The distinctions between generations have always been interesting to me. There are no hard and fast rules in sociology and yet there are clear patterns and collective influences and I love exploring those things.
Sociologists often don’t agree where the generational lines fall so I riffled through several resources online and chose the dates that seem to best fit the people I know from each generation.
- Generation X encompasses people born from 1963-1977 (though the dates for Gen X tend to vary significantly starting as early as 1961 and extending through as late as 1984).
- Generation Y includes those born from 1978-1984. They’re technically not really a unique generation anymore. Not since about 2000 when Millenials were teenagers and so started to come into play in the media and the economy. There’s actually literal generational divisions between people born in the early 80s and those born between 1985-1998 (which I will use as the ages for Millenials). There’s also sociological characteristics that differentiate Gen Y from other generations but this age range tends to get grouped in with either Gen X or Millenials.
Given those date ranges, both Generation X and Y are now in their 30s and 40s (when Johnny Depp turned 40 that was so weird).
But the media and journalists and even some sociologists love to group “people in their 20s and 30s” together, effectively lumping all people under 40 into the Millenials. Which doesn’t really work. Generational distinctions are not a pop culture label to be moved around and applied wherever you want, like Team Edward or Team Jacob or something. Labels, according to Madeleine L’Engle, are things that are applied to us that make us less who we are, they turn us into a number or a generic entity. They can be arbitrary or applied for someone’s own ends in a way that names cannot. Names makes us more who we really are – they draw forth from us our individuality and identity.
For me, generational distinctions have always been more of a collective name rather than a label. Maybe because I grew up with a sociologist father so it was often the subject of our idle conversations. Maybe because I’m fascinated by the shared cultural influences that impact us, even though most people aren’t aware of them. Those cultural influences create general characteristics – both positive and negative – within our society that people of a certain age share.
Granted they’re broad definitions. So of course they don’t entirely define anyone. And they don’t automatically apply to everyone in that age range. But I think it’s fun to delve into the source of those characteristics and follow them through the shifts in later generations and how those collective patterns change our society.
The life of the party, because Baby Boomers think every party is thrown in their honor. And, to be fair, the world has revolved around them most of their lives because they dominate the economy. Even now the media can’t escape their influence. Women in their 20s and 30s (haha!) don’t need anti-aging cosmetics, but they believe they do because they’re surrounded by advertisements trying to sell cosmetics to Baby Boomers. CBS is still the highest rated network because Baby Boomers have the most money collectively and they like NCIS.
But as much as they will always believe that they’re cool, they’re not anymore (sorry). Everyone in Hollywood wants to be perceived as cool (and yes, Baby Boomers invented the concept of cool). But the generation in their 20s will always be the cool generation, no matter who they are. They get to rule the music scene and set the tone of movies and tv shows which are made for that golden 18-49 age range. Sorry, Millenials, but in a decade or so you won’t be the cool kids any more. It happens to all of us.
They’ve spent their lives in the shadow of their parents. They’re fundamentally relational because they grew up in a world of broken families. They’re a generation whose worldview is based on change and instability and so when it was their brief turn in the spotlight (in their 20s) they were disenfranchised slackers or conflictedly ambitious. They wanted significance, not just money. Which forced advertisers to get sly and convince them that money was actually cool. “Indie cred [was] repackaged, marked up and sold back to its original owner.” Where Baby Boomers and Millenials vie for the spotlight, Gen X tends to dodge it. Their influence on American culture, though significant, has almost always been unnoticed.
Now in their 30s and 40s they’ve matured into technologically savvy, covert consumers who made being a geek cool. Because as Gen X became the writers and directors in Hollywood, they brought the beloved parts of their childhood into the mainstream and made sure to pass it on to their children. They are adventurous pragmatists who value human dignity and individual freedom, fight to combat corruption (as opposed to Baby Boomers who fought to overthrow the whole system) and build their lives around a need for stability and love.
The younger siblings of Generation X, in more ways than one. They’re often described as the last generation: the last generation to know what good music was or to know what Saturday morning cartoons are, the last generation before the technological explosion or the last to grow up prior to the “entitlement” era…. They were more carefree than Generation X, because they grew up in a world already broken instead of watching it break and as younger siblings they adapt easily. In pop culture they kept the indie, quirky fun of Generation X and got rid of the grunge. They were portrayed as hyper self-aware and invented meta references in tv and movies long before there was a word for it.
They’re optimistic and fun loving and in their 20s they realized they are willing to trade freedom for prosperity. Now, they’re hardworking parents and quietly content adults.
Often typified as technologically savvy and entitled. They’re also accepting and social entrepreneurs and where Generation X didn’t do anything when they weren’t ready to step into Corporate America, and Generation Y went off sailing with their buddies, Millenials are more likely to join the Peace Corps or give themselves and their time to someone else.
