is probably most applicable if your character lives in an expensive Canadian city like Toronto or Vancouver. Anyway, among my friends in the late-30s/early-40s age range, it is very uncommon for any of us to own property, and most of us have given up hope of ever becoming homeowners. Whereas it seems like it was much easier for people who are currently in their mid-50s to get on the property ownership ladder, and we think that they sometimes fail to see how much the market changed in 15 years and how much more difficult it is for us.
posted by clair-de-lune at 10:17 AM on November 27, 2022 [11 favorites]

I'm a 39 year-old ciswoman, professional in social sciences. I work in a large institution with mostly women across the age spectrum. I think there's a big divide in my age group based on how the 2008 recession affected us. I (and other women my age with advanced educations) was in school so wasn't impacted by the downturn in the job market as much. I had children afterwards, so my kids are still pretty young. I feel like I have more in common with younger millennials, politically and economically, in that I'm politically pretty far left, very disillusioned about institutions and the status quo. I'm comfortable with technology but cautious in how I integrate social media into my life. I think women in their early-mid fifties, as well as women my age who were working during the 2008 crash, hew a little more economically conservative and closer to gen-X belief in (or inability to think outside of) institutions despite frustration with them. They tend to be less comfortable with technology, and more likely to fall into using social media in unhealthy ways (especially facebook).
Some very biased conclusions based on anecdata of my coworkers: lots of women in their mid-50s (and less-educated 40 year-olds) are married to men they don't like but tolerate due to social roles. Professional women around 40, and women in their thirties, are often divorced from a man they didn't like; some are remarried to more feminist men.
posted by arrmatie at 10:21 AM on November 27, 2022 [2 favorites]

I'm 63 with friends in their early 40s. A few things I've noticed.

Younger women seem OK with having bra straps showing. I am not.
Also, it took me a while to realize that bare legs rather than pantyhose had become acceptable - thank God for that change!
Younger women seem way better at figuring out how to manage life without a purse.
My younger friends were shocked to find out I was filing paperwork (bills, receipts) instead of just throwing it out. That did make me reassess and stop doing it though.
Until the pandemic, I was using cash for small purchases, but younger people were fine with using a card for a soft drink.
A young man laughed at me when I engaged the parking break when I parked my car (to be fair, I had just switched from a stick shift to an automatic.)
There's a difference in etiquette for texting - it took me a while to realize that younger people didn't think it was rude to just stop a conversation rather than acknowledging it was over in some way (like saying goodbye).
I still think ghosting is terrible and rude, but a lot of younger people seem OK with it - not sure if that's entirely generational. That's not to be confused with blocking someone who is abusive.
People in their 40s haven't experienced the full impact of ageism yet and can be kind of oblivious to how hard it is to live with.
posted by FencingGal at 10:23 AM on November 27, 2022 [23 favorites]

I'm 45, I work with people up to their mid/late 50s and down to their mid 20s.

It is a bit like pulling teeth to get my younger colleagues to pick up the phone and call clients. To the extent where I have to insist they do it because it is more difficult to ignore a ringing phone than it is to ignore an email. They are then surprised that what they are chasing starts to happen after they have made the call.

I still sometimes print things. People older than me sometimes print things. More junior people generally don't.

I don't perceive any reluctance with most of my age peers or slightly older people to use apps to do all the things for the most part. Where I notice a difference, men seem to be more reluctant than women.

My family members in their 70s recently told me they were surprised nobody used cash for small purchases at a volunteer role/museum gift shop they were helping out. They also much prefer email/web based anything to apps. In fairness, they are generally willing to use 'technology', much more so than a lot of their friends so they may not be representative.
posted by koahiatamadl at 10:45 AM on November 27, 2022 [3 favorites]

I’m turning 40 soon and have a few coworkers in their mid-late fifties. A huge difference I notice is that while we all share generally similar political beliefs, I (and coworkers my age) tend to be much more left-leaning and suspicious of both major political parties in the US, whereas my older coworkers virtually never criticize the Dems in power and it seems to weird them out when we do.
posted by cakelite at 10:53 AM on November 27, 2022

