Labels are powerful. They can indicate a name, a title, a theme or an identity in a factual and conclusive way. On the other hand, they can be misrepresentative, misguiding or false if constructed in a way that disagrees with their true characteristic.
This way, generations have been classified and depicted in ways that sway our perception of history. Thus, generations have influence.
When we understand the power of generations, we are able to understand and appreciate the potential for change in our day to day lives.
Over the past 50 years, the world has undergone large cultural and societal shifts.
A quick web search of the millennial generation, for example, reveals “the new phenomenon of bitterness and disdain for the younger generation and that Baby boomers are the first generation to deal with the ‘ungrateful youth’ around them.”
Whereas, thousands of years ago, the great Philosopher, Plato criticized the younger generation saying:
“The children now love luxury; they have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for elders and love chatter in place of exercise.
Children are now tyrants, not the servants of their households. They no longer rise when elders enter the room.
They contradict their parents, chatter before company, gobble up dainties at the table, cross their legs, and tyrannize their teachers.”
The fact that for thousands of years, the newer generation has always been seen as “bad-mannered”, “ungrateful” and “tyrants” reveals that older generations generally neither understand nor appreciate emerging youth cultures resulting from a generational gap.
Writing as a millennial myself, I have come across various articles and reports about the hopeless state of my generation; the generation with the least support system, with no encouragement for our accomplishments, no answers to our questions and no remedies for our failures, yet being critiqued so harshly by the older generation.
An analysis of each generation is thus necessary as a powerful instrument for appreciating the spirit of public commentary as well as to offer a different standpoint to the way we see things generally.
THE GENERATIONAL CHART – BABY BOOMER TO GENERATION Z (1946 – 1996)
|GENERATION NAME||BIRTH YEARS||MAJOR EVENTS|
|Baby Boomers||1946 – 1964||Hippie Movement, Vietnam|
War & Anti Segregation Laws
|Generation X||1965 – 1980||Lunar Landing & Ending of Vietnam War & 1973 Oil Embargo|
|Millenials||1981 – 1994||9/11, 2008 Recession|
|Generation Z||1995 – 2010||Boom in Technology|
THE BABY – BOOMER GENERATION (1946 – 1964)
Beginning in 1946 immediately after the silent generation, this generation was so named because the post-war decades witnessed a massive increase in global birth rates. By 1964, the large number of babies being born leveled off.
Growing up, baby boomers didn’t seem to care that they were different from their parents. They expressly proclaimed their vision for their own culture rather than standing by “in silence”.
For these reasons, they were called by several other names including, “War Babies”, “Spock Babies”, “Sputnik Generation”, “Pepsi Generation”, “Rock Generation”, “Now Generation”, “Love Generation”, “Vietnam Generation” and “Protest Generation”.
This generation was a diverse group of people who experienced cultural and social changes in so many different ways as they lived through a tumultuous time.
Their silent and World War II generation parents thus feared for the future of their countries as they saw the baby boomer culture as a problem.
From fads, fashion and music, to education, crime rates and Social Security, baby boomers influenced every aspect of their societies. Upon their birth, the baby boomers were not only known as babies but also “exceptional consumers”.
The WWII Generation and the Silent Generation were not named “consumers” at an early age, highlighting the progressions of the economy seen in the Boomer Generation.
According to Time Magazine “Thanks to the rise in marriages during the war, and to general prosperity, the U.S. added 2,800,000 more consumers to its population in 1947.”
More interesting is the fact that just a year after the beginning of the baby – boomer generation, babies were referred to as consumers, given birth to “consumerism” and the growing dependency of the economy.
In the American market for example, “diapers went from a $32- million industry in 1947 to $50 million in 1957”62 and additionally, the “toy industry set sales records annually after 1940, growing from an $84- million-a-year stripling to a $1.25-billion giant.”
With the threats of communism and overcrowded public schools, young Boomers in high school turned their attention to the fantasy world of comic books.
By the 1950s, comic books shifted their focus from concentrating solely on the Superhero Comics to Action Comics, Adventure Comics, and Detective Comics while adding new stories of Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman.
Although comic books were used as mental breaks for young Boomers, many depicted issues prevalent in American society.
For example, many Crime Detective Comics discussed crime rates, fraud, and racial tensions that were evident in American society. These comic books kept Boomers subconsciously aware of the problems in America without getting them directly involved.
The 1960s found baby boomers in college, constructing their freedoms in social movements that were known as the “Counterculture Movement” with memories of long hair and bell bottom jeans.
