Covid-19 is driving a wedge between older and younger generations

“Our neighbours took pictures of us walking down the street to post them on Facebook and send to the police!”

The current Corona crisis is a cause of friction between generations. The safety measures to keep the virus at bay, and the difference in whether people adhere to those measures, manifests in conflict. Naturally, different generations grow up in different environments with contrasting views on life, so a gap between generations evolves. However, due to Covid-19, this gap is widening and intergenerational understanding is decreasing. We shine light on this conflict, letting four interviewees from four different countries take the floor.

Elders and their worries

The Dutch Wilhelmina, 74, and Kees, 79, saw their lives turn upside down during the pandemic. They have been married for more than sixty years and live in a town near Rotterdam. Both are afraid of COVID-19.

Wilhelmina says that she is “mostly scared of infecting Kees.” Since he had heart surgery a few years ago, his health is fragile and the virus could put his life at risk. Therefore, especially at-risk people experience anger and frustration towards the younger generation.

“I would not mind if they would go out with masks and keep their distance. However, most young people go partying without any measures,” says Ulrike, 50, from Germany.

Ulrike is at risk of severe reaction to COVID-19, as she has type 2 diabetes and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. She is sitting on her chair calmly during the interview, but you can see her frustration when she speaks.

Wilhelmina mentions that Kees “has not been outside in like 2 weeks.” Their world has shrunk to the bubble of their home, as has Ulrike’s. She cannot go grocery shopping anymore, making her more angry, exhausted and sad. Wilhelmina, Kees and Ulrike have few visitors, due to their fear of getting infected, making exceptions only for family visits.

Pfefferbaum and North found that people at higher risk are more likely to experience mental health issues resulting from the pandemic. They propose looking into other stressful situations and how these are being handled to deal with the pandemic and the mental stress at a normal level.

Nonchalance is not an option

Kees said that “some people are very nonchalant and the thing is that elders are at higher risk. Young people think: I am very careful with my grandparents. They only think about their own family. There are more grandmothers and grandfathers out there.”

Ahlers and Boender explain that values and norms of children of new generations are formed through the influence of their parents’ values and norms. However, Kees sees a big difference between his own generation and the younger generations.

“I have gone through the second world war as a young boy. There were a lot of diseases back then too. And if I had gone to someone who was sick, my parents would punish me. I was raised in a strict environment. Nowadays, young people are too free and therefore, are not taking the situation seriously.”

University life of students in Covid-time

Sara from Spain is still upbeat when I speak with her over Zoom, even though she, and many other university students in Spain, are confined to their bedrooms. Sara was supposed to be taking classes at her university, work in an animation team at a local campsite, and go out dancing. All the things she would normally do. 

Josephine, who has started her first year at university in Belgium, takes a more negative approach. She explains exasperatedly that she currently follows both on- and off-campus classes while studying business management in Antwerp.

Although this has become the “new normal,” she cannot seem to get used to it.

Josephine genuinely misses aspects of being a first-year student and feels that “making friends, meeting fellow students, and exploring Antwerp” should have been a major part of it.

Instead of experiencing this in a new city, she is still living with her parents because the expenses in Antwerp wouldn’t be worth the current student life.

Pointing fingers

Sara begins to chuckle dryly when asked about friction between the generations. “When some of the rules were lifted, we were allowed to go outside for a bit, but our neighbours took pictures of us when we were walking down the street to send to the police.” Sara still gets mad about that. “There even was a designated Facebook group!”

“Coincidentally” Sara signs air quotations, “those pictures were only of young people, like myself.” Sara feels like the media, too, only focuses on younger people disobeying the rules.

“Me and my friends hang out in the town’s community garden, and don’t feel like we need to use masks or social distancing, because we see each other every day. Often older people come over to tell us all the things we are doing wrong, but after they lecture us, three minutes later they come with their own friends to break the rules in exactly the same way.”

Josephine also notes that while she empathizes with older people, she thinks that younger people are constantly being blamed for spreading the virus, while the impact of the lockdown on their mental state is not taken into account.

Visibly upset about this, she adds: “Older generations should realize that it is also difficult for us and recognize why we feel the need to go out and see people. Instead, they continuously criticize us but barely take any time to comprehend our social needs.”

Closer together or further apart?

When the pandemic started, people’s spirits were high. They helped each other and it seemed the virus brought people closer together. However, this positivity is decreasing the longer the pandemic prevails.

Now that the WHO reports that the cases in Europe increase every day, people start to blame certain groups for the increase. The older generations criticize the younger generations for not being careful, as exemplified by Wilhelmina, Kees and Ulrike.

However, the younger generation, with people like Josephine and Sara, feel wrongly villainized. The virus is increasing the gap between older and younger generations by creating frustration and lack of understanding.

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