Correlation vs. causation: Readers talk about baby boomer innovations

In this CIO Chatter, readers argue correlation vs. causation in explaining baby boomer innovations vs. those of Millennials.

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Baby boomers might seem more innovative on paper, but do they completely outshine their cross-generational competition? In a CIO Matters column, SearchCIO-Midmarket.com senior site editor Wendy Schuchart responded to one Washington Post innovator blogger's notion that retiring baby boomers are the innovators of the future by arguing for a case of correlation vs. causation.

According to Schuchart, this innovation notion is a textbook case of "correlation, not causation." Statistically, baby boomers are starting companies at an exceptionally fast pace, while Millennials have the lowest rate of entrepreneurship across the board -- but these numbers don't tell the entire story. Baby boomers having some free time and free cash on hand is a determining factor in innovation, too.

Each generation has its time in the sun. The younger generation may not have the money to put forth the idea.

In response to the column, we asked, "Do you think baby boomers are the most innovative generation?" The results were split: Roughly 48% of readers who took the poll said that baby boomers are, in fact, the most innovative generation. Here's what they had to say:

  • "Myself, as a boomer, plan on retiring in 9 months, 20 days (who is counting!). I also have plans on a startup in process. Something more relaxing and conceived as fun, enjoyable and being good at it also helps."
  • "Baby boomers innovated from their garages all through the 70s and 80s. They didn't need the bank rolls that Gen X and Gen Y (millennium kids) seem to require. The biggest failure of the baby boomers was to bring their kids up to be useful and innovative."

One reader raised an interesting observation specifically about correlation vs. causation:

  • "Yes, you are on target here. Speaking of money, it's like saying as you age, you are generally the one that makes more money. But if that were causal, then every anniversary or birthday you would get a raise. We all know that is not true. The truth is as we age we gain more skills and that is causal to income."

More on generation gaps

How to capitalize on the workplace generation gap

Baby-boomer CIOs pay the bills by consulting

The Millennial generation tends to focus less on obtaining high-paying jobs and more on developing skills, Schuchart wrote, explaining that the education system plays a significant role in this debate. But Millennials are also coming of age during a time when college tuitions are skyrocketing and grant money is hard to come by, leading them to spend what could have been entrepreneurial money on college loan debt instead. Readers responded:

  • "Each generation has its time in the sun. The younger generation may not have the money to put forth the idea. Therefore, their idea is pushed forward by someone older with the ability to fund the innovation."
  • "There's also a correlation between how liberal education was for people in the boomer generation, compared to later. But since the 'conservative revolution' of the seventies, education has been the first place to suffer in each new wave of conservative effort to gain votes by cutting spending, till today schools can't even afford to keep teachers or keep schools open all year. I'd be willing to bet that there's a causative factor buried in there somewhere."

Are retiring baby boomers truly the innovators of the future? Would you argue for a case for correlation vs. causation? Share your thoughts about this generational divide in the comment section below.

Let us know what you think about the story; email Wendy Schuchart, senior site editor.

This was first published in February 2013

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