What are generations? How can they be defined? What separates Baby Boomers from Millennials? These are questions that we may ask, and we can now understand with new-found research.
Currently, researchers focus on 6 generations that have been studied and tracked over decades:
The Greatest Generation – born before 1928. Researchers no longer report data on these individuals because they now populate about 2% of the world. They are the generation who “saved the world” because they participated in the ending of WWII.
The Silent Generation – born between 1928 and 1945, are now between the ages of 73 and 90. Significant events that happened during this time included the Holocaust, The Great Depression including the Stock Market Crash, the end of WWII, Franklin D. Roosevelt’s election, and the end of Prohibition.
Baby Boomers – born between 1946 and 1964, are between the ages of 54 and 72. Significant events that occurred during this time included the V-2 Rocket space launch, the first American satellite – Explorer 1 – launched into orbit and the first man to orbit Earth. The first Polaroid “instant camera”, the development and first detonation of the hydrogen bomb were also prominent during this time. The opening of the first shopping mall in Southfield, Michigan, the end of Segregation with the Civil Rights Bill, John F. Kennedy’s presidential election and assassination, the death of Marilyn Monroe, and Martin Luther King Jr’s speech, “I Have a Dream” were also big events of this time frame.
Generation X – born between 1965 and 1980, are between the ages of 38 and 53. Significant events during this time included the protests and end of the Vietnam War and the first Superbowl. Other impactful events occurring during this time included the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. and The Supreme Court Ruling of Roe Vs Wade (which allowed women to have abortions during the first 6 months of pregnancy). The first Moon Landing – Apollo 11, the presidential election and impeachment of Richard Nixon, and the release of the movie Star Wars.
Note that there may be several names attached to younger generations, but as more world events and data is collected, one name identifier will stick.
Millennials or Generation Y – born between 1981 and 1996, are between the ages of 22 and 37. Significant events during this time include the presidency of Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, and Bill Clinton. The first version of Windows Operating system for computers, Black Monday – the stock market crash and the Gulf War were also significant events that occurred during these birth years.
Post-Millennials or Generation Z – born between 1997 to present day, are between the ages of 0 and 21. Some significant events during this time included the impeachment of Bill Clinton and the election of George W. Bush. 9/11 terrorist attacks, Iraq War, Hurricane Katrina, the election and presidency of Barack Obama, the Swine Flu pandemic and Ebola outbreak, the release of the first Smart Phones and 3-D printers, and the election and presidency of Donald Trump.
It is important to note that although the generations were birthed between a certain time frame, their views and opinions were shaped by the years and events that preceded them as they aged and witnessed these events. An example of this, the Greatest Generation is the generation that “saved the world” since they were involved with the ending of WWII. Although the Silent Generation was birthed and in young adolescence during this time, they were not of age enough to take part in gathering opinions, understanding and experiencing this event because they had not yet reached adulthood.
Generations are studied by documenting the change in perspectives of individuals over time. This provides a way to comprehend how world events, technological evolution, economic changes and social shifts impact the views of differing age groups. In generational studies, researchers analyze the way today’s adults feel about societal topics. This helps gauge how views and opinions might differ between the younger and older generations. This research also explores the change of perspective in each generation alone. The following data is to illustrate the contrast between the change of views and perspectives of generations through the years.
Generational analysis shows that the support of same-sex marriage is a good example of these differing societal views. Between 2005 and 2015 the support of same-sex marriage grew overall from 36% to 55%. The Generation X’s and Millennials are the most supportive of this cause.
The % of individuals in each generation that were in support of same-sex marriage in 2015 study:
Silent Generation: 39%
Baby Boomers: 49%
Generation X: 59%
Overall opinion of the legalization of marijuana was a more complex (up and down) battle through the years of research. The support of legalization of marijuana grew during the 1970s but fell during the 1980s due to presidential concern and (hard-line) approach to illicit drug use and the “dangers” of marijuana. In 1969, 12% of the population were in favor of legalization.
In a 1969 study, The Silent Generation favored legalization 12%.
