According to The Center for Generational Kinetics, “A generation is a group of people born around the same time and raised around the same place. People in this ‘birth cohort’ exhibit similar characteristics, preferences, and values over their lifetimes.”
Generations of people often share some similar characteristics based on what the economy was like, parenting styles/trends of the time, what technology existed as they grew up, and what the major cultural influences were. Because members of a generation experienced these things at the same time the generation shares a general outlook.
Also, major events that occur during one’s middle school and high school years have a major impact on worldview and helps define the generation. Events that are of the “where were you when X happened” are generation-defining events. For example, for Gen X’ers the Challenger disaster looms large and for Boomers the assassination of JFK was a watershed moment.
The most common categorization of American generations is:
- Gen Z, iGen, or Centennials: Born 1996 – TBD
- Millennials or Gen Y: Born 1977 – 1995 (note that these people are 25-43 now!)
- Generation X: Born 1965 – 1976
- Baby Boomers: Born 1946 – 1964
- Traditionalists or Silent Generation: Born 1945 and before
I am sure that the COVID-19 pandemic is an event that will have a huge effect on Generation Z as it is occurring during most of their formative years. Maybe this pandemic will cause another generational divide: Gen Z’s who remember this pandemic and the younger cohort coming after Gen Z who weren’t born or are too young for it to be memorable.
Of course, the pandemic will have a big effect on all of us regardless of generation and will likely rank up with 9/11 as a major event for all the generations.
What other events have shaped the generations? Here are the results of a Pew Research Center survey from 2016 on this topic:
So, 9/11 was a major event for all generations, but looking down the lists there is a bigger dispersion, with the older generations listing JFK’s and MLK’s assassinations as landmark events while the younger generations found Obama’s election, the Iraq/Afghanistan wars and school shootings as more impactful.
A final point: technology has a big impact on generations. My generation, Gen X, is the last generation that remembers a pre-internet world. Millennials remember a pre-smartphone world while Gen Z only knows a fully connected world.