I would take all of metasarah's comment and apply it to my own peer group (I'm 50, the bulk of my friends are 40-60 thought a lot of my coworkers are in their 30s), but I do think there's a significant cultural digital divide in GenX that does not exist for younger people in the same way: some of us were not just early adopters of internet technology, but inventors and originators - we held the first entry-level tech jobs, we invented credit card payment systems, we first made up titles like "director of digital marketing" - and then the rest first encountered email when forced to use it at work and maybe only got home internet when cable companies started bundling it, at which point they maybe used it for a little bit of personal email and shopping. Those people did not have the internet fully integrated into their lives until the big push by banks and services to online payment/management, internet-enabled phones, and maybe not even until the pivot to streaming video. They may use social media but I don't think most of them think of it as a place where they make friends, but rather keep up with IRL friends.

There is a socioeconomic digital divide in 40somethings, but it's much more strongly tied to access as teens and young adults. I've seen managers at around the 40y mark take a specific kind of offense at people who don't pretty much instantly "get" the office digital culture, and it also shows up as prejudice against neurodivergent and older+not-digital-native coworkers. I also recently watched a group of managers in that age range take what seemed to be a very calculated step back from the office digital culture to make themselves less accessible/known by the gen pop, an interesting power move I wouldn't as much expect to see from my own cohort.

And yes, for sure this (from FencingGal above): People in their 40s haven't experienced the full impact of ageism yet and can be kind of oblivious to how hard it is to live with. Wow, is it easy to be ageist as hell (I was) right up to early 40s when you start to see it creeping in at you, and of course it's far worse for women than men, who don't really start hitting that wall all at the same time. The 40-to-50 decade moves a LOT faster than any of the previous ones, and you start to feel it all a lot harder.

I think the other big gap between 40 and 50+ is the shit that happens to your body. Pretty much all major disease is a freak statistical fail up until 40, and even if you feel fine you suddenly have peers getting serious cancers, organ troubles, thyroid freakouts, bone and joint issues. If you're a woman especially, perimenopause is going to rip through your peer group and you're going to have at least one friend have a whoopsie! baby while another is in chemo and a third has to quit her job for chronic migraine and a fourth breaks a major bone in a minor incident. This is also the sandwich years where you or your peers first start sending kids off to college (if they can afford it) and/or moving their parents in/moving in with their parents, the latter of which seems to be more common on the younger end of the spectrum, probably because of the significant drop-off in home ownership.

Right at 40, you may not know how much of that you have ahead of you, but if you have any coworkers or friends or siblings a little bit older than you, it's going to start looming higher in your awareness.
posted by Lyn Never at 10:54 AM on November 27, 2022 [15 favorites]

Funny. I'm 55-going-on-56 and according to the descriptions above act like a thirtysomething.
posted by seanmpuckett at 10:56 AM on November 27, 2022 [1 favorite]

For coworkers specifically, someone in their 50s probably has a better pension / retirement plan from their employer than more recent hires. They’re also at an age where they’re starting to watch their retirement balances a bit more closely, and with the market down, my friend’s coworkers were griping about their relatively cushy retirement package in a thoughtless way.

I’m 40ish, US urban female and I feel like there’s been a bigger shift between me and my mid 30s and younger friends than between me and people in their 50s. LGBTQIA+ rights have shifted quickly in the US, and I have to put effort into keeping up with the vocabulary. I sometimes feel like a translator for older folks on these issues.
posted by momus_window at 10:57 AM on November 27, 2022 [2 favorites]

A lot of the divide will be between people who regularly use computers and those who don't, and at what time in your life you came to digital devices of any kind. There's a chunk of people at every age for whom the smartphone is a new and mysterious thing and for whom a computer is basically unintelligible. They mostly don't use computers for work, or if they do, they have memorized a specific process and never gone outside of it. This is mostly a class-based divide, which gets stronger the older you are.

A person older than me (38, USA) is EITHER great at the computer OR their smartphone, but not both, and they can't swap between them easily or figure out how to sync. It's likely, the older the person is, that they either don't have a smartphone, or have one and can't really use it for anything but calls. If they are computer-oriented, they are good at email and write long and beautiful messages that younger people respond to with 1-2 lines. If they are smartphone-oriented, they still write long and beautiful texts (usually using the voice transcription app), which comes across as charming until they decide that calling is more efficient which everyone younger hates.

