We’re not even two-and-a-half years into the current decade and Americans believe that, so far, the 2020s have been the most challenging of the last 100.
This is among several new findings from a new survey of 2,000+ Americans from Gen Z to Baby Boomer to identify what they consider the most significant events of the last century.
Conducted by TheSeniorList.com, the survey was designed to determine which events of the last 100 years most resonate with today’s population and what had the most significant impact on their lives.
Evaluating that information as a snapshot of the nation and dissecting it along demographic lines the survey paints, a picture of a nation both united and divided.
Most Difficult Decade
While a present-day prejudice was detectable when selecting the nation’s most challenging decade of the past century, by more than double of any other decade, 35 percent of Americans believe the 2020s is the most difficult.
Participants could select any decade in the past century, even ones that happened before they were born. Following the current decade, the 1940s ranked second with 17 percent of responses, followed closely by the 1930s at 16 percent.
The 1940s saw the world at war again, the 1930s spanned the depth of the depression, and the 1960s, which ranked fourth with 13 percent, was marked by high-profile assassinations and widespread civil unrest.
Defining Moments by Generation
Studying separate age groups showed us that some events impacted Americans of all ages, and others uniquely affected certain generations.
For example, unrest and war in the 1960s left an indelible mark on many baby boomers, while Gen Xers were the only generation to include two separate health crises in their top ten most impactful events: both the Covid-19 pandemic and the HIV/AIDS crisis of the 1980s. Generation Zers, the youngest adults in our research, have grown up in the new millennium. They’ve already felt the negative impact of political division and a pandemic, and the positive impact of great forward strides in social equality.
Though rankings differed noticeably between different age groups, every generation agreed that Covid-19, 9/11, and Donald Trump’s election were among the most impactful events of their lifetimes. Notably, these recent events were the three most impactful even among the oldest people in our study.
Generational gaps further emerge through the breakdown of individual events. For instance, baby boomers are still deeply impacted by JFK’s assassination and the Vietnam conflict – two world-changing events that transpired too early to affect younger generations.
Conversely, millennials and Gen Zers mentioned school shootings and Covid-19 more frequently than their elders. School shootings have increased in frequency over the past few decades, while many millennials and Gen Zers were students themselves. Additionally, younger adults faced many unique difficulties during Covid-19, such as the closure of universities and lost jobs and wages. They were more likely than older adults to report substance abuse or suicidal thoughts during the pandemic.
While Baby Boomers have lived longest and have witnessed more events than younger generations, they were equally as likely as younger adults to say the 2020s are the most difficult decade the US has faced. Interestingly, Generation Zers, those between the ages of 18 and 25, were more likely than any older generation to say the 1930s was the most difficult decade in the past 100 years.
The survey suggests that Americans of all walks of life still share many opinions, exhibit common values, and have been similarly affected by communal events. We also live different lives and hold different views depending on age, gender, culture, and political beliefs. Understanding these outlooks and considering alternate contexts could better equip the nation to tackle future challenges and make the American experience feel united again.
Two years in, Americans already believe this decade is the nation’s most challenging of the last 100 years. Whether that’s an accurate assessment based on current conditions or a symptom of recency bias will only be revealed down the line.
The events shaping society often bind us together, sometimes tear us apart, but usually unfold unexpectedly. Not long ago, Donald Trump was a reality star, pandemics were dark fiction, and European land wars were a thing of the past.
Until recently, it seemed nothing could impact us like September 11th, but that terror has now taken a back seat. No one knows what tomorrow will bring and whether it will unite us or tear us apart.
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