I was recently in a meeting when I noticed a few people throwing around generation references. ‘This message would be perfect for Baby Boomers’… ‘Yes, but the platform is widely used by Generation X’ … ‘What about Millennials?’…
Then someone uttered something about Gen Z and I realised:
I had absolutely no idea what anyone was talking about.
In a world full of marketing jargon, buzzwords and trends, I wonder if any of us truly know what this all means. Without knowing the etymology, I fear that we’re increasingly trapping ourselves in a box with lots of fancy words being spoken in order to sound clever, but without truly knowing what we’re saying.
‘I should know this!’ I thought. So, I did do a bit of homework. At the very least, I should really know some key points about these generational demographics, rather than just assuming. As many of us feel from time to time, I felt silly asking a room full of people what they all actually mean…
As I was learning, I was surprised to find, most people didn’t know all that much about these terms either. Not even the most experienced people! When questioned, they didn’t know nearly as much as it suggested back in the meeting and most of them didn’t know what generation demographic they actually slotted into. I gave a big sigh of relief – I wasn’t alone!
I thought I’d share my workplace epiphany with you by listing out the generations below, with dates and few bullets for each. Treat it a bit like a horoscope plus a big pinch of salt. There are some sweeping generalisations where elements might ring true, whilst others seem like a load of ol’ codswallop. There are some too that might just lead you to think ‘this sounds just like me!’ even though you’re not reading your own generation.
Either way, it’s an interesting read – especially bearing in mind the older generations that few people these days are aware even had names. If you take nothing else away from this, remember, it’s okay to admit that you don’t know something! It’s an opportunity to learn – just make sure you look up the answers!
Generational Demographic Categories:
The Lost Generation: 1880s – 1900s
- Lost in this respect means disoriented, wandering, directionless—a recognition that there was great confusion and aimlessness among World War I’s survivors in the early post-war years.
- The term was popularised by Ernest Hemingway.
G.I. Generation: 1900s – 1920s
- Also known as the WWII Generation, The Depression Cohort, The Greatest Generation in the United States, Federation Generation in Australia and the Republic Generation in Turkey.
- The term was coined due to World War II; the initials ‘G.I.’ is military terminology referring to ‘Government Issue’ or ‘General Issue’.
Silent Generation: 1920s – 1940s
- Across the pond more so than here, the ‘Silents’ were named because although there were many civil rights leaders in the US at this time, the majority chose to keep their heads down and focus on their careers rather than on activism.
- Overall, this generation was largely encouraged to conform to social norms and many felt it dangerous to speak out.
- While the ambitions of this generation had shrunk, it had benefitted by learning to make the best of bad situations.
Below are the more well-known and current generations, which feature prominently in marketing strategies and planning…
Baby Boomers: 1940s – 1960s
- Baby Boomers are associated with a rejection or redefinition of traditional values.
- In Europe and North America, ‘Boomers’ are widely associated with privilege, as many grew up in a time of widespread government subsidies in post-war housing and education, and increasing affluence.
- As a group, Baby Boomers were the wealthiest, most active and most physically fit generation up to the era in which they arrived and were amongst the first to grow up genuinely expecting the world to improve with time.
- They were also the generation that received peak levels of income; they could, therefore, reap the benefits of abundant levels of food, apparel, retirement programmes and sometimes even “midlife crisis” products. The increased consumerism for this generation has been regularly criticised as excessive.
- Another feature of the ‘Boomers’ is that they have tended to think of themselves as a special generation. Very different from those that had come before.
Generation X: 1960s/1980s (depending on who you talk to) – 1990s
- Occasionally referred to as the ‘Baby-busy Generation’, due to post-dating the Baby Boomers. They were born during a period of lower birth-rates.
- As adolescents and young adults, they were dubbed the ‘MTV Generation’, in reference to the music video channel of the same name.
- Members of this group grew up during a time of shifting societal values. As children, they were sometimes called the “latchkey generation”, due to reduced adult supervision when compared to previous generations. This is namely a result of increasing divorce rates and increased maternal participation in the workforce, prior to widespread availability of childcare options outside the home.
- In the 1990s, Gen X was sometimes characterised as slackers, cynical and disaffected. However, in midlife, research describes them as active, happy, and achieving a work-life balance, often with entrepreneurial tendencies.
Millennials: 1990s – early 2000s
- Also known as ‘Generation Y’.
- Due to often being the children of the Baby Boomers and a major surge in birth-rates during the 1980s and 1990s, Millennials are sometimes referred to as the ‘Echo Boomers’.
- Depending on region and social and economic conditions, this grouping is generally marked by an increased use and familiarity with communications, media, and digital technologies.
- In most parts of the world, their upbringing was marked by an increase in a liberal approach to politics and economics.
- The Great Recession has had a major impact on this generation because it has caused historically high levels of unemployment among young people, which has led to speculation about possible long-term economic and social damage to this generation.
Generation Z: early 2000s – present day
- Numerous additional competing names used in connection with them in the media, such as iGeneration, Centennials, Post-Millennials and Homeland Generation.
- Most of Generation Z have used the Internet since a young age. They are generally comfortable with technology and with interacting on social media.
- This generation is still forming, so watch this space…