If they are computer-oriented, they probably still have some big deficits where the Internet is concerned (ex. an Excel master who keeps clicking on ads in search results or can't figure out how the address bar works or how to comment on a Facebook post.) If they are smartphone-oriented, they avoid using the computer as much as possible. Neither subset will use Slack or similar unless absolutely forced to by work; they will figure out how to hide the notifications or disable the program because they feel it is intrusive. Younger people have a love for messaging, probably because AIM was a thing when we were young.

Agree about the takeout, leggings, pantyhose, and purses. I'll add that younger men think sneakers are appropriate at work and older men do not.
posted by blnkfrnk at 10:58 AM on November 27, 2022 [1 favorite]

I think the divide between digital natives and non-natives is true, but one thing I’ve noticed as a 42 year old is that older people who have adopted technology have adopted it with 100% religious zeal, and even those who haven’t have admitted that technology is the future and they’re getting left behind. Whereas I’m starting to spend less time online and I’m picking analog hobbies back up. Older people seem to find that weird. Whenever a fiftysomething hears that I bought a film camera, they ALWAYS make a joke about whether I know that digital cameras have been invented. Younger people don’t care; it’s just one choice I could make out of many. Same thing when people find out I have a paper checkbook. Most people my age don’t, but they don’t really care that I do. Whereas people ten years older are shocked that I don’t just pay my bills online. (I do, mostly, but there’s one that I can’t.) The early-adopter tech people are shocked that I haven’t digitized my life like they have, and the later adopters think that I, as a digital native, should be more into tech than they are. I think people my age have a more nuanced view of tech.
posted by kevinbelt at 11:13 AM on November 27, 2022 [1 favorite]

I'm 45. Biggest difference with people in their mid 50s is if they have kids, the kids are likely college age or out of the house, which completely changes how they spend their time. Friends in their 30s and 40s with kids high school age or younger are constantly driving kids to activities and don't really have any free time of their own. The other difference is that people in their mid 50s are more likely to start experiencing significant health problems. To be honest I don't think other behaviors are that different between older millennials and younger gen X. You'd perhaps see more difference between a current 30 year old and a 45 year old in terms of attitude towards work and technology use.
posted by emd3737 at 11:50 AM on November 27, 2022 [3 favorites]

I think that attitudes to tech are cohort rather than age based. So people in their 40s now will have different habits than your peers had 15 years ago. I think the most obvious of those is whether you use a phone as a phone (more likely if older, less likely if younger).

Fashion is different to how it was then, but that should be fairly easy to take into account. Grey hair is more fashionable now than it was 15 year ago, so more women in their early 40s are have not dyed their hair, but I think this is still a minority thing.

Don't forget that our childhood cultural references are different. So we don't remember the 80s as well as you do. The 90s is often our decade of highest nostalgia.
posted by plonkee at 12:14 PM on November 27, 2022 [4 favorites]

The one difference between Canadian women of around 35 to 44 and women both older and younger: they had, and possibly still might have, a strong opinion about Avril. Thanks to CanCon, there was far more Avril there than other places.
posted by betweenthebars at 12:15 PM on November 27, 2022 [4 favorites]

A person older than me (38, USA) is EITHER great at the computer OR their smartphone, but not both, and they can't swap between them easily or figure out how to sync.

This is...not correct. As Lyn Never noted above, who do you think made the smartphone? Who built the search, who designed the UX that pushes the search results? (I happen to know the Gen-Xer who did the latest Google Image Search UX redesign.)

Within Gen X/younger Boomer, there's definitely a split between "started hanging out on BBSes in their teens" types and "didn't use email until the company started using it" types, but the age where lack of comfort using modern technology becomes widespread is substantially older than 38. Probably the average 55-year-old is more likely to see the Internet through a Facebook frame than the average 40-year-old, though.
posted by praemunire at 12:22 PM on November 27, 2022 [16 favorites]

The other difference is that people in their mid 50s are more likely to start experiencing significant health problems.