And maybe, in the same way that Generation X figured out that having a job isn’t such a bad thing, Millenials will figure out that the world doesn’t owe them anything. Because when Generation X finally got to work, they reinvented global business. Maybe when Millenials finish stepping into the work force they’ll make large impacts for the better as well. Then again, Baby Boomers haven’t gotten over being the center of the country 😉
The problem is, ever since they started naming a new generation every decade, people in their 20s and 30s aren’t the same generationally any more. Far from it. Which is a great thing. Each generation has a unique world view and the beauty of the internet is being exposed to so many different perspectives – getting to know people across the country and around the world and benefiting from those generational lines.
So when someone writes “people in their 20s and 30s” I bristle as if someone has called me the wrong name. “No, actually. It isn’t Sue, it’s Annie.” Not because there’s anything wrong with being a Millenial. My life is definitely richer because of the Millenials I know who are smart and fun and have very interesting points of view on the world.
It’s just, in a world of names and labels, I like to be called the right name.
So, the whole thing with generations has been fascinating to me as well, but frustrating as of late because of the blanketing of three decades of people being labeled as Millenials. But, as I told you before, I have somewhat accepted it. What intrigues me though, is that by your definition of dates, I am a Millenial, but in my college history class when we talked about generations I was labeled as Generation Y. Of course, the mid-80’s is a definite fine generational line it seems, and I guess I can identify with elements of both. (I definitely agree Gen X is not the same as Millenial.) And when I just now typed “Generation Y” into Wikipedia, it redirected me to the Millenials page and said it was everyone born from the early 80’s to the early 00’s.
I work with high school girls at my church who are ten years younger than me. They were so young when 9-11 happened they don’t even remember it. I had just started high school and it was scary and pivotal to me. I can’t believe that I share the same generational experiences as them exactly. I don’t mind being called Millenial if that’s what “they” like better than Gen Y, but then I feel like those girls can’t also be Millenials. Or if they are, BARELY, and they were born in 96 and 97, before 2000 when supposedly you could still be a millenial. Kids born in 2000 can’t even drive yet, meanwhile all my friends are having babies. I graduated college smack dab in the worst of The Great Recession, and chances are they won’t. We’re very different and will continue to be.
So I think I might be a Millenial. I was told that if I went to college and graduated I would get a decent job. Instead I got a year of unemployment, two years of temp employment, and then finally, three years out of school, I finally got to start working a “big girl” career making entry-level pay and two years later, though I’ve moved on to a different work environment, it’s still the same pay grade and type of work. I majored in TV Production, and I realize it wasn’t practical, but no one warned me about practicality. It used to not matter. Guess what my poor kids are going to have to hear from me now? MAJOR IN SOMETHING PRACTICAL. The only reason I’m not living in a shoebox or with my parents is because I married a guy who majored in accounting. We don’t have kids even though by this point in our marriage it’s basically expected. One of the reasons why we have waited is because of money.
So yeah, I relate to a lot of Millenial things. But I do agree they shouldn’t lump people born in ’79 with kids born in ’00 and say they all feel the same. That’s ridiculous. All that to say I have no real answers. Sorry for the novel, but I hope that explained some of my thoughts at least. 🙂
I love novel length comments, they make the best conversations 🙂 And I really enjoyed hearing your thoughts. When we lump everyone into a single generation we really lose the value of the different perspectives each generation has. It’d almost be fun to do a generational series and have a guest post from someone in each generation discussing how they view the different generational lines and where sociologists get it both right and wrong.
The whole thing with years is really hard to pin down but I have this theory that the division between Y and Millenials isn’t the year you’re born – it’s who your parents are. Baby Boomers are people born between 1946-1952. Some sources say through 1955 but those last few years are kind of a gray area where sociologically it’s not quite as strong of a fit. If you go to wikipedia now it’ll say mostly 1946-1964 – but that’s just as wrong as calling someone born i 1979 a Millenial. I think they do it because they don’t want to have to deal with or explain gap years but people born in 1960 have a wildly different point of view on the world then those born in 1950. In exactly the same way that you pointed out you don’t share generational experiences with people 10 years younger than you. So, given those years of 1946-1952 then there’s a gap of an undefined generation from about 1953-1961. I think Generation Y are the children of Baby Boomers. Millenials are the children of the gap years.
It totally makes sense that you’d have been labeled Generation Y in the mid-80s. In part because the years changed. I was studying this 10 years ago for fun and I distinctly remember the years being different than most sources now. And also the term Millenial wasn’t coined until about 1987. It would totally make sense though that you’d share perspectives with both Y and Millenial because the cultural influences like 9/11 would impact you at the same age – but I think Millenials and Y bring a different context to it based on the values and worldview they acquired from their parents.