Prior to this time, many Baby Boomers “found it difficult to live in an ambiguous world devoid of meaning and purpose.
They craved the certainty that their parents, schools, and religions had been unable to give them” and by the time they entered college, they were ready to voice their opinions.
Often considered instigators of great unrest, the social changes that baby boomers brought also unified the nation as many large-scale Supreme Court decisions and laws were passed.
Two of these events, the Civil Rights Act of 1965 and the Voting Rights Act in 1965, are examples of positive progress that many Boomer protests brought to American society.
The golden age of capitalism ended at the beginning of the 1970s combined with the Vietnam War and the 1973 Oil Embargo. This resulted in a shift in the economy altering perceptions of the economy in ways that no one predicted.
Divorce rates increased as women marched in great numbers into the workforce. As the middle class could no longer afford their lifestyle, the Baby Boomer Generation was largely blamed for this economic change.
Its large population boom changed the American market and was subsequently blamed for its failure.
This accusation was backed up with proofs stemming from the fact that when Baby boomers were born, their silent generation and WWII generation parents were in their mid-twenties and early thirties and majority of them were contributing to the global workforce.
Enabling the baby boomers to benefit from an increase in family income in the form of toys, education and technology.
With these resources, the baby boomers influenced mass amounts of social, political, and economic changes during their high school, college, and adult lives that immensely shifted the global culture.
They saw progress in the economy and society that no other generation has witnessed. However, their consumerism and culture revolution deflated the economy by the time they entered the workforce in the 70s.
THE ‘X’ GENERATION – (1965 – 1980)
As Baby boomers were busy shifting societal values, Generation Xers began to be born following the Post World War II baby boom.
They were known as the “Latchkey” generation due to reduced adult supervision as children compared to previous generations.
A consequence of the increasing divorce rates amongst the baby boomers as well as the increase in maternal participation in the workforce.
As Adolescents and Young adults, Gen Xers were known as the “MTV Generation” (referring to the music video channel) as they were influenced by musical genres of grunge and hip hop music as well as independent films.
In the 1990s, they were described as “slackers”, “cynical” and “disaffected”. Credited with entrepreneurial tendencies, research has shown that Generation Xers are active, happy and achieving a work-life balance.
As earlier stated, Generation Xers were born at a time when society was less focused on children and more focused on adults. It was a time of increased divorce rates, with the rate of divorce doubling in the mid – 1960s and peaking in 1980.
Baby boomers placed more priority on individual self-actualization than on the long-held societal value of staying together for the sake of the children.
The Gen X childhood also coincided with the sexual revolution, with many children witnessing in confusion and fright their parents bringing home new sexual partners.
Children also had a limited or severed relationship with one parent during divorce, most often the father as a result of differing societal and legal expectations.
Gen Xers also lacked adult supervision in the hours between the end of the school day and when a parent returned home for work in the evening.
This was particularly common amongst middle to upper class children because the higher the educational attainment of the parents, the higher the latchkey tendency of the children.
In the United Kingdom, “Gen Xers” were known as “Thatcher’s children” because they grew up while Margaret Thatcher was prime minister from 1979-1990.
In South Africa, Gen Xers spent their formative years in the final years of Apartheid. In the United States, they were known as children who lived the Civil Rights Movement, being among the first children to use the School Bus as part of the Public School System.
In Russia, Gen Xers were referred to as “The Last Soviet Children”. In France, they were sometimes known as “Generation Bof” because of their constant use of the word “Bof” which means “Whatever”.
The emergence of HIV/AIDS coincided with Generation X’s adolescence as the disease was first observed clinically in 1981. Thus, Sex education programs were adapted to address the problem of HIV/AIDS, teaching Gen Xers that Sex could kill.
Gen Xers were the first children to have access to computers in their homes and schools. They were the children of the younger Silent Generation and the older Baby boomers. Initially, stereotypes associated with Gen Xers included being “bleak”, “cynical” and “disaffected”.
In 1990, Time Magazine particularly described them as aimless and unfocused.
However, in 1997, they published another article titled “Generation X reconsidered”, retracting the previous negative stereotypes and reporting positive accomplishments as founders in Technological Start-ups and Small Businesses and contributing greatly to society by creating Google, Wikipedia, Amazon and YouTube while not trumpeting their accomplishments as Baby boomers do.
In the 2000s, Gen Xers gained a reputation for entrepreneurship as the New York Times dubbed them “Generation 1099” describing them as the “once pitied but now envied generation”.
