Understanding the Seven Living Generations In the United States
Want a more creative team that can resolve challenges with creative solutions? It’s all about diversity. While race and gender diversity are often at the top of the list, one frequently overlooked, but equally important type of diversity is generational diversity. Learning about what it is and why it’s important can make a huge impact on your organization’s ability to hire and retain talent, improve employee morale, and create an inclusive workplace where everyone feels belonging.
Ageism, or age discrimination, is the practice of prejudice, stereotyping, or discrimination against a person based on their age. While you may think it is the older generations that are most affected, this Glassdoor survey found that employees between 18-34 years had experienced ageism the most.
In the United States, there are currently seven distinct living generations. As a common group, similarities exist due to collective experiences which are demonstrated in general likes, dislikes, behaviors, and attributes. Understanding these general characteristics can help your organization communicate more effectively and leverage the power behind a multigenerational workforce.
1901-1926 - GI Generation or The Greatest Generation
This is a generation of doers. Children of WWI, survivors of the Great Depression, and the fighters in WWII have shown this generation to be models of teamwork that tackle challenges and overcome adversity. Some would say they saved the world and built a nation.
This generation is patriotic, loyal, and civic-minded. Faced with an environment of scarcity, they have a savers mentality and power through life and all its challenges with a firm moral compass. This generation was raised without modern conveniences like electricity, refrigerators, and air conditioning. They remember life before the airplane, radio, and television.
1927-1945 - The Mature/Silent Generation or Traditionalist Generation
A generation of hardworking, self-sacrificing, and disciplined people, the silent generation was raised in an era of suffocating conformity that was followed by post-war peace which brought jobs, stability, and loyalty to those that gave them a chance at “the great American dream.”
“Traditional” value sets were established for women and men. Women stayed home to raise the children while the men worked for the same company for their entire lives. Thrifty in all things, this generation prefers to work within and make the best of what is as opposed to affecting major changes. This generation served in the Korean War, worried about the spread of communism with McCarthyism and the Red Scare, and experienced the first hopeful drumbeats of the Civil Rights movement.
1946-1964 - The Baby Boomers or the “Me” Generation
Baby Boomers can be subdivided into the “save-the-world” revolutionaries of the 1960s and ’70s and the party-hard career-climbing yuppies of the 1970s and ’80s. This generation ushered in free love and “non-violent” protests which triggered upheavals to traditional values and violence in the name of peace.
The “me” generation is seen as self-righteous and self-centered, optimistic, driven, and team-oriented. Contrary to prior generations, they are free-spending so they can enjoy life now. They were too busy to build strong loyalties to one company or push for common-good changes within their singular communities. However, they were eager for national acceptance of civil rights and the LGBTQ+ community.
Baby Boomers are one of the largest generations in history with 77 million people whose aging has changed the U.S. Retirement became an opportunity to travel, take up hobbies, and exercise which increased this generation’s longevity thus overextending natural resources, creating a need for larger supply chains, and identifying a shortage of workers across industries.
1965-1980* - Generation X
A Generation X’er is the “latch-key” kid that grew up in a single-parent household or with both parents working. This generation falls in the middle of the analog and digital ages. Most were not introduced to computers until high school. Their formative years included an increase in television and video viewing hours and were plagued by drug use countered by the D.A.R.E campaign. This was also the generation to experience the spread of AIDS, which was the first infectious disease not subjected to quarantine.
Generation X is entrepreneurial and self-reliant. They have a cynical view of major institutions like marriage which they believe failed their parents and themselves. They are, however, determined to “make the marriage work” and “be there” for their children unlike their parents, but at the same time are the first generation to be permissive toward cohabitation and divorce. This generation is committed to themselves as opposed to a company or career. Their focus is on their neighborhood and not the world which translated to a strong sense of individual rights prevailing over the common good; especially if it pertains to minority rights. While many thrive as team players, they want and need autonomy in their work environment to thrive.
1981 to 2000* - Generation Y or Millennials
Generation Y is distinctly different from Generation X. Nurtured by omnipresent parents, this generation is focused, optimistic, and set high expectations for themselves to achieve. They were told repeatedly they were special and expect others to recognize them for what they do. This generation saw falling crime rates and low teen pregnancy rates, but they learned at a young age that the world was not safe with the rise of school safety issues.
Millennials view the world as a 24/7 place. With unlimited access to information and the majority of their socialization done online, they want things to happen quickly and expect others to schedule and plan accordingly. In the workplace, Generation Y prefers a relaxed environment, working in teams, and assurances that they are doing things right. They want accolades and expect to be guided through challenges or unfamiliar situations.
2001 to 2010* - Generation Z or Boomlets
Generation Z is the most ethnically diverse generation in the United States. With a record number of births in 2006 and nearly 50% of them to Hispanic families, this generation exceeds the baby boom birth rate of the 1950s and ‘60s. Generation Z is a digital generation. They have never known a world without social media, computers, and cell phones which has created a trend for kids to “grow up” earlier than previous generations. They leave toys behind at a younger age in favor of digital games and web-based learning.
Generation Z’ers are savvy consumers. They know what they want and how to get it. They have been saturated with brands, advertisements, and information. Over $50 billion is spent every year by members of Generation Z and an additional $170 billion by parents and family members for them.
This generation is beginning to enter the workforce en masse and wants a company culture that values social justice, diversity, and global citizenship. They are competitive and driven and want to be recognized for their value to the organization. They expect good compensation packages coupled with quality-of-life bonuses, including generous PTO and flexible working conditions.
2010+* - Generation Alpha
What characterizes Generation Alpha is still emerging. This generation is expected to be the best-educated, wealthiest, and most technologically-immersed generation. Their early childhood was defined by the Coronavirus pandemic which many believe will be a “defining moment” in the core values of this generation.
Diversity is a key descriptor for Generation Alpha. Single-family households are on the rise creating identifying factors in family structure and finances. The census population projections estimate that the United States will become minority-white by 2045 creating identifying factors in race and ethnicity. Generation Alpha are still children. There is little we can glean now from their political, cultural, or socially-minded ideals.
There are no absolutes when generalizing groups of people. Their values and behaviors will fall both inside and outside the typical identifying factors. We offer this information as a tool and guideline to help you better understand human behaviors.
The more you understand generational diversity, the more successful you will be at communicating effectively, leading strong teams, and building a culture of inclusion and belonging that meets the needs of each generation.
Reach out to The Folke Institute for more information.
*Dates for Generation X, Y, Z, and Alpha change depending on what reference you use
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Child population by race and ethnicity and age group | KIDS COUNT Data Center. (n.d.). https://datacenter.kidscount.org/data/tables/8446-child-population-by-race-and-ethnicity-and-age-group
Children in single-parent families | KIDS COUNT Data Center. (n.d.). https://datacenter.kidscount.org/data/tables/106-children-in-single-parent-families?loc=1
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The Annie E. Casey Foundation. (2020, November 4). What Is Generation Alpha? https://www.aecf.org/blog/what-is-generation-alpha
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