And yes, I think we have another gap because the world looks wildly different to a 14 year old than it does to someone who is 24. My years for Millenials that account for 16 year olds might even be too far back. You’ll have to write a blog post in 10 years about how you’re not actually a “whatever term comes next” 🙂
Kids born in 2000 can’t even drive yet, meanwhile all my friends are having babies. I love that – it’s such a great expression of why sociologist can’t just lump decades together. It doesn’t work.
If you moved to LA your degree would be totally practical. I’m not recommending such a move, I’m just saying 😉
Ha ha, well my husband would never go for a move to LA, and I never intended to move there anyway. I was hopeful more might come to the Nashville area, and it actually has, but I lost the heart for the medium. I just wanted to tell stories. It’s possible to get into, but it’s competitive and you have to put in a lot of crappy hours and really want it.
But back to the subject at hand, I think everything you said in reply to my comment makes sense. The thing about this topic is that it is always changing with time and unfolding so yeah, who knows what they’ll be saying 10 years from now or even less, since the parameters for generations used in my 2006 college history class were a little different then than they are now.
I guess I would be generation X??? I don’t even know. I have never felt apart of these labels. Personally I think they only one that really should get a title is baby boomers. To me they came from a generation where big things did happen and as a country we joined together. I suppose 9/11 kind of brought the country together but at the same time it ripped it apart. I don’t know … it is just hard for me to label myself.
That’s the thing with names and labels. What is for me a name can totally be a label for you. Which actually makes me realize something interesting. I was going to add that the impulse is similar – “Don’t put me in a box!” whether we’re casting off a label or pushing against the wrong name but saying I’m not a Millenial feels more like they’re turning a name into a label by categorizing me and lumping everyone together.
So, I don’t think you should label yourself as part of any generation if it doesn’t make you more of your true self – regardless of what year you were born 🙂
Okay, well, here’s a post I could converse on for days! Having a B.A. in Sociology and a M.A. in Guidance & Counseling this is right up my alley and the generational identity thing has always interested me. Let me further identify myself as a Boomer having been born in 1950, not the early group and certainly not the 1964 tail end which, although identified as Boomers, it’s been unfair to them because they didn’t fit as you have mentioned above. When the Beatles sang, “I Want To Hold Your Hand,” I was moving from Jr. High to High School which was the Doors, the Stones early stuff and the Iron Butterfly, by my freshman year in college it was smoking dope, bell bottoms, and CSNY, and hard revolutionary times. Someone above made the comment that the Boomer’s brought the country together, in reality the country couldn’t have been more polar, a generation totally pushing against and in opposition to their parents. In all fairness to our parents generation they had lived through the Great Depression, a period probably much harder than any of us realize today. From the Depression they went on into WWII and when they came home they married, had kids, and wanted more than anything for our generation to have no hardships, presto, a spoiled generation, raised with Walt Disney, Leave It to Beaver and everyone pictured their families as perfect because that’s what our parents were all working to achieve. In our later high school and early college life we began to enter “real life.” Much to our surprise life wasn’t Leave It to Beaver and despite what Walt had told us in every relationship we didn’t live, “happily ever after!” Ever told a spoiled child he isn’t going to get what he has been promised? What do you get – Rebellion!! You mentioned that a Boomer will think the party was thrown in their honor. I don’t think so. I think you are talking about personality quadrants and I’m guessing that one of your parents was/is a Promoter. There were certainly Boomers back then & today who would hardly think the party was in their honor. Having said that, I can’t help but remember at my daughter’s wedding that the parent age group, Boomers, were the primary individuals on the dance floor by a large margin for the evening and we were still going on the last song of the night. So I’ll agree with you to some extent on that one.
I know that all generations have many facets and Boomer’s do as well. Many times in my life I have had an individual say they would like to have been in our generation?? One thing I think we did was that we came together as one in a powerful way. I believe that is because of our common political causes and belief system, mostly pushing to get out of Vietnam which caused us to be bound so tightly. I have to say that the wars that some of your generations have gone through since were more or less for the same financial reasons, i.e. oil, etc., which government finances is what Vietnam was all about, no other generation has said, this is wrong! I believe a lot of that has to do with the fact that individuals today are not drafted; it’s a choice. None of this is to degrade anyone who has serviced our country, my son is among them. But you don’t understand the emotional upheaval that the draft caused in a person’s life. You just didn’t see people your own age shot by government agents, i.e. the National Guard. It gets a little crazy when that kind of stuff is going on around you. I’ve gotten a little off here, but it always takes me back a little when someone says, I wish I’d lived in that era.