In 1973, 43% of Baby Boomers supported the legalization of marijuana.
In a 1990 study, it was noted that Generation X were coming of age during the fall of support for legalization and only 21% supported the cause. Showing a large decrease of support compared to the Baby Boomers in the earlier study.
In a 2006 study, The Millennials were coming of age during a time of high support of legalization causing 34% to support the cause.
In 2015 another study was conducted showing that the support of legalization from the overall population had grown from 12% in 1969, to 53% in 2015.
The % of individuals from each generation that supported the legalization of marijuana in 2015 study:
The Silent Generation: 29%
Baby Boomers: 50%
Generation X: 52%
Researchers studied marriage rates in 2 ways – the percent of individuals in a generation married between the ages 18 and 33 and the percent of individuals in a generation married later in life or “ever” married. This contrast is to show how early marriage may have been more significant with older generations and the youngest generations may lean towards marriage later on in life rather than between the age of 18 and 33. This study illustrates that the generations did not reject the institution of marriage all together. The information provided is from a study conducted in 2014.
Married between the ages of 18 and 33:
Silent Generation: 64%
Baby Boomers: 49%
Generation X: 38%
The percent of the generations married later in life or “ever” married:
Silent Generation: 96%
Baby Boomers: 90%
Generation X: 81%
Marriage rates will rise for the Millennial generation as they age but their numbers for marriage between the ages of 18-33 are comparably low next to their older generations.
Religious affiliation was another topic that researchers used to understand the differing views of generations. Researchers took data in 2007 and again in 2014 to measure the percentage of each generation who do not associate with any organized religion.
In the 2007 study – The percent of individuals from each generation who did not associate themselves with organized religion:
Silent Generation: 9%
Baby Boomers: 14%
Generation X: 19%
Older Millennials (b. 1981 – 1989): 25%
Younger Millennials (b. 1990 – 1996): N/A
In the 2014 study – The percent of individuals from each generation who did not associate themselves with organized religion:
Silent Generation: 11%
Baby Boomers: 17%
Generation X: 23%
Older Millennials (b. 1981 – 1989): 34%
Younger Millennials (b. 1990 – 1996): 36%
This study shows that religious detachment has grown across all generations throughout these 7 years.
Technology is another factor on the difference between the generations. Baby Boomers grew up in the rise of television. Generation X grew up with rising computer evolution and Millennials saw the rise of the internet. Generation Z has had TV, computers and internet present all their lives. By the time Gen Z’s reached their teens, the main source of communication and internet access was through mobile devices – while the other generations adapted to these technologies over time.
Researchers are now focusing on the impacts of “constant connectivity” in our Generation Z’s. This research is showing changes in young attitudes and lifestyles – which can be both good and destructive. Researches do not yet know if this will cause long-term behaviors or if these behaviors will be changed over time as Generation Z’s reach further into adulthood. The view of Gen Z’s are not fully formed and could convert depending on the national and global events that will take place but research will continue to help us understand the impact of technology on their behavior and perspectives.
Researchers were studying the Millennial generation for over a decade in 2018 when they knew the time had come to decide a point of closure for the Millennial generation and a starting point of Generation Z. Researchers decided that 1996 was a proper closure date due to the political, economic and social factors of the country.
Many Millennials were old enough to remember and understand the historical impacts of the 9/11 Terrorist Attacks, while most Generation Z’s have little to no memory of this event. Most Millennials were between the ages of 12 and 18 years old during the 2008 election where the majority of the youth political contribution became clear. This helped in the election of America’s first black president, Barack Obama. Most Millennials started their first jobs during a peak of an economic recession. Research shows that the adulthood of the Millennial generation was molded by this recession in a way that may not impact Generation Z. The impact of the recession on the Millennial generation may cause long-term effects in the American society for decades.
The differences between the generations are relative which means the oldest and youngest members of each generation may relate more with the generation before or after them. Studying generations is a way to understand societal changes and its impact on our perspectives based on world events, political happenings and economic changes. Because of this ongoing research, we are able to better understand these psychological impacts on a greater scale.