In this day and age of judgmental labels and blaming everyone else, generations have taken to the headlines. Millennials are accused of everything from ruining housing, auto, and food industries to a decline in population growth. Meanwhile, Baby Boomers are often associated with the worst of political ideologies and outdated thinking.
It’s bad enough we critique, name, and fault others broadly, but most of the time we don’t even realize about who we are talking. The “generations” are huge categories that include vastly different people born over the decades, and they’ve long since changed.
Did you know that Baby Boomers supposedly include people who were teenagers during the Civil Rights movement as well as people born during it? That means the infamous teenager yelling at the Little Rock Nine in 1957 is somehow in the same “generation” as the most famous drag queen of all time, who wasn’t even born until 1960.
Similarly, Millennials supposedly stretches from those born in the early ’80s to the turn of the Millennium. There’s a huge difference between those now in their 30’s (who didn’t regularly use the Internet until their teens) and those currently graduating High School (who’ve had the Internet since they were little kids).
Based on recent articles about “in between” generations, I propose an entirely new set of labels. As usual, these should be used with a warning as they’re limited in how they’re applied. Not only are they from an American (and primarily middle-class white) point-of-view, but also each person’s life experiences vary thanks to family, race, gender, geography, etc. greatly.
Silent Generation (1925-1935)
These were individuals born during (or just before) the Great Depression. Many were children during that era and teenagers during WWII. Although some of the older ones may have served after Pearl Harbor, most didn’t reach adulthood until the Korean War; some may have served in Vietnam, but many were middle-aged towards the end.
The Silent Generation was industrious, having learned from their Depression-era parents, and filled the many fields growing during America’s “Golden Age.” They were the frontline behind the automotive and manufacturing plants, NASA and the Space Race, and rampant commercialism. Most were retired by the ’80s and ’90s, often with significant pensions.
Socially, this age group grew up in the middle of Jim Crow and were already entering middle-age by the time segregation ended. Many were used to a divided society and railed against change, even if they weren’t consciously bigoted. The Silent Generation was expected to adhere to traditional gender roles, and LGBT members were kept quiet.
Many of this time grew up with the silver screen and the era of film noir and Humphrey Bogart. They were born into swing, and their adolescence was filled with big bands, jazz, and crooners. That doesn’t mean they were backward, however, as they grew up with radios and drove the “future tech” of everything from microwaves to color television.
The Silent Generation gave birth to the Baby Boomers and X-Boomers, raising them in the expanding suburbias and changing landscapes of the ’50s and ’60s. They raised their kids during the Civil Rights Movement and were grandparents during the fall of the Soviet Union. For those still alive today, they’re senior citizens in their late-80’s/early-90’s, with great-grandchildren of their own.
Famous Silent Generation: Malcolm X, Hugh Hefner, Coretta Scott King, Maya Angelou, Martin Luther King Jr., Neil Armstrong, Leonard Nimoy, Johnny Cash, Dianne Feinstein, Carl Sagan
Silent Boomers (1935-1945)
These individuals are different from their older siblings and cousins because most were born at the end of the Depression and during World War II. Many were teenagers during the Korean War and McCarthyism and were young adults during the tumultuous era of the Civil Rights. No small number were drafted (or volunteered) into Vietnam.
The Silent Boomers were the first to taste America’s “Golden Age,” adolescents during the economic boom. Although they had a cornucopia of industries, jobs, and fields to choose from, they still learned from their Depression-era parents to work hard. Sadly, they were also the first to experience the decline of the manufacturing industry; those who went into more scientific and academic fields found things more comfortable as they retired in the ’90s and ’00s.
These individuals became grown-ups at the end of Jim Crow and were at the forefront of the Civil Rights debate, on both sides. Like the Silent Generation, they’d become used to segregation but were more flagrant about fighting (or enforcing) it. Although women began to join college and the workforce more often, gender roles remained strong, and the ’50s was a significant factor in frat behavior and rape culture. LGBT members remained hidden, and any overt behavior was considered scandalous, at least outside the more progressive regions.
This generation grew up in the era of drive-ins, sock hops, and “parking” (i.e., Lover’s Lane). Their teenage years were filled with rock and roll, pop crooners, and country western. They took family trips across the United States and watched as we landed on the moon.