And dealing with their parents' health problems. You start your 40s worrying about your kids, you start your 50s worrying about your mom.
posted by praemunire at 12:24 PM on November 27, 2022 [7 favorites]

For coworkers specifically, someone in their 50s probably has a better pension / retirement plan from their employer than more recent hires.

Maybe in Canada? There's been no real pension association with employment in the US since the 90s unless you were in the military or a few other niche industries, thanks to the death of unions and the surge in "right to work" (tip: it is not actually that) laws. GenX in the US mostly has debt and possibly the hope of inheritance, and maybe actual equity in a home. There is a homelessness crisis like nothing we've yet seen looming, as our bodies give out too much to work but we have nowhere to live without working.
posted by Lyn Never at 12:26 PM on November 27, 2022 [5 favorites]

A person older than me (38, USA) is EITHER great at the computer OR their smartphone, but not both, and they can't swap between them easily or figure out how to sync.

I mean, geez, ageist much?

As someone who is going on 20 years older than this commenter, I’ve worked hard to learn digital life. I use my phone, Macs and Windows machines. I am almost old enough to be a boomer, but I definitely identify more with my younger Gen Xers.
posted by computech_apolloniajames at 12:34 PM on November 27, 2022 [8 favorites]

On the parenting end, I am an older mom (had my almost 12 yr old at 40) and the moms at his school have soooooo much energy and time and stress about everything- PTA, fundraisers, interpersonal drama. My older kid is graduating high school this year and I’m comparison I am very chill about schoolwork, politics at the school level, etc. also I cannot keep up with the younger mums for drinking and salsa lessons and all their wonderful bonding schemes. I did do that in my 40s but right now I have other goals that are more personal and also feel ridiculous trying to keep up.

Also I think being a Gen-X parent I totally love time with my kids etc. but my version is not quite as intense…my 40-ish mom friends spend like, hours getting up on all the friend gossip for their kids and I prefer to give my kids a bit more space. I hesitate to blame this on boomer/echo parenting but it does have that flavour.
posted by warriorqueen at 12:35 PM on November 27, 2022 [3 favorites]

Not sure about the Canadian side of it, but USA 40-year-olds probably have a whole different attitude than 50-60 yr olds toward the availability of birth control, use of condoms, and various other medical technology.

My adult friends in their 30s often use medical care differently too than my friends in their '60s. Some may be related to socioeconomic issues, but I find the 40ish group is more aware of the availability of a range of medical care, including cosmetic procedures, and more likely to use them.
posted by beaning at 12:41 PM on November 27, 2022 [3 favorites]

53 YO male here. The biggest difference I've noticed in myself as I've aged is that there are very few things that are binary for me any more - I'm just as comfortable with tech/online services of all kinds as I am happy to live most of my life without it/them, I own LP's and subscribe to Spotify, etc. And both are good! I have no time for THIS THING IS BETTER THAN THAT THING discussions in any sphere that isn't politics (and even in politics, I tire of those convos quickly).

I'm also a lot less judgy of other people's choices than I was - there's no world in which I care whether you like Miracle Whip or mayonnaise better. Like what you like! Life's too short to care!

I've also gotten to a point where I no longer feel the need to maximize every moment of my day/day of my life etc. If I spend a whole day doing literally nothing but sitting on the couch goofing around on the internet and watching bad TV, do I care that I'm not learning a new hobby or cleaning my kitchen or whatever? I do not. The kitchen will get cleaned eventually. The good new show on the "best of" list will be seen someday. And if it's never seen? That's fine too.
posted by pdb at 12:46 PM on November 27, 2022 [8 favorites]

There are many comments here about home ownership being rare for those who are around 40.

This is objectively false. Most people around 40 in the USA own a home. The same probably holds true in Canada.
posted by saeculorum at 12:46 PM on November 27, 2022 [3 favorites]

An above-average number of the commenters here probably live in the more expensive parts of the US and Canada. Where there's well-funded libraries and such.
posted by aniola at 1:12 PM on November 27, 2022

A person older than me (38, USA) is EITHER great at the computer OR their smartphone, but not both, and they can't swap between them easily or figure out how to sync.

