America today is one of the most age-diverse societies in history. Sadly, it is also one of the most age segregated, with older and younger people’s paths rarely crossing outside of families.

The combination of age diversity and age segregation contributes to generational conflict, ageism and misunderstanding, and the epidemic of social isolation and loneliness. It also constitutes a missed opportunity to make the most of our age diversity, to bring older and younger people together to solve the problems that no generation can solve alone.

In March of 2022, CoGenerate (formerly Encore.org) commissioned NORC at the University of Chicago to find out what a nationally representative group of Americans think about cogeneration — a strategy to bring older and younger people together to solve problems and bridge divides. We wanted to know if older and younger people want to work together to help others and improve the world around them. Turns out they do.

The research findings were clear: 81% of survey respondents aged 18-94 say they want to work with different generations to improve the world. Nearly all agree (more than half “strongly”) that we would be less divided as a society if older and younger generations worked together to improve their communities.

Generational conflict? Not always.

We heard deep appreciation for older people who have walked alongside the young leaders, explaining the mistakes and successes of the past and helping them navigate challenging circumstances with the benefit of historical context. Some expressed frustration that younger generations are being stereotyped as ungrateful or uninterested in learning from elders. Nearly all recalled at least one transformative relationship with an older person who helped establish their appreciation for older generations.

Personal connection before collaboration. Always.

The young leaders we spoke with want to connect on a human level first, stressing the importance of coming from a place of curiosity, being vulnerable and authentic, and centering personal experience over facts and opinions. Many talked about identifying shared values and common goals, and validating other people’s concerns as ways to foster connection. Building trust up-front is no small task, but it’s arguably the most important.


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