Generational Differences in Work Values: A Review of Theory and Evidence

18 Pages Posted: 9 Mar 2011

See all articles by Emma Parry

Emma Parry

Cranfield School of Management

Peter Urwin

University of Westminster


This paper presents a critical review of the theoretical basis and empirical evidence for the popular practitioner idea that there are generational differences in work values. The concept of generations has a strong basis in sociological theory, but the academic empirical evidence for generational differences in work values is, at best, mixed. Many studies are unable to find the predicted differences in work values, and those that do often fail to distinguish between generation and age as possible drivers of such observed differences. In addition, the empirical literature is fraught with methodological limitations through the use of cross-sectional research designs in most studies, confusion about the definition of a generation as opposed to a cohort, and a lack of consideration for differences in national context, gender and ethnicity. Given the multitude of problems inherent in the evidence on generational differences in work values, it is not clear what value the notion of generations has for practitioners, and this may suggest that the concept be ignored. Ultimately, it may not matter to practitioners whether differences in the values of different birth cohorts reflect true generational effects, provided one can reliably demonstrate that these differences do exist. However, at present this is not the case, and therefore significant research is required first to disentangle cohort and generational effects from those caused by age or period. The suggestion that different groups of employees have different values and preferences, based on both age and other factors such as gender, remains a useful idea for managers; but a convincing case for consideration of generation as an additional distinguishing factor has yet to be made.

Suggested Citation

Parry, Emma and Urwin, Peter, Generational Differences in Work Values: A Review of Theory and Evidence. International Journal of Management Reviews, Vol. 13, No. 1, pp. 79-96, 2011. Available at SSRN: or

Emma Parry

Cranfield School of Management ( email )

United Kingdom

Peter Urwin

University of Westminster ( email )

Economics and Quantitative Methods Department
309 Regent Street
London W1R 8AL
United Kingdom

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