Yeah, this is pretty ridiculous. I'm 63, use my computer and my smartphone, can swap between them, know how to sync.

I mean, Bill Gates is 67. Steve Wozniak is 72. Do you think they don't understand computers and smartphones? People older than we are invented this stuff.
posted by FencingGal at 1:20 PM on November 27, 2022 [7 favorites]

One thing, I think, needs to be considered when it comes to 60-somethings and tech...Many, many of us were more-or-less the early-adopters. We were the first to have home computers and internet access. In fact, for a large chunk of that age group, they lived almost their entire professional careers with a computer on the desk. They were also the first to get PDAs, Blackberrys, and, eventually, iPhones.

So, they’ve pretty much been on the technology train for a long, long time. Upgrading, updating, etc. And, many of us are tired of it all, and just don’t care about the new shiny. We want a simpler relationship to tech now. So, we may appear to be fuddy-duddies who don’t “get it”, but that would be a very mistaken view. We’re just hopping off the train.
posted by Thorzdad at 1:55 PM on November 27, 2022 [5 favorites]

I’m 40F and I’ll say that people in their 50s who seem to be on similar life paths as me (middle class, no kids, liberal) mostly… feel like peers to me, to be honest. I feel much more of a disconnect with people my own age who, say, really highly prioritize their being a parent. (In case I’m being clumsy with my words, I want to make it clear that I don’t intent that as passing judgment!)
posted by obfuscation at 1:59 PM on November 27, 2022 [3 favorites]

I don't think Metafilter is a good place to assess whether your average 60-something is comfortable with tech.
posted by Stoof at 2:03 PM on November 27, 2022 [13 favorites]

True, but, e.g., AIM came out in 1997. At which point someone 55 now would've been all of 30-31. That is maybe slightly too old for the ordinary person to be an energetic early adopter, but instant messaging would not be a mysterious inaccessible technology.
posted by praemunire at 2:41 PM on November 27, 2022 [2 favorites]

One specific thing I just discussed with some relatives in their early 50s is that for their generation law school was the obvious next step for a humanities major who wanted a decent paying job and some security. For someone my age, late 30s, that was no longer a path that made sense. Nobody my age who wanted a decent paying job did a humanities major at all.
posted by potrzebie at 3:17 PM on November 27, 2022 [3 favorites]

I'm 37 in a Canadian city. Young kid. Primary means of communication with friends/spouse is WhatsApp, and texting. Bluetooth headphones are everything. I listen to a lot of podcasts. Life is managed on Google calendar. I am tragically addicted to twitter but haven't gotten into tiktok tho peers have. Many of my peers do carefully curated Instagram stories. Facebook is exclusively for buying/selling on marketplace.

Mostly I just feel like I was relevant at the beginning of the pandemic and suddenly I'm not so much. Like all marketing/culture was for me, and now isn't. Like what PANTS am I supposed to be wearing? This is an anxiety many peers seem to experience. Which jeans?!

I am married to a man who is 50 (which is wack) but if I'm honest I don't understand anything about people over 50 they are from another planet.

The Toronto foundation just came out with some big demographics research, I haven't looked at it yet but you might find something useful there.
posted by stray at 4:19 PM on November 27, 2022 [3 favorites]

I'm a woman in my late 30s in the US. I agree with those suggesting that while there is maybe a general digital gap with people who are roughly 15 years older than me, there is a fairly wide range among people my age as well as those in their 50s. I'd say in both age groups, you have a significant faction that thinks technology is bad for society, and a significant faction that thinks technology will save society, and a significant faction that falls somewhere in between. I'd say a big factor is career - the people who are 50+ who I know that are tech savvy were either a) always into new gadgets pre-Internet or b) had to get tech savvy for their job. Whereas people my age often feel pressure to be tech savvy to keep up with their peers.

Ways in which I'm tech-adverse: I don't do online banking, I still call an 800 number to pay my credit card every month (my partner finds this hilarious), I always print my plane ticket, I have very few apps on my phone.

People my age have definitely decreased their Facebook usage in the last 10 years, with the exception being maybe people with kids who still find it's the easiest way to share photos with their older relatives.

Style: many of my friends still really like skinny jeans (but not leggings as pants).

