Stereotypical labels used to define generations—such as entitled and lazy (millennials), skeptical and sarcastic (Gen X), tech dependent and not brand loyal (Gen Z), and technologically naive and set in their ways (baby boomers)—are useless in gauging financial planning and saving for retirement, and it is time to toss them out, according to a white paper by Empower Retirement.

What matters more is peoples’ past experiences and personal backgrounds, noted the research, which was conducted by the Harris Poll in January. It included 2001 Americans, age 18 and older.

The survey results, published in the paper titled, "It’s Not About Generations," found that 80% of employees said their views were shaped by experiences and personal characteristics, not by the generation in which they were born.

As for the characteristics shaped how they think and feel about money, most respondents (80%) said they feel a stronger connection with groups outside their generation that align with their lifestyle. Of that, nearly 40% said their parents shaped their personal views, 33% said familial values passed down, 26% said their views were influenced by where they grew up, 25% said their education and 22% said career/occupation.

The paper said the data underscored the fact that financial wellness tools focused on age or generation are missing the point. Also, it said generational categories do not define how people think. “Personal views and opinions are most shaped by an individual’s personal background, not their generation,” the report said.

The paper made the point that there is a strong chance that people in each generation find the stereotypes off base, and probably know people who are the antithesis of the stereotypes associated with their cohorts.

“If generational stereotypes are off base, relying on them to craft financial wellness solutions leads to tools and communications that fail to serve their intended audience,” the paper said. “It’s not difficult to see where these labels fall short,” the paper added, noting that the problem with using them is not just that they are inaccurate but that they can affect behavior, as shown in past research.

It pointed to a 2015 study in the Journal of Business and Psychology that looked at the affect of perceived age on ratings of trainees. It found that trainees who were perceived to be older were given lower ratings by trainers. Those low ratings then resulted in lower trainee performance compared with trainees who were perceived to be younger.

“It doesn’t make sense to lump an entire generation of millions of people into one group and assume they all have the same experiences or think about financial planning in the same way,”  Edmund F. Murphy III, president and CEO of Empower Retirement, said in a statement. “Financial planning and goals should meet people where they are in life, consider their life experiences and personal characteristics, and then lay out a strategy that helps get them to their savings goals."

The paper noted that as people go through milestones or disruptions, financial needs and priorities arise. Life events such as becoming a homeowner, facing a medical crisis or needing to providing care for a loved one, changing careers or moving to a new state, occur in every generation. And they drive action with regards to financial plans.

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