“Every generation imagines itself to be more intelligent than the one that went before it, and wiser than the one that comes after it.” ~George Orwell
Does that describe your feelings towards other generations? People tend to feel their generation is the best generation. But no generation is better than another, just different.
A firm understanding of just how different the generations are is important in today’s multi-generational workplace and marketplace. Understanding the generations allows you to appreciate those that went before you by comprehending some of their struggles and triumphs; and it can prepare you for the changes that will inevitably come with the next generation.
What Generation am I?
Whichever question you answer “yes” to will reveal your generation.
- Were you born before, during, or a few years after World War I?
- If yes, you are part of the G.I. Generation.
- Did you grow up during World War II?
- If yes, you are part of the Silent Generation.
- Do you remember the JFK assassination or the Beatles breaking up as a child or young adult?
- If yes, you are part of the Baby Boomer Generation.
- Do you remember the Watergate scandal, the space shuttle Challenger disaster or MTV launching as a child or young adult?
- If yes, you are part of Generation X.
- Did you grow up during the 2000s?
- If yes, you are part of the Millennial generation.
- Do you NOT remember 9/11?
- If yes, you are part of Generation Z.
*This was how large the generations were at their peak. Unfortunately, the older generations are not this large anymore due to folks passing away.
People who find themselves within 2-3 years of the generational age ranges, are considered “cuspers.” Cuspers tend to identify with the characteristics, values, and behaviors of the two generations they balance between. Cuspers tend to be good at bridging the gap between the two generations.
What Generation Am I? (An alternate approach centered on life/career phases)
Another way to identify what generation you are part of is to consider which phase of life/career you are in.
William Strauss and Neil Howe, influential authors on American generations, define a social generation as the aggregate of all people born over a span of roughly twenty years or about the length of one phase of life: childhood, young adulthood, midlife, and old age.
- Childhood Phase (ages ~0-21): Everything is being taken care of for you. (Most individuals in this phase are Generation Z.)
- Young Adulthood Phase (ages ~21-42): Figuring out your strengths and weaknesses, discovering your passions, and stepping into first leadership roles. (Most individuals in this phase are Millennials.)
- Mid-Life Phase (ages ~42-64): Finding your stride in your career, honing skills as a leader and decision-maker. (Most individuals in this phase are Generation X.)
- Sage-hood (“old age”) Phase (~65+): Sharing your knowledge, and focusing on creating a legacy. (Most individuals in this phase are Baby Boomers.)
Who are the Generations?
These are the western cultural generations. Other areas around the world such as Japan, Asia, and portions of Europe will have their own generation definitions based on cultural, political, and economic influences. However, the emerging generations (Millennials and Generation Z) have characteristics and behaviors that match their global peers, more so than previous generations. Also note that these are generalizations, many variations of the generations can exist within regions, both geographically and culturally.
G.I. Generation (~1900-1927)
Alternate Names: The Greatest Generation
Age Range: 90+
Shaped By: Great Depression, World Wars
Traits: Hard-working, Patriotism, Respect Authority, Conservative Savers
Silent Generation (~1928-1945)
Age Range: ~72-89
Alternate Names: Builders, Traditionalists, Lucky Few, Post-war Cohort
Shaped By: World War II, Vietnam War, Korean War
Traits: Veterans, Conformists, Loyal, Follow Rules, Non-protestors
Baby Boomers (~1946-1964)
Age Range: ~53-71
Alternate Names: Me Generation, Generation Jones
Shaped By: Woodstock, Civil Rights, Economic Prosperity, Kennedy Assassination, Rock ’n’ Roll
Traits: Driven, Question Authority, Optimistic, Efficient, Team Player, “Great Consumers”
Generation X (~1965-1980)
Age Range: ~37-52
Alternate Names: Baby Busters, Gen Bust, The Lost Generation, Latchkey Generation
Shaped By: Watergate, Layoffs, Family Instability, Challenger Explosion, MTV
Traits: Latch-key Kids, Self-reliant, Skeptical, Independent
Age Range: ~20-36
Alternate Names: Generation Y, Echo Boomers, Generation Me
Shaped By: 9/11, Columbine, Y2K, Internet, Great Recession, Technology
Traits: Ask Why, Creative, Optimistic, Collaborative, Entrepreneurial
Generation Z (~1998<)
Age Range: <19
Alternate Names: iGen, Centennials, Globals, Homelanders, Post-Millennials, Founders
Shaped By: Terrorism, Mobile Technology, Social Media, Cyber Bullying
Traits: Pragmatic, Cautious, Tech Dependent, Individualistic
In upcoming posts, we’ll look at why generations matter and how you can begin to leverage generations for better communication, selling, and engagement at work.