Generation and COVID-19

Trustworthy data shows coronavirus is an indiscriminate killer, but many news organizations are exacerbating tensions between age groups rather than connecting generations.

COVID-19 has deepened generational Fault Lines, presenting a seemingly stark choice between the well-being of one generation over another.

“Baby Boomers, Millennials and Gen Z: The fight for empathy during coronavirus pandemic from the Detroit Free Press gives a summary of the intergenerational tensions, as does this story from the Indianapolis Star: “Why different generations react so differently to coronavirus, from boomers to zoomers.”

Two weeks ago, the lieutenant governor of Texas, 69, politicized the issue, suggesting his generation should be willing to sacrifice itself to keep the economy going.

Others joined in saying older people should volunteer to work even though age makes them vulnerable to the effects of the virus, according to POLITICO.

In many ways the coverage played into a stereotype about older people, that they are infirm and a burden. It’s time for the media to look again.

Statistics paint a different picture of the older generation.

It turns out that overall labor force participation rates have been declining for every demographic except older workers, according to this story in the Washington Post. Right now, according to the Post, there are 4.4 million retail workers over the age of 55, working in jobs that put them at greater risk of exposure to the virus.

Here’s more from Pew: “Baby Boomers are staying in the labor force at rates not seen in generations for people their age.”

Even as they retire, a significant percentage of grandparents are raising their grandchildren.

A good deal of coverage has looked at which generation has been worse at following social distance rules.

Is it the boomers? As this ABC News story describes “The frustration millennials have with older people not taking coronavirus precautions seriously…Younger generations seem more likely to quarantine themselves, experts say.”

Or does the fault lie with millennials who are not taking the coronavirus seriously, according to a top World Health Organization official.

And let’s not forget the University of Texas students — GenZ — who went to Mexico for Spring break. The Texas Tribune reported of 211 students who went, 49 tested positive for COVID-19 upon their return.

And the conversation is nasty. Here’s a New York Post piece on how the pandemic got nicknamed the “boomer remover.”

What is clear is that COVID-19 poses health risks to every generation, even young people with no history of health problems. This Washington Post analysis of state data determined that at least 759 people under age 50 across the United States have died in the COVID-19 pandemic.

There’s been good coverage of economic consequences of COVID-19 across the Fault Lines of generation. Here’s a Bloomberg piece on the destruction of older Americans’ retirement hopes. Here’s a New York Times article on the pandemic’s effect on the financial devastation faced by younger people.

MAYNARD INSTITUTE FAULT LINES COVID-19 COVERAGE EXERCISE:

The chart from the Pew Research Center defines five current generations. Now that you have been introduced to the Fault Line of Generation, how should you rethink your coverage of COVID-19 in your community?

The generations defined:

THINGS TO CONSIDER AS YOU REFLECT:

  • What do you know about the generational demographics of your audience?
  • What more do you need to know to effectively reach across the Generation Fault Line?
  • What is the generational make-up of your staff? Do you have a mix of generations making coverage decisions? If not, what must be done to modify news meetings to ensure people of different generations are being heard?
  • Does your community engagement strategy connect to people across different generations?
  • Are you thinking across generations when considering how your content should be delivered, i.e. across different social channels, TikTok, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, etc.
  • Are there collaborations with different news outlets, such as youth, alternative or ethnic media, that could help you connect with people across multiple generations?

Evelyn Hsu is Co-Executive Director of the Maynard Institute for Journalism Education. For more information about remote Fault Lines training please email Martin Reynolds at mreynolds@mije.org.

The Maynard Institute for Journalism Education

Fighting for newsrooms that represent America since 1977.