In 2002, Time Magazine published an article titled “Gen Xers aren’t slackers at after all” reporting that four out of five businesses were owned by Gen Xers and describing them as the hardest working group since World War II.
Generation Xers’ entrepreneurial tendencies helped to create the high tech industry that fueled the 1990s economic recovery.
Generation X did not have as much coverage in the media as the Baby Boomers and the Millennials, and so Generation X tends to be clumped together with either the Baby Boomers or the Millennials when analyzing it. According to the Pew Research,
“One reason Xers have trouble defining their own generational persona could be that they have rarely been doted on by the media.
By contrast, Baby Boomers have been a source of media fascination from the get-go and Millennials, the ‘everybody-gets-a-trophy’ generation, have been the subject of endless stories about their racial diversity, their political and social liberalism, their voracious technology use, and their grim economic circumstances.”
Gen X was not born in a “lucky” time period as it inherited the economic collapse of the Baby Boomers and saw the end of the Cold War.
However, it did not experience mass social and cultural changes like the Baby Boomer Generation and did not experience world-wide terrorism like the Millennials.
THE MILLENNIAL GENERATION (1980 – 1995)
The average millennial is disappointed as they notice a change in the ways that their parents grew up compared to their own experiences.
“Our parents grew up in the ‘60s and lived a life of rebellion. They challenged authority at every chance. Now our generation is filled with rules” says one Millennial.
Born between 1981 and 1994, following the X generation, Millennials have had different names given to them to portray their lifestyles.
They were initially known as Generation Y as it was a placeholder pending the gathering of more information to give it a proper name.
Researcher Neil Howe “thought that an upbeat name would be good [to describe the generation] because of the changing way they were being raised.
They would be the first to graduate high school in the year 2000, so the name millennial instantly came to mind.”
Just like the baby boomer generation, there were a plethora of names for the millennials amongst which are “Don’t Label Us,” Generation Y (or Why?), Generation Tech, Generation Next, Generation.com, Generation 2000, Echo Boom, Boomer Babies, and Generation XX.
Many of these names were created before Millennials reached adulthood.
As Millennials began to grow up, Baby boomers also began to witness the changing world through their children, using them as a vehicle to express their concerns.
The question thus remained “why did the Baby Boomer Generation want to protect their children from the very post-war culture it created?”
Being labeled as the “entitled” generation, “Millennial babies were given the world and protected from everything in it.”
As baby boomers and Gen Xers, having lived through a tumultuous era, each vowed to do everything to keep their children safe from the evils of the world.
Because of the changed economy and institutions by the Boomers, many Boomer parents especially parented their children in an overprotected way to ensure that they were protected from the outside world and thus, they became the Helicopter Parents.
Millennials, at a young age, did not have to do very many tasks on their own because their parents didn’t want them to get hurt and wanted to make their childhood less tumultuous than their own.
As Baby boomers and Gen Xers started to ‘helicopter’ over their children at a young age, they pressured them to get straight A’s in as early as primary school in order to prepare them for college.
Parents were so dedicated to preparing their children for college that if the schools weren’t living up to their standards they homeschooled them.
The Millennial Generation was also the first to actually experience the repercussions of the failing economy.
The generational gap and different perceptions made it so that many Baby Boomers were unable to relate to their children’s experiences because they themselves grew up with a prosperous economy.
Millennials were also known as the “Trophy generation” because many parents who were concerned with their children’s emotional wellbeing felt that giving every child a trophy even if they didn’t win was very essential in ensuring that their children got all the love and support they needed.
Millennials translated this trophy culture into their adult lives and engrained it into their work culture. Employers thus tend to blame the Millennials’ work ethic on their childhood experiences.
In a sampling of many comments made by employers, they say that Millennials have: “Enormous sense of entitlement and less willingness to earn their keep,” “Expect too much too soon and are very self-centered,” “Lazier and more entitled,” “Want it all delivered to them on a silver platter,” “So entitled they expect to fly up the corporate ladder,” “their attitude is always ‘What are you going to give me’” and “they believe two years of experience is enough to run their own company.”
Thus, the childhood experiences of the Millennials furthered the generation gap because they viewed work differently than older generations.
Because the year 2000 was the turn of the century, all eyes were on the Millennial Generation and what they would do for the future of the world.
However, On September 11, 2001 the United States was attacked, circulating greater uncertainty and changing the millennial culture forever.
Many Millennials were old enough to remember these attacks and it suddenly became clear to most of them that they weren’t safe.
