The Big 5 Traits & The Big 5 Generations

Can we ever tire of hearing our grandparents’ stories, particularly the ones that start with “When I was your age…”? Well yes, sometimes, especially if they’re told about 30 times and meander like Grandpa’s tales on The Simpsons.

grandpa 1

But my grandparents, like many European families, lived through a war and the uncertainty of immigrating to a new country where they didn’t speak the language. Getting a job without an education wasn’t any easier then than it is now. That also means that they had a lot of interesting stories to tell and a lot of lessons to teach. Not everything was so “doom and gloom,” however. Like that time my grandmother answered a personal ad in the paper (Yes, she was married. No, she wasn’t looking for a “good time.” Yes, my grandfather was well aware.). So she calls up the man who was desperately looking for love, and tells him to meet her at a bus stop.

“How will we recognize each other?” he asked.

“We’ll both wear a pair of yellow shorts,” she responded.

So half an hour later, she grabs my grandfather and insists they go for a walk. They suddenly come upon a man waiting at a bus stop wearing a pair of yellow shorts and shivering (did I mention it was the middle of January and 20 degree below 0?). She marched straight up to him and said, “Idiot! What are you doing out here dressed like that? Go put some pants on!” And then laughed about it for the next 30 years.

So here’s why I’ve suddenly starting reminiscing. I was looking at data we collected from our Big Five Personality Test. Almost all of the personalities tests you’ll see are based on five overarching traits, known in the psychology field as the “Big 5”: Emotional Stability (or its negative counterpart, Neuroticism), Extroversion, Openness, Agreeableness, and Conscientiousness. The theory is that we all fall somewhere on the continuum of these five traits. Every characteristic or quirk that defines you, whether you’re friendly, assertive or resilient, will fall under one of these five main categories.

I divided our sample of 3,225 people into their specific generation. Although the age configuration of each generation tends to vary depending on the online source you’re looking at, I generally follow these parameters:

  • The G.I. or “Greatest” generation: Born between 1901 and 1945. Today, they are 70 and older.
  • The Baby Boomers: Born between 1946 and 1964. Today, they are between the ages of 51 and 69.
  • Generation X: Born between 1965 and 1980. Today, they are between the ages of 35 and 50.
  • Generation Y or Millennials: Born between 1981 and 2000. Today, they are between the ages of 15 and 34.
  • Generation Z: Born after 2001, aged 14 and younger.

Analyzing our data, we discovered two things about the G.I. generation: 1) They have a unique personality profile and 2) they really are aptly named “The Greatest Generation.”

Here’s a breakdown of how each generation scored:

Emotional Stability

This trait encompasses overall emotional strength and the ability to withstand stress. Emotionally stable individuals are generally even-tempered, and rarely allow negative experiences to bring them down. They are good at regulating their emotions, bounce back quickly from hardship, and tend to be quite self-assured. Scores range from 0 (Neuroticism) to 100 (Emotional Stability).

  • Score for the Greatest/G.I. Generation (70 and older): 69
  • Score for the Baby Boomer Generation (51 to 69): 66
  • Score for Generation X (35 to 50): 62
  • Score for Generation Y (15 to 34): 53
  • Score for Generation Z (14 and younger): 51

Extroversion

Some people thrive on the company of others; some are perfectly content spending time alone. Individuals with an outward or extroverted orientation are stimulated and energized by social interaction. Individuals with an inward or introverted orientation prefer to withdraw to their own inner world from time to time, away from the hubbub of the social world. Scores range from 0 (Introversion) to 100 (Extroversion). People who fall in the middle enjoy spending time with others as well as time on their own. (Note: I want to clarify that we are not implying that being extroverted is necessarily better. In addition, while the differences between groups were statistically significant, all generations scored in the mid-range.).

  • Score for the Greatest/G.I. Generation (70 and older): 48
  • Score for the Baby Boomer Generation (51 to 69): 46
  • Score for Generation X (35 to 50): 49
  • Score for Generation Y (15 to 34): 49
  • Score for Generation Z (14 and younger): 51

Openness

This trait assesses the degree to which a person is open to novel experiences, like exploring new places, gaining knowledge, and thinking “outside the box.” Open-minded people tend to thrive on variety and spontaneity, and often possess an adventurous spirit. They are tolerant, flexible, and creative. Scores range from 0 (Close-mindedness) to 100 (Open-mindedness).

  • Score for the Greatest/G.I. Generation (70 and older): 80
  • Score for the Baby Boomer Generation (51 to 69): 69
  • Score for Generation X (35 to 50): 69
  • Score for Generation Y (15 to 34): 69
  • Score for Generation Z (14 and younger): 67

Agreeableness

Some people are easy to like and to get along with, while others require time to warm up to. Agreeableness assesses general good-naturedness and likeability. Agreeable people are friendly and approachable, have an altruistic nature, and are not afraid to be themselves. They are willing to compromise in conflict situations and to give people the benefit of the doubt. Scores range from 0 (Disagreeableness) to 100 (Agreeableness).

  • Score for the Greatest/G.I. Generation (70 and older): 76
  • Score for the Baby Boomer Generation (51 to 69): 74
  • Score for Generation X (35 to 50): 72
  • Score for Generation Y (15 to 34): 67
  • Score for Generation Z (14 and younger): 67

Conscientiousness

Most people recognize that hard work has value. Conscientious people are not afraid to roll of their sleeves and can always be counted on to be there when needed. They are perseverant, organized, and efficient, and will put 110% effort into everything they do. Scores range from 0 (Carelessness) to 100 (Conscientiousness).

  • Score for the Greatest/G.I. Generation (70 and older): 73
  • Score for the Baby Boomer Generation (51 to 69): 72
  • Score for Generation X (35 to 50): 72
  • Score for Generation Y (15 to 34): 64
  • Score for Generation Z (14 and younger): 61

The G.I. generation was forced to grow up quickly in order to face harsh realities. They dealt with war and a great deal of daunting economic uncertainty. This could explain their higher degree of emotional stability and conscientiousness. What surprised us, however, is the fact that they are significantly more open-minded and agreeable than their younger counterparts. So for them to outscore younger generations by 9+ points is an interesting surprise.

On a lighter note, it also means that we can no longer refer to older people as “cantankerous,” “grumpy” or, to borrow a phrase from their generation, “fuddy duddy,” because we’d be way off.

In memory of my mischievous Grandma, who was the cat’s meow.

grandma 1

Insightfully yours,

Queen D