How do you differ from those of a younger generation? What factors shaped you and your age group? How have those factors changed since you were growing up? Is there any predictability possible regarding emerging generations? Significant statistics and theories begin to answer these questions.
The first and most used definition of generation according to Encarta World English Dictionary is a “group of contemporaries, all of the people who were born at approximately the same time, considered as a group, and especially when considered as having shared interests and attitudes…”
The term, generations, is also used of technical levels of product development. Wikipedia’s article, “Generation,” distinguishes our present use of the term as “cultural generation.” We are interested here in what have been called, the Boomer Generation, Generation X (Gen X) and GenY or the Millennial Generation.
William Strauss and Neil Howe are the theoreticians most quoted and relied upon with their comprehensive outlines historical generations. From ancient times, civilizations tried to make sense of social change. Strauss and Howe bring into their theory of generational change the ancient Roman sense of saeculum (roughly century) and the Greek idea of genos (generation). They note the biblical use of the word, generation, specifically, “… a new generation arose after them who did not know the Lord or the work He had done for Israel.” (Judges 2:10)
Here’s what one Amazon reviewer said of Strauss and Howe’s early 1992 Generations: The History of America’s Future, 1584 to 2069.
A friend of mine lent me this book in 2002. Skeptical about any book purporting to predict the future, I immediately read their predictions section—after all, the book was published ten years before. To my surprise, I found their predictions for 1992-2002 were largely correct! So I started again, at the beginning. The book is a work of genius.
There are many favorable reviews of this book, including those of former Vice-President, Al Gore. At the same time there are significant doubters. Michael Lind, of The New York Times described Howe and Strauss’ theories as “vague” and “pseudoscience.” Publishers Weekly went so far as to compare the book to “a newspaper horoscope.” Arthur Levine, former president of Columbia Teachers’ Colleges gave a more moderate and cautious opinion:
Generational images are stereotypes. There are some differences that stand out, but there are more similarities between students of the past and of the present. But if you wrote a book saying that, how interesting would that book be? (from Wikipedia “Strauss-Howe generational theory”)
The over-arching reality, however, is that many keen cultural critics have picked up on the generalizations which these theories give us. Most accept the general trajectory of generations: Boomer, GenX, Millennials. (Jean Twenge’s (2006) Generation Me: Why Today’s Young Americans Are More Confident, Assertive, Entitled—and More Miserable Than Ever Before and John Palfre & Urs Gasser’s (2008) Born Digital: Understanding the First Generation of Digital Natives would be just two examples who use some form of generational understanding.)
Without going more deeply into the Strauss-Howe theories, tracking turnings and generations over 500 years, here are their descriptions of the last few Generations, delineated by Type, Birth Years, and Formative Eras:
Silent Generation (Builders), Artist (Adaptive), 1925-1942, Crisis: Great Depression and World WarII
(Baby) Boom Generation, Prophet (Idealist), 1943-1960, High: Superpower America
New Silent Generation/GenZ, Artist (Adaptive) 2005-202?, Crisis: Global Financial Crisis, War of Terror, and Globalization
Questions for Reflection and Discussion
1. Do you see enough helpful insights here to use cautiously in describing the flow of youthful generations, or would you discard such theories and labels entirely?
2. If you have already studied generational theory, what do you have to add to this very brief introduction? (We would be glad to add to this article.)
3. Would you like to learn more about these theories? (Google, YouTube www.youtube.com/watch?v=HV92Hsk0l4Q, accessed 27Mar2012, and Wikipedia have helpful material, if you are not inclined to read one of the books of these authors.)
We have been helped to understand trends and certain leading characteristics in using, cautiously and with reservations, the general main points from Howe and Strauss—and others.