The Silent Boomers gave birth to the X-Boomers and Gen-X, raising them in the urban and suburban neighborhoods of the ’60s and ’70s. Their kids grew up during the energy crisis, and they were grandparents by the end of the millennium. They are now senior citizens in their late-70’s/early-80’s, most retired but some still in the workforce.
Famous Silent Boomers: Elvis Presley, John McCain, Morgan Freeman, Kenny Rogers, Maury Povich, Nancy Pelosi, Bernie Sanders, Muhammad Ali, Robert De Niro, George Lucas
Baby Boomers (1945-1955)
Baby Boomers were born into economic prosperity but grew up in a tumultuous era socially. Children of the Civil Rights movement and teenagers of the counter-cultures, they were often divided between the extremes of traditionalism and progressive ideals. Many were drafted into Vietnam, and an equal number participated in the counter-cultures and protests of the era.
Baby Boomers faced a tough time, as they entered a stable workforce only to meet the energy crisis and the 1970’s recession a decade later. They struggled to maintain the lifestyles they’d grown up with and were more likely to blame “others” for their problems; if bigotry received a boost during the post-Civil Rights era, this generation was at the heart.
Children of the Civil Rights movement, they learned from the attitudes of their parents, either embracing the progressive ideals laid forth or clinging to ignorance, bigotry, and hate. They created second-wave feminism, with bra-burning and the fight for equality in the workplace, reproductive rights, and against rape culture. The LGBT community also saw liberation, starting with the Stonewall Inn riots, and many a gay Baby Boomer was responsible for starting the fight for rights.
This group grew up with psychological thrillers, spaghetti westerns, and James Bond. Music expanded significantly with the counter-culture, including folk, psychedelic rock, and funk. This generation refined computers and brought them into the main workforce, and even a few into our homes.
The Baby Boomers gave birth to Gen-X and X-ennials, raising them in the progressive ’70s and ’80s. Their kids grew up during the end of the Cold War, and they are the current grandparents of the youngest generations. They are now senior citizens in their late-60’s/early-70’s, but far less are retired than those before and many still work to support themselves and their families.
Famous Baby Boomers: Tom Selleck, Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, Samuel L. Jackson, Caitlyn Jenner, Dr. Phil, Robin Williams, Patrick Swayze, Hulk Hogan, Oprah Winfrey
X-Boomers differ from those a decade before as they missed much of the economic prosperity and cultural stability of the mid-20th century. They may have been born during it, but they were children during the Vietnam War and hippie protests. They spent their teenage years during the recession and energy crisis and didn’t become adults until the latter years of the Cold War.
This generation may not have had the best jobs, but they still enjoyed some of the prosperity after the recession. The ’80s was optimistic and technology-focused, plus rampant commercialism brought many entry-level and service positions. Unfortunately, those who stuck to manufacturing industries would eventually face a lack of work with the increase in automation.
Children of the tumultuous ’60s, by the time they were adults the world had changed racially, and they were more likely to have multicultural friends. Overt racism was driven to the more conservative regions, although even in the progressive cities subconscious and systemic racism kept a divide through the War on Drugs, Great White Flights, discriminatory neighborhood planning, and general white ignorance. Women of this generation gained more power, although still hit a glass ceiling, and the LGBT members became more open and flagrant (although often used as a joke in pop culture).
X-Boomers grew up with the raunchy comedy, gory horror, and ridiculous science-fiction of the ’70s. They were the disco generation, the first metalheads, and the beginning of the indie and punk scene. Most from this era worked with computers, the first cellphones, and even the nascent beginnings of the public Internet.
The X-Boomers gave birth to X-ennials and Millennials, raising them in the optimistic ’80s and the pessimistic ’90s. Their kids saw the Berlin Wall fall, and the Challenger explode; some are now grandparents while others are waiting. Most are considered senior citizens in their late-50’s/early’-60’s; only the wealthiest are close to retirement, however, while the lower classes struggle to keep up.
Famous X-Boomers: Bill Gates, Tom Hanks, Steve Harvey, Michael Jackson, Magic Johnson, RuPaul, Barack Obama, Tom Cruise, Rand Paul, Kamala Harris
Generation X (1965-1975)
Gen X was long considered those caught in-between. Born during the Vietnam War and children of the Cold War, they grew up surrounded by political and global turmoil. They were teenagers during the optimistic ’80s and adults during the pessimistic ’90s.
