At the moment of their earliest adulthood, Gen Xers were entering an economy that was inimical to ambition, and they behaved accordingly. Then, fairly suddenly, the economy started rewarding ambition, and the supposedly core psychological attributes of those young people simply vanished, to be replaced by an almost opposite set of attributes. You’d think this transformation would have broken people of their faith in such generalizations, but the desire to attribute people’s behavior to innate character rather than to local context runs deep. It runs so deep, in fact, that psychologists have a name for it: the fundamental attribution error. The fundamental attribution error is at work when we explain our own behavior in terms of the constraints on us (“I didn’t stop to help the stranded driver because I was late for work”) but attribute the same behavior in others to their character (“He didn’t stop to help the stranded driver because he’s selfish”). Similarly, we fell into the fundamental attribution error when we thought Gen Xers weren’t working hard because they were lazy.

Clay Shirky, Cognitive Surplus