Different facets and what’s up today? I’m a Happy Old Boomer, my facet happens to be along the lines of Mother Earth News, always has been. My life: in decent health, 10 acres, garden, chicken coop, wood shop, debt free, happily married, and have the greatest kids and grandkids in the world, and politically pretty darn hardcore conservative. Interesting how some of us have gone full circle, but in someways much the same as we always have been, by being strong in our verbalization about what we believe and hold dear. Things like democracy, true democracy; maybe that’s what we have always done. We said back then, the war is Bull S., it’s government corruption, it’s about money! Tell the truth!! Umm, sounds like we are still saying today! Tell the truth there’s a pretty big agenda going on. Maybe adamant is the word I am looking for. We are adamant about what we are adamant about.
One final comment. I mentioned grandkids. You know their generation is another Baby Boom and I guess they are saying it is a larger generation than ours. Now what do grandparents do? They spoil their grandkids. So let’s think about this, a spoiled, radical, adamant generation, now almost double spoiling their grandkids, because we know all about being spoiled, YIKES! Watch Out! Let’s see what this new Boomer bunch is going to be called and what will the social dynamics be?
I’m quite sure it will b a ride.
No, I don’t think anything beyond about about 1951 or 1952 really fits into the Boomer generation. In 1973 a 10 year old would have a wildly different perspective on the war than a 23 year old with the draft looming over them. After writing this article and discussing it in the comments I’ve come to think generation labels should be limited to a 5 or 10 year range. Because before you turn 30, even a few years difference in age can radically change how you perceive and react to a shared culture influence. Like Amy mentioned above with 9/11.
That’s part of what makes generations interesting to me – the way they shape the generations that come after. The perspective of how the parents of Boomers shaped them – what they went through with the Great Depression and WWII is a great addition to the conversation.
Yes, my individual upbringing plays into that line about Boomers thinking the party is thrown in their honor 🙂 But also I think my father played into it – as a sociologist he was much more aware that the media and the economy revolved around his generation than I think a lot of people his age may be.
That’s also an interesting observation about the draft affecting how different generations respond to wars. I think that probably does play a large role because while we’ve heard people disagree with the different wars in recent years, you haven’t really see the protest and the demonstrations of outcry and such vehement rebellion as a result. I think part of it also is a lesson our society learned in the wake of Vietnam. My understanding is that a lot of soldiers from Vietnam weren’t honored or respected for their part in the war – though a lot of them didn’t have any choice in the matter because of the draft. It’s a difficult balance to say “This is wrong!” to a war while still trying to support and honor the men and women fighting in that war.
And I’m also curious to see what comes next – what happens to the Millenials as they continue to mature and figure out that the world doesn’t work the way they expect (which is not a unique revelation to any generation but each generation changes in different ways). And how that will in turn affect the way they raise their children. And who the generation that is spoiled by a spoiled generation becomes.
I don’t know if I’d like to be called any of those names! But yes I agree so many times decades are grouped together when there is a pretty big difference.
I like the two fold nature of this post – both the conversations about generational distinctions and the difference between people who experience them as names and those who feel labelled by them. I totally don’t fault you if you don’t want to be called any of those 🙂
P.P.S. Okay, I admit it I stopped at the Sonic for a burger a couple of days ago, the day was crazy and I just needed to eat. The music playing was the Doors & then Hendrix and I had to leave. The popularity if Boomer music, I believe, goes way beyond the fact that there are so many of us and we are still around. I don’t believe that Boomers are the majority of Sonic Drive-ins, far from it and the people who work there who obviously aren’t Boomers and pick the music had picked “our’ music. Before I say more, I just wanted to throw that out and see what kind of ideas I get from younger people as to the popularity of Boomer music. Looking forward to hearing from you.
I think music is a whole other conversation 🙂 Because though it has strong ties to the generation of its origin, you have to also factor in the musicality. Boomers can claim the music of the 60s and early 70s (and rightly so) just as Gen X can claim the 90s. But the evolution of rock and roll was something that was happening, I think, in the music itself. I think you still hear a lot of the music from that time period, not because of the generational ties, but simply because it’s good music.
Though, who knows. When I was in Syracuse and Toronto I heard 80s music everywhere I went 🙂
My personal favorite is the claim that all gen xers are the progeny of baby boomers, and that millennials parents are generation x. If that’s the case, than that should make me part of generation x as my parents are both early boomers ( born 1946). I was born in 1982. That means that the first wave exers were born to boomers in their late teens to early twenties, and that the earliest millennials, were the products of mass teen pregnancies. ( the oldest xer being seventeen at most) These people are too funny. Multi level marketing has really gone to far. Thanks again, it wouldn’t so bad being part of Generation X after all.