Generation x, y, add and baby-boomers…

This broad model for defining people appeared towards the end of the 20th century. References to it – normally for interest in a wider discussion – arise often in the western world among writers and social commentators, and also marketing people, notably in North America and the UK.

It’s a very loose theory, open to wide interpretation and debate, and is not a reliable scientific tool for demographics and profiling.

The model most commonly features three generational types: Baby Boomers, and the Generations X and Y (which are completely unrelated to McGregor’s X-Y Theory). Generational groups have been retrospectively suggested for pre-war times.

Increasingly commentators devise new groups and names, and we can expect the model to grow and become more complex as a result.

When considering the model, significantly, the teenage years and years of young adulthood are the biggest influence on people’s attitudes, not when they were born. Music and fashion are often regarded as reflecting and helping to form the character of the group.

generation name born (range, loosely) characterizing features typically described (loosely)
The Lost Generation 1880-1900 The term reflects the unthinkable loss of human life in the First World War- approaching 16 million killed and over 20 million wounded. This happened in just four and five months (1914-1918). We cannot imagine this today.
The Interbellum Generation 1900-1913 Interbellum means ‘between wars’, referring to the fact that these people were too young to fight in the First World War and too old to fight in the Second.
The Greatest Generation (The Veterans) 1914-1930 These people are revered for having grown up during the Great Depression and then fought or stood alongside those who fought in the Second World War (1939-45). As for other generations of the early 1900s, life was truly hard compared to later times.
The Silent Generation 1930-1945 Characterized as fatalistic, accepting, having modest career and family aspirations, focused on security and safety. These people experienced the 1930s Great Depression and/or the 2nd World War in early life, and post-war austerity in young adulthood. They parented and provided a foundation for the easier lives of the Baby Boomers.
Baby Boomers 1946-1960 Equality, freedom, civil rights, environmental concern, peace, optimism, challenge to authority, protest. Baby Boomers mostly lived safe from war and serious hardship; grew up mostly in families, and enjoyed economic prosperity more often than not. Teenage/young adulthood years 1960-1980 – fashion and music: fun, happy, cheery, sexy, colourful, lively.
Generation Jones 1953-1968 Acquisitive, ambitious, achievement-oriented, cynical, materialistic (a reference to the expression ‘keeping up with the Joneses’). Generation Jones is predominantly a US concept, overlapping and representing a sub-group within the Baby Boomer and Gen-X generations.
Generation X (Gen-X) 1960-1980 Apathy, anarchy, reactionism, detachment, technophile, resentful, nomadic, struggling. Teenage/young adulthood years 1973-2000 – fashion and music: anarchic, bold, anti-establishment.
MTV Generation 1974-1983 MTV Generation is a lesser-used term for a group overlapping X and Y. Like Generation Jones is to Baby Boomers and Gen-X, so MTV Generation is a bridge between Gen-X and Y.
Generation Y
(Gen-Y or Millennials)
1980-2000 and beyond (?) Views vary as to when this range ends, basically because no-one knows. Generational categories tend to become established some years after the birth range has ended. Teenage/young adulthood years 1990s and the noughties – fashion and music: mainstream rather than niche, swarmingly popular effects, fuelled by social networking and referral technology. Also called Echo Boomers because this generation is of similar size to the Baby Boomers.
Generation Z (Gen-Z or perhaps Generation ADD) after Gen-Y Too soon to say much about this group. A name has yet to become established, let alone characterizing features. Generation Z is a logical name in the X-Y-sequence. Generation ADD is less likely to establish itself as a name for this cohort – it refers ironically to Attention Deficit Disorder and the supposed inability of young people in the late noughties (say 2005-2009) to be able to concentrate for longer than a few seconds on anything. Gen-Z is difficult to differentiate from Gen-Y, mainly because (as at 2009) it’s a little too soon to be seeing how people born after Gen-Y are actually behaving, unless the end of the Gen-Y range is deemed to be a few years earlier than the year 2000. Time will tell.

The model is here mainly for interest and basic explanation, not to suggest it be applied seriously.

The framework is very loose, not scientific at all, and has no single point of origin or founding theorist, although claims of origination are made for some of the generation names within the model.

The theory attempts to categorise different generations of people into obvious different demographic groups or ‘cohorts’ according to the period in which they were born, referring typically also to lifestyles and attitudes.

The notion of characterizing an entire generation, tens of millions of people, in such a sweeping way is of course daft, nevertheless there are fundamental correlations between society and the culture, on which premise the model is essentially based.

It is tempting to over-estimate the significance of when people were born and the societal influences of their formative years, and to under-estimate the life-stage changes which all people, regardless of when they were born, inevitably pass through.

Arguably Life-Stage theory is much more meaningful and useful than attempting to ascribe character on the basis of when a person was born. See Erikson’s Life-Stage Theory – it is refreshingly sensible compared to the vagueness of the generational model above.

Erikson’s theory also provides excellent guidance for anyone seeking to analyse the effects of social conditions and experiences on people’s lives, which would be relevant if attempting to substantiate or develop the reliability of the generational model above.

9 Responses to “Generation x, y, add and baby-boomers…”

Leave a Reply

September 2011