Intergenerational differences in social networks

Apologies for the absences. Was running workshops in the previous weekend.

This week I can only offer a short post, and this is a theme that I would want to explore further.


One of the most profound differences between generations is the way we form social networks.

The generations of the baby boomers (till about 1960s) were all family-centric. They had large families and that was sufficient by itself. The elder siblings would go out, work from the lowest positions and upwards until they reached senior positions by the time their younger siblings were growing up and looking for jobs.

That obviously also had its disadvantages – as these early large families could accumulate wealth quickly, there would be many opportunities for squabbles – about the distribution of the wealth among families. The highest-profile cases are about the billionaire tycoons and about the division of assets between different wives and all that – these things make for good soap operas. At a real level, they exact immense psychological costs. For those with less, the struggles remain the same – the fight for a fair share of the gains.

The generations born after are slightly different. Smaller families resulted in the need for friendships – for ties with non-kin – the friendships that we make at schools and universities become more important. Economic opportunities are borne out of contacts with strangers, and less so with families.

Parents still think in terms of kinships, whereas the kids would think in terms of the networks of associations they have. This is most obvious in family businesses – how some business owners still distrust professional managers and would prefer to have their business transferred to a member of the family. All across Asia, these transitions are still going on, and even in the mature economies, these relationships still leave their mark.

I suspect that there is an emotional cost in dealing with these differences. I’m not sure about the links, and it’s something I’ll need to think about further.

Happy weekend!

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