Most of this generation entered a workforce destroyed by Reaganomics, the rise of big corporations, and the collapse of the manufacturing industries. Unless you went into technology, retail, or service, you struggled to make a living. The “Golden Age” was over and Gen X faced some of the worst of the fallout.
This group may have become the beginning of breaking down racial barriers, as the divide became more economical and less about the color of skin. Racism still existed in many regions, but the lower and working-classes had no choice but to remain in diversifying communities. Women of this era were at the forefront of third-wave feminism, fighting not just for civil and ethical rights, but individual and diverse issues. LGBT members faced setbacks with DOMA but also began to expand their numbers beyond “gays and lesbians,” starting to recognize the spectrum of sexual orientation and gender identity.
Generation X grew up with science-fiction and adventure blockbusters, the original Star Wars children; every movie-maker catered toys and comics to them, even the R-rated ones. Big hair and make-up invaded pop and rock, while the cities were filled with early rap and hip-hop. This era embraced technological advancement, from computers and the Internet in homes to the first gaming consoles.
Generation X gave birth to Millennials and Z-ennials, raising them during the technological advancement of the ’90s and ’00s. Their kids witnessed the end of the millennium but also 9/11 and the Patriot Act. These parents are middle-aged now, in their late-40’s/early-50’s, but most are nowhere near retirement (whether they want to be or not).
Famous Generation X: Robert Downey Jr., Adam Sandler, Julia Roberts, Will Smith, Corey Booker, Mariah Carey, Marco Rubio, Dwayne Johnson, Rachel Maddow, Leonardo DiCaprio
X-ennials are the younger, more progressive and technologically adept siblings to Gen X. Children of the ’80s, teenagers of the ’90s, and adults at the turn of the millennium, they were directly affected by the advent of modern technology and the Internet. They’ve experienced a railroad of economic, societal, and global events, that has often left them pessimistic and pragmatic.
While Gen X faced the brunt of the economic disaster from the 90’s recession, X-ennials got screwed by the growth of big corporations, through both for-profit colleges and an increasing wage gap. Entry-level positions no longer provided enough to save (or even live comfortably) and entire industries rose and faded overnight like fads. Those who were lucky enough to get the right opportunities did alright, but more were lost to debt and dead-end jobs.
Socially, X-ennials were even more progressive than the previous decade, already used to mixed social circles; bigotry was more often confined to geographic regions or social circles. Women in this group grew up with third-wave feminism and now champion the fourth-wave; they’re now at the forefront of the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements. LGBT members helped push for marriage equality, created new labels and acronyms, and are far more open in general society (even if they still face risks).
Teenagers of two worlds, they grew up with both the Disney Renaissance and the dark, cynical indie films. They expressed their worldview with grunge, alternative rock, industrial, and many cross-genre musical artists and acts. By the time they were adults, the majority had computers, the Internet, and cellphones, and they were responsible for massively multiplayer games and social media.
X-ennials gave birth to Z-ennials and Generation Z, the teenagers and children of today. Their kids were raised almost entirely in the 21st century and immersed in technology. These are the adults in their late-30’s/early-40’s, either active in their community and local issues or trying merely to keep their families afloat.
Famous X-ennials: Angelina Jolie, Ryan Reynolds, Kanye West, James Franco, Chris Pratt, Kim Kardashian, Beyoncé, Nicki Minaj, Chris Hemsworth, Meghan McCain
Millennials are the driving force behind current societal change, economically, technologically, and culturally. Children of the late-90’s and turn-of-the-millennium, they were just kids when 9/11 and the Patriot Act happened, teenagers during the rise of social media, and became adults during the political turmoil of the past decade.
The current corporatocracy defines Their jobs and economy; they either specialized (often entering the public sector) or they found themselves at the whims of big retail or small business. Regardless, they’re focused on paying off the endless debt dumped on the middle and lower-class, often putting off relationships and children; many still live with their parents or rent rooms with peers.
