Fellow 2007-08

John Charles Dencker

Labor & Employment Relations


Generational dynamics are transforming and being transformed by modern societies. Aging workforces, increasing longevity, declining fertility rates, and demographic shifts all serve to strain institutions such as social welfare systems, threaten economic growth and productivity, and pose complicated challenges for individuals and organizations.

Whether generational dynamics create negative consequences for economies and firms will depend in large part on how these dynamics influence two related, critical outcomes: the timing and nature of life-course transitions (e.g., education to work, work to retirement); and intergenerational conflict. For example, generational dynamics will require that many societies and organizations transform their institutions to retain older workers, while at the same time minimizing the potential intergenerational conflict that follows from such transformations.

Examining generational dynamics is complex, because different societies and organizations often choose radically divergent ways of managing their effects. Moreover, such choices can change substantially over time. U.S. labor markets, for example, have in recent decades become more flexible as firms move away from lifetime employment orientations toward at-will employment contracts. European labor markets, in contrast, have preserved institutional labor-market features – though there is now increasing pressure for more flexibility in the EU as well.

During his Center appointment, Professor Dencker will develop and test a framework for assessing life-course transitions and intergenerational conflict from a historical and contextual perspective. The need for societal programs addressing these issues is at hand, and Professor Dencker expects his framework to have value for practitioners and policymakers as they wrestle with the coming challenges. The research also has application for scholars in such fields as sociology, political science, economics, and psychology.