As years turn to decades, generations come and go. Each generation holds individual values, goals, and ambitions. These characteristics are what separates each new cohort from its predecessor. As these values change throughout generations, it raises questions such as, are these changes influenced by anything? If so, what by? In order to gain answers to these questions, generations must first be analyzed individually, then compared and contrasted against each other.
Taking a look back to the mid 1940s all the way through the early 1960s, as historian Landon Jones once said, “the cry of the baby was heard across the land.” Jones was referencing the so-called “baby boom”, the period after World War II was ending, when young men were returning to the United States. As men came home from the battlefield and as wartime was coming to an end, the baby boom began and raged for two decades, with over seventy-five million babies born during this time. These babies have since been dubbed the baby boomers. These children were raised in a time of comic books, soda pop shops, poodle skirts, and a new genre of music, rock n’ roll. At this time, news was only distributed through newspapers, as there was no television.
Technology was not nearly as abundant as it is today. The baby boomers had a unique childhood in that they played with neighbor children, walked the streets freely, and enjoyed living in the rise of America’s suburbias. These children grew up during the height of American prosperity, with consumerism blossoming. This is largely due to the GI Bill that was implemented in 1944 by president Franklin D. Roosevelt. This act provided returning veterans of World War II with securities such as unemployment insurance, housing, and even a college education. This support helped contribute to the baby boom, as the young men coming home were now able to start families in a stable way and enjoy the freedoms and values they fought for.As the baby boom came to an end, a new generation was on the rise.
Generation X refers to the cohort of over seventy-nine million babies born between the early 1960s and early 1980s. This generation is the offspring primarily of the baby boomer generation. Generation X grew up during the rise of social protests and change, political assassinations, television news, aerobics, leg warmers, neon makeup, as well as punk, disco, and new wave music. They were the first generation to grow up in the era of postmodernism, with skepticism of authority, which they felt their baby boomer parents tended to accept. With multiple high-profile assassinations throughout the 1960s and corruption in the government, these children took notice of social injustices and government flaws and as they grew older, they worked towards change.
Protests against the government were numerous, demonstrations for social change raged during the 1970s, and Generation X was responsible. Their political apathy was fueled by the twenty-four hour news available on television, the Watergate scandal, and the entirety of the political unrest of the 1970s. Generation X fought and protested heavily for the cultural freedoms that we now enjoy today. From the early to mid 1980s to the mid to late 1990s, nearly eighty-million children were born. These children of Generation X and the baby boomers were named Generation Y, but a more common name for them is millennials. These children grew up during the rise of the internet, computers, mass shootings, and overconsumption in America.
Taking lead from their Generation X parents, millennials are described as primarily liberal, tech-savvy, selfish, and even paranoid. Learning from their parents’ protests and being exposed to news of the September 11 terror attacks, as well as of the Columbine High School shooting at an early age, and growing up throughout numerous other shootings and domestic terror attacks, all fueled this generation’s reserved and selfish personality. With news of terror in the headlines daily and technology covering every aspect of a new, horrific event, millennials grew to be increasingly less interested in politics and working, and more afraid of the world around them. Growing up the same time as technology began to evolve rapidly, and with a growing rate of divorce among parents, many millennials were left to develop their minds and perceptions of the world based on the media and television screens in front of them. According to historian, author, and demographer Neil Howe, the millennials cohort ends in the mid 2000s, where the Homeland Generation, or Generation Z, begins. This cohort of children is still growing today, as it will include all of those born from around 2005 until somewhere around 2025.
Generation Z’s parents are currently primarily members of Generation X, but as time goes on, more and more millennials will become the parents of children of Generation Z. While Generation Z is still growing, it is difficult to label and describe the cohort so early on. There are, however, characteristics that appear right away for all generations. That being said, Generation Z has already been described as being the most technologically literate, with social media becoming more and more integrated with daily life.Often referred to as latchkey kids, many Generation Z children have divorced parents. According to generational expert and keynote speaker, Amy Lynch, divorce rates tripled as Generation Z children were beginning to be born. Often, with both parents working and not coming home to their child until well after schooling is out, these children are left to care for themselves in an empty home until a parent or guardian returns from work. During these hours, kids occupy their time with video games, television, social media, internet browsing, and movies. With this, social media and other technology has become a main source (if not the main source) of social interaction, which is not inherently new, as millennials also grew up with some social media, but never to this degree has it been seen before. Just as the years and decades come and go, generations make their impact on the world, then pass that world on to their successors; but as many as six generations may be living at the same time, so it becomes imperative that each generation learn about each other, in order to respect one another and live together.
Comparisons must be made in order to gain unity amongst generations. Finding a common characteristic among generations can help those of different cohorts understand one another. Charts are the most organized way to compare and contrast. Here are three charts from Cornell University which compare different characteristics of the baby boomers, Generation X, and millennials (Generation Z not included, because this study in particular was on adult generations):Images from: Cordell University, Generational Differences SlideshowIn summary, every generation is unique in its own ways, but it is subsequently undeniable that all generations are human and will always share at least some of the same characteristics and personality traits.
There will always be tragic events, there will always be news, but there will also always be another generation to bring change. Poodle skirts may no longer be in fashion today, but who is to say that in the future, that doesn’t become a trend for another generation? Similarities, just like differences, can always be found, and some come in cycles, like the poodle skirt or neon eyeshadow, but one thing always remains the same: we are all a part of one big family tree, and through learning about one another, we are united as a species, and as a people.
- History.com Staff. “Baby Boomers.” History.com, A&E Television Networks, 2010, www.history.com/topics/baby-boomers.X.’,
- ‘Generation. “Generation X.” International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences, Encyclopedia.com, 2018, www.encyclopedia.com/social-sciences-and-law/sociology-and-social-reform/sociology-general-terms-and-concepts/generation.
- Halstead, Ted. “A Politics for Generation X.” The Atlantic, Atlantic Media Company, 1 Aug. 1999, www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/1999/08/a-politics-for-generation-x/306666/.
- “Who Are the Millennials?” Live Science, www.livescience.com/38061-millennials-generation-y.html.
- Lynch, Amy. “Generations Expert + Idea Warrior + Entrepreneur.” Gen Z Kids Are Like Their Great-Grandparents. Here’s Why., www.generationaledge.com/blog/posts/genz-like-grandparents.
- “The Four Turnings.” Lifecourse Associates: The Four Turnings, www.lifecourse.com/about/method/the-four-turnings.html.