This generation may be the most diverse adults, the children of interracial marriages and immigrants; the vast majority champion racial issues like #BlackLivesMatter and many are “social justice warriors.” Unfortunately, no small number react in opposition to progress, either out of boredom, ignorance, or mental illness; spurred on by the anonymity and distance of Internet communication, many in this age group are GamerGaters, MRAs, and incels.
Millennials began with the latest in film technology, with huge blockbusters that were incapable of being made a mere decade or two earlier. They were driven by the music of the ’00s, particularly pop, club/dance, and hip-hop. Technologically, they’ve never known a world without the Internet, even if they still remember its painful earlier years.
Those in this generation who did become parents are currently raising Generation Z and those beyond. Their children have never known a world without technology and information at their fingers, but they also ensure their kids are educated in globalist and multicultural ideas. Millennials are adults in their late-20’s/early-30’s, and they’re becoming a significant presence in politics, business, and community leadership.
Famous Millennials: Bruno Mars, Lady Gaga, Kendrick Lamar, Rihanna, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Jennifer Lawrence, Emma Roberts, Tomi Lahren, Ariana Grande, Justin Bieber
Z-ennials are the high schoolers and young adults of our current era, growing up in a post-9/11 world. As children, they’ve known nothing but turmoil (and US intervention) in the Middle East and spent their adolescence watching the political divide in America grow worse.
Those who have jobs often find only the lowest positions, often in commercial and service industries. Unless they have wealthy parents or scholarships, college is too expensive, and many go straight from high school into the workforce. Most continue to live with their parents after graduation, as their jobs won’t support them on their own.
Socially, Z-ennials are the most diverse, multicultural, inclusive, and progressive generation (barring their younger siblings). They embrace the LGBT community (and more come out as members than previous age groups), fight against gender roles and rape culture, and champion social justice. Bigoted and “anti-SJW” Z-ennials are often trolls who hide behind anonymity or simply ignorant individuals from traditionalist families and communities.
This generation has it all when it comes to movies and television; they grew up with Disney running Star Wars and Marvel, they’ve known cable and streaming services, and they’ve had entertainment on big screen TVs and in the palm of their hands. They’re used to pop music that crosses genres, often enveloping rap, R&B, club/dance, Latin, J-Pop, etc.; many are also obsessed with their parents’ music from the ’90s. Z-ennials are used to having smartphones and WiFi, tapped continuously into the Internet, and immediate gratification like same-day pick-ups and 2-day shipping.
Very few in this generation are parents; those that are raising the youngest of Gen Z (and those beyond) and fighting for a better world.
Famous Z-ennials: Kendall Jenner, Zendaya, Malala Yousafzai, Jayden Smith, Chandler Riggs, Noah Cyrus, Rowan Blanchard, Maddie Ziegler, Malina Weissman, Millie Bobby Brown
Generation Z (2005-2015)
At this point, we’ve come to the actual children of the 21st century, the kids of X-Ennnials and Millennials, (including current celebrities). Whenever people discuss (or mock) “the youth of today,” these are the people on who they should be focusing.
Gen Z has grown up never knowing an age without smartphones, cable television, or WiFi. Their schools have tablets, their houses have DVRs, and they’re used to instant gratification when it comes to information or entertainment.
We can’t easily make any predictions yet on the working habits, politics, or social movements, as the eldest in this group are just becoming teenagers. Still, they mirror Z-ennials in being extraordinarily diverse and open-minded, with many growing up with educated, progressive parents and no small number being raised in mixed-race, multi-faith, or LGBT households.
Similarly, being so young, even musical tastes or film and television are still in the air. About the only commonality is Gen Z can find whatever they (or their parents) want within seconds, and put on the television, tablet, or phone.
Gen Z is the one true hope for society to progress beyond the bigoted ideologies and divisive politics that plague America today. That is if there’s even an ecosystem left that will support them on this planet…
Famous Generation Z: Ruby Rose Turner, Barron Trump, Ariana Greenblatt, Mia Talerico, Peyton Evans, Cristiano Ronaldo Jr., Maya Le Clark, Blue Ivy Carter, North West, Royalty Brown, Princess Charlotte
Interesting stuff! Strauss & Howe tried to handle this via “leading wave” and “trailing waves” for their longer generations – Atari vs. Nintendo generation, for instance.