One difference is what culture impacted our formative years. For my generation it was hard to avoid Titanic, Britney Spears, Paris Hilton, various Boy Bands, etc. Even though all of that was very much not my scene, I'm sure it still impacted me in some way.

I realize this is US-centric though perhaps it filtered over to Canada - 9/11 happened when I was in high school, and I think a lot of people in my generation just came to accept that the US would always be at war in the Middle East. Obviously some lefty folks remained vigilant, but a lot of people just sorta accepted it as the years dragged on.

Finally, I'd say that #MeToo hit elder millennials vs. Gen X a bit differently. I mean, generally both generations were on board, but I think with people in their mid/late 50s, you're more likely to find women with more complicated feelings - like, "Oh shit, was I kinda complicit the whole time I worked for [boss]?" or "Why can't these young women learn to stand up for themselves/roll with the punches."
posted by coffeecat at 4:44 PM on November 27, 2022 [4 favorites]

I was surprised by the data that saeculorum links to (clearly my friends and I are all behind), but noticed it did contain this interesting asterisk:

"The last decade also saw an increased number of adults living with their parents. These individuals were usually not counted in studies as homeowners or renters. If this growing population segment had been included in surveys, homeownership rates in the United States might have been even lower."

I can easily think of a handful of people in my generation who lived with their parents for at least more than 6 months (if not many years) of their life post-college. This seems to be less common amount Get X'ers.
posted by coffeecat at 5:20 PM on November 27, 2022 [1 favorite]

39 year old who works with people fresh out of undergrad all the way through to folks in their late 50s/early 60s here. University setting, so generally left-leaning folks who are plugged into politics to various degrees. One thing that stands out to me is how much people slightly older than me who are at least a little politically engaged are more likely to treat U.S. politics as a fait accompli driven by race and geography, whereas people slightly younger who are at least a little politically engaged are far more likely to frame things in terms of systems of oppression & fighting the same via intersectional appeals to action.

I'd also echo the transphobia or even just clumsiness around LGBT issues, which I think depends partly on age but also just on exposure. There's a generation of parents roughly my age whose kids have out queer, trans, and nonbinary classmates, and then a generation before that that didn't really encounter that much, and the difference in comfort levels is striking.

Finally, the 20-somethings and early 30-somethings I work with are far less steeped in ironic disengagement than their millennial/genX predecessors. They're earnest? Sometimes even corny? I find it endearing, but it does mean I have to do some code switching when socializing with work folks. I feel somewhere in the middle of the two mindsets most days.
posted by deludingmyself at 5:30 PM on November 27, 2022 [4 favorites]

I’m in my late 40s but remember being very aware, several years ago, of how much my older women colleagues discussed menopause. Now I’m there and notice myself having those same conversations.

Women around 40 are more likely to have Boomer parents and student debt too.
posted by bluedaisy at 5:34 PM on November 27, 2022 [1 favorite]

Finally, the 20-somethings and early 30-somethings I work with are far less steeped in ironic disengagement than their millennial/genX predecessors.

I am your 55 year old Gen X woman* and I feel this a lot. I was listening to NPR's Sheroes Radio with my husband in the car this evening and finally turned it off, complaining that I couldn't stand the earnestness, please bring me some sarcasm and cynicism. It's not that I don't like it when people are genuine and real, but the show was really overloading me with the sincerity.

* as always, Strauss and Howe generational theory applies mostly to white Americans.
posted by gentlyepigrams at 6:32 PM on November 27, 2022 [1 favorite]

I find that many people older than 50 make way more mistakes in emails than people under 40. They CC wrong, forget attachments, their tone is weird - they either ramble or are too brief, and sometimes they even forward confidential information.

People over 50 tend to like casual phone calls more than email, or at least not see the phone as a huge faux pas. Most people I know under 40 hate and avoid the phone (and email for that matter) and would much rather text.
posted by nouvelle-personne at 7:58 PM on November 27, 2022 [1 favorite]

Kids these days will NOT Google for an answer themselves. Seriously, they'd rather call my office (why?!!?) to have a human look it up and tell them (alternately, we had to get a chatbot for this on the website), or they look it up on TikTok. I'm completely baffled on this.

