Generational split over meaning of industry


When young Britons hear the word "industry" they automatically think of computers, technology and "success". But for older workers the word has much more negative connotations of decline, dirt and strikes.

A study by AMEC, The Sunday Times and The Work Foundation of 1,000 workers found people over the age of 45 tended to think of industry as relating to smokestacks, coal mines, noise and grime.

But those under 30 – and particularly those under 24 – tended to be future-oriented in their word-associations, summoning images of computers, success, money and technology.

The top word associations among people aged under 24 for "industry" were: "money", "busyness", "booming", "computers", "success" and "technology".

The top word associations among people over 45 were "factory", "decline", "dirt", "strike", "China", and "masculinity/maleness". Overall, the most popular word associations were "factory" followed by "money", "decline", "busyness" and "computers".

"The meaning of the word 'industry' is changing faster than most of us imagined," said Will Hutton, chief executive of The Work Foundation.

"Let's face it – industry has long had an image problem. But what is striking from these results is that the attitudes of older people towards industry – all those mental pictures of production lines and strikes – mean absolutely nothing to younger people who did not live through the 1970s and early 80s.

"They see industry in markedly more positive terms. For them it's about IT, not factories – which is probably much closer to the truth, too," he added.