Similar to the effects that the Vietnam War had on the Baby Boomer Generation, the terrorist attacks unified Millennials and at the same time increased parental caution.
As Millennials began to enter high school, their baby boomer noticed a wide difference in the way their children viewed the world.
Children who were initially unable to express themselves under their parents’ wings began to shift their identities from being “victims of anti – child policies” to being “the problems with progression.”
They lacked the space to formulate their own ideas about the world; they were given everything, helicoptered upon and piloted by their parents and given trophies even for not doing so well.
By the time they entered high school, they began to act in ways that their parents and even the society did not expect.
Outside the supervision of their parents, Millennials learned about the events of the past as well as the uncertainties of the future and as a result, social justice classes and clubs sprang up in high schools.
Many Millennials therefore turned to community service and activism to help combat these problems; a different reaction from what the Baby Boomers had, as they sparked mass protest to change society while the Millennials turned to hands-on service and using technology to spread the word to inspire change.
This turn towards technology to bring about change is what has labeled the Millennial generation as a “failure” with headlines like, “Millennials: The Me Me Me Generation” and “The Numbers Behind why Millennials Are ‘Generation Frustration’” and “The ‘Participation Trophy’ Generation” dominating popular media.
According to Ana Swanson in her Washington post article titled 28 Advertisements Show the Most Awkward times Brands Tried to Target Millennials, “unfortunately, a lot of their [the media] appeals to millennials are based on the idea that the generation is some kind of homogeneous entity that only speaks in emojis, rather than the diverse group that millennials actually are.”
Although the Millennial Generation has not lived long enough to study its entire impact on the World’s history, it has lived long enough to be commended for its accomplishments and failures.
It uses new technologies and ideas to question the ways of the world and although its future is uncertain, what is certain is that the experiences that it has lived through has molded it into a socially-conscious and determined generation that will only continue to strive for excellence.
GENERATION Z – (1996 – 2014)
Referring to the generation from 1995 to 2010, this generation was raised on technology, Social media and the internet which causes them to be labeled with names like “natural-born techies”, “tech-addicted”, “anti-social”, or “social justice warriors”.
Growing up in the shadow of both 9/11 and the great recession, some of the oldest Gen Zers are finishing college or University by 2020 and entering the workforce.
According to Vision Critical, Gen Z is mature beyond its years. They are happy, confident, excited and motivated.
Although they are very optimistic about their own personal future, unlike Millennials, they are less optimistic about a range of broader things like governance, politics, environment and the World economies.
It is especially interesting to note that amongst Generation Z, drinking, smoking, drug use and teenage pregnancy are at their lowest in decades.
Their pop culture heroes aren’t spoiled narcissistic celebrities but heroic figures like Katniss Everdeen, the main character in the Hunger Games trilogy. For Gen Z, racial, sexual and gender equality isn’t an idea but a reality.
As natural-born techies with entrepreneurial tendencies, they are unafraid of a future that features artificial intelligence and job automation.
For them, smartphones aren’t revolutionary, they’re perfectly normal and companies will need to adapt to a more pragmatic, tech-savvy generation that isn’t easily wowed or won over.
Having been born into an internet – enabled world, they recognized its limitations quite early.
Generation Z came of age never knowing a world without cellphones. More than millennials, they expect companies and businesses to have the latest technology (like they do in their personal lives).
They’re not likely to want to work for companies that are technologically behind.
Much as Generation X didn’t get the same attention baby boomers did, Generational expert and co-author of Gen Z at work, David Stillman believes the current focus on millennials could leave Generation Z feeling ignored and misunderstood.
SAY HELLO TO GENERATION ALPHA
Generation Alpha – anyone born after 2010 is set to be the most transformative generation yet. Alphas didn’t just grow up with technology; they have been completely engrossed in it since birth.
Early in their formative years, these children are comfortable speaking to voice assistants and swiping on smartphones.
They’ve learned to swipe even before learning to speak and walk and they don’t consider technologies to be tools used to help achieve tasks, but rather as deeply integrated parts of everyday life. Read the positive and negative effects of smartphone on child development.
- Lauren M. Troksa, the Study of Generations: A Timeless Notion within a Contemporary Context, Undergraduate Honors Theses, University of Colorado Boulder.
- Kristen Bialik and Richard Fry, Millennial life: How young adulthood today compares with prior generations, PEW RESEARCH CENTER, Social & Demographic Trends, FEBRUARY 14, 2019
- Wikipedia – Facts about Generation X
- The Everything Guide to Generation Z, By Vision Critical with research by Maru/VCR&C.