I will note that in my experience, it's people over 60 or people under 22 that like to make actual phone calls. Don't ask me how the younger ones are into it, again.

Cultural references widely vary. Some people will have no idea, some people definitely have more awareness for way older generational stuff than you'd think.
posted by jenfullmoon at 9:54 PM on November 27, 2022 [1 favorite]

Another divide is comrotability with payment by check when paying a service provider versus Venmo or Zelle. Younger generations don't like write checks, or don't even have the capability to do so.

Also, at early 50s, I am becoming less interested in learning new tech-y type things - it's starting to become more difficult each year older I get. In my 40s I was (more) up for the challenge.
posted by bluesky78987 at 8:29 AM on November 28, 2022 [1 favorite]

I'm an early-40s (man) in the US who has a number of mid-50s coworkers (even mix of men and women). Some VERY general observations about my older colleagues:

—Slightly more professional dress. E.g.: nicer shoes, men more likely to wear a tie and women more likely to wear a jacket (just a little more formal business dress). Coworkers my age are more likely to be in an open collar shirt, more comfortable shoes, jean-style pants, tights for women. Our work place has no formal dress code.
—More likely to go out to lunch, often with colleagues. I feel people my age are more likely to bring lunch, buy something to-go and eat at their desk, snack instead of having lunch, etc.
—Older coworkers are more likely to have Android phones and not use them extensively, younger are more likely to have iPhones and use them much more extensively.
—More likely to speak up or interject with off-the-cuff ideas in meetings. This is especially true of the men of course, but holds true in general across gender. Younger people I feel will speak up moreso when they have a solid idea to express rather than thinking out loud or immediately reacting.
—More likely to use paper and pen and printouts in meetings. People my age basically only ever bring a laptop to in-person meetings.
—More references to broad cultural stuff. Like, the day after something like the super bowl, none of the people my age are going to bring it up; it's always an older colleague who wants to talk about the commercials or whatever
—Nicer and newer cars that are kept cleaner

All that said, I don't feel much disconnected from my 15ish-year-older colleagues, and definitely feel things like economic and political differences are much more strongly separating than that age gap.
posted by cyclopticgaze at 9:28 AM on November 28, 2022 [2 favorites]

I personally think (as a 45 year old man) that all these are way too generic, and probably describing differences in 'class' characteristics than age.

I guess the health scares, menopause, and kids graduating vs taking care of elderly parents kind of ring true, but again very generically and the discrepancies are extremely wide.
posted by The_Vegetables at 10:23 AM on November 28, 2022

Something I was just remarking on-- if we are driving somewhere in two separate cars, I find that people in their 50s and up are much likelier to want to caravan. As a 35 year old I would much prefer to put the address in my gps and meet them there rather than trying to follow each other on the road sticking together through stoplights and such.
posted by geegollygosh at 12:17 PM on November 28, 2022 [2 favorites]

From 50 -

There's a certain age, generally between 45-55, where you lose all your fucks and have none left to give.

A few years after that, you can't remember why you ever gave any in the first place.
posted by invincible summer at 12:25 PM on November 28, 2022 [3 favorites]

I am Gen-x, and one of my sisters was born while I was in High School. I didn't get a cell phone until i was mid-thirties. The thing that pushed me from my flip phone to a smart phone was the fact that she was old enough to have a phone, she kept texting me and I was too slow at T-9 or whatever it was to text her back.
posted by eckeric at 12:47 PM on November 29, 2022

s35 year old I would much prefer to put the address in my gps and meet them there rather than trying to follow each other on the road sticking together through stoplights and such

I have this argument with my mom all the time! What if we get separated at a stoplight or stop sign? What if someone cuts in between us? All that stuff happens ALL THE TIME! I wanna GPS it just in case, darn it!
posted by jenfullmoon at 2:52 PM on November 29, 2022 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks everybody, these are all super-helpful. I understand that any discussion like this is going to be based on generalizations, but even seeing the different ones people make about each other is useful to my project. Please keep 'em coming if you have more!
posted by rpfields at 7:36 AM on November 30, 2022 [1 favorite]

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