There are several key markers that help sociologists, demographers and other social scientists delineate between generations. On the surface, it is a subjective, arbitrary line, but in the minds of some, there are distinct characteristics possessed by the majority of the people who comprise a particular generation versus the ones prior to and subsequent to their generation.
Personally, I don’t get into the “Generation X, Y, Z” talk. There is old school, a melding of old school and new school, and then there are just putrid (mostly, not all) millennials.
What Makes a Generation?
Beyond the shared characteristics (generally) of the majority of people within a generation, there is a very key marking point that should be utilized: when did this generation “come of age” and when did they generally move away from their halcyon days (i.e. virtually little to no responsibilities, nothing but focus on having fun, without beginning their first jobs or facing the pressures of deciding to go to college, the military or go directly into a career, become parents for the first time and take on the responsibilities of an adult). Most often, in order to hold to the “Halcyon Days” axiom, people reach this point between the ages of 14-18; between the beginning of high school and the point where they complete high school. So generally speaking, a generation eclipses the previous sometime within a 14 to 18-year period. When a person begins to look back and say, “Well, back in my day, we did this…” and become wistful (or simply wince when observing subsequent generations), you know that at least one generation has elapsed since this person came of age. Keep that in mind here — while this is not a hard line rule.
Generation X/Baby Boomers (1945-1964).
Many demographers agree that there was a distinct shift in generational characteristics between Roaring 20’s/Great Depression people, and those who were born immediately after World War II. Most would not argue this, as people who grew up in the 1920s and 1930s had very little optimism and spent more time strictly trying to do whatever it took to survive. People born from 1945 until the early 1960s were the product of a generation rife with new optimism and opportunities. They came of age during the age of optimism, the space age, counterculture, Civil Rights and an era of great social change. Most would agree that people born between 1945-1964 share a great in common than their immediate predecessors and the very distinctly different generation that came behind them. There were no video games available, there were great changes in automobiles, television (which came into being along with them) and radio were the primary forms of media. Computers were in their very infancy, and only used by those at the highest levels of government. A great number of these people married and became parents in high school, immediately after high school and, while holding onto a good number of the previous generation’s ideals, became pioneers for social change (for better and for worse) with regards to inter-gender relations, parenting styles and the work environment, along with other avenues.
“Generation X” is too rigid to affix to this entire group of people, because while they share relatively little in common with what I will label as the next generation (people born from the late 1960s until the early 1980s), demographers often lump people born in that subsequent generation in with millennials, when the differences between the people born in the late 1960s, 1970s and early 1980s are even more stark than the latter’s differences with Baby Boomers.
Generation Next/Generation X, Part II (1965-1984).
Another characteristic of Baby Boomer families is that it was the last vestige of the “Large Family.” Subsequent generations’ families have become increasingly smaller. As a result of this fallout, parents who were born prior to World War II and had children during the Baby Boom period (if not throughout the entire period, which large families often did) had a wide range in age with their children; the youngest of these children overlapping with the next generation, and are often closely intertwined with that new generation.
This generation became even more individually-focused and the background of their life was marked with growths in media, ranging from animation, computers, video games, changes in music (which are also distinct with generations, which will be noted later), the proliferation of professional sports and its effect on this generation, and of course, the requisite changes in lifestyle, mentality, adaptation in automobiles, and other factors that marked the “coming of age” of this generation. When these people “aged out” of this generation, a subsequent generation came into being: not quite “millennials”, but a melding of “Generation Next” or “Generation X, Part II” and millennial tendencies; often the youngest siblings or very youngest cousins of the aforementioned generation, who experienced the last vestiges of late 60s/70s and early 80s’ life, while helping usher in another full generation.
Generation Next/X, Part II watched individual sports stars rise to global stardom such as Julius Erving, Joe Namath, Muhammad Ali, up to Michael Jordan, Wayne Gretzky and Mike Tyson. The latter half of this generation grew as computers grew. Those born in the late 1970s were introduced to school for the first time, just as computers were introduced into schools at the exact same time. Personalized sneakers for star players became prevalent (and those born in the same year as me could mark the grade in which they were in during grammar school with the “number” for the Air Jordan sneaker throughout the years; for instance, the Air Jordan I debuted while I was in 1st grade, the Air Jordan XII debuted when I was in the 12th grade).
Music became heavily synthesized and moved away from exclusively soul, rhythm, doo-wop and other forms from the previous generation, while serving as an amalgamation of those styles, along with disco, in order to form new wave pop music, Minneapolis Sound (popularized by Prince) and eventually, New Jack Swing, soft rock and Hair Bands. This generation reached new levels of individualism (for better or for worse, as the worse set the stage for the overly entitled millennial generation), began to embrace having children outside of the confines of marriage, as single parenthood became less stigmatized, and family sizes generally began to decline with this generation; as people put off marriage later than ever during this generation — if not putting it off completely (until a mid-life crisis for many who are on the back end of this generation now regret their decisions, realizing that their options are more limited, and the female members of the back end of the generation who came of age during this time are at a point where they realize that they cannot have children without huge inherent risks; a shift in mentality not commonly seen in previous generations in recorded history). All of these factors came to shape the subsequent generation. There also became a heavier premium placed upon looks, to the exclusion of many, and a certain superficiality became prevalent in many facets of life, which truly exploded and became more commonplace in the subsequent generation, as well.
Generation Y/Millennials (1985-2004).
Those who “straddle the fence” are those who are the oldest cousins of this generation, or the youngest siblings of the previous generation. As such, they possess a good deal of shared experiences and “throwback memories” that the previous generation possesses, while they also experienced a much different setting as they matriculated through grade school. Music, as it always does from generation to generation, began a noticeable shift to mafioso rap, canned, manufactured (and decidedly less talented) “artists”, shallow brandishing of material gains and a new attitude pervaded the mentality of the professional athletes that were born during this generation. Previous generations often bemoaned the “Money first, play for the love of the game secondary” mentality that became more prevalent, as player salaries exploded. Shows of excesses of wealth pervaded through media, and shaped the mentality of many — even if unrecognized — as the individualism that has now become the staple of American life hit its apex. The children of this generation (born roughly since 2000, but especially since 2004) share almost nothing in common with the previous two generations outside of the obvious ties that bind.
The back end of this generation is coming of age as we speak. The majority of the generation was born after 1990, and those are the people entering the workforce for the first time. As a product of increasingly selfish and individualized parent(s), coddled by excesses and being disciplined in a starkly different manner than the previous generations, this generation is more entitled than ever. This generation is in love with the idea of being a “boss”, possessing titles and desiring the benefits of hard work without ever putting in the work. As is the case with, well, the generalizations of generations, these speak for the majority, not all members of the generation.
This generation is generally oblivious (whether consciously so, or simply so conditioned to be self-focused that they incapable of achieving emotional intelligence that it may never occur for many) to the welfare, sentiments and effects that their actions have on others that they generally adapt a mentality that says, “The world revolves around me, and your rights and feelings stop where mine begin.” No further evidence is necessary than my own personal experiences living in my current apartment complex: a rather expensive (for Charlotte, but dirt cheap as compared with back home in New York) subdivision that is comprised of students of Charlotte School of Law, Johnson & Wales University, Queens College, Johnson C. Smith University and a few from UNC Charlotte. The rest are people who hold down full-time jobs. The great majority are undergraduate students — a few of them are 18, 19-year old freshmen and sophomores — and they comport themselves as if they are in a dorm environment. There are people who are paying upwards of $1,200 per month to have a supposedly decent place to live, while they work or attend law school or some other graduate program. The millennials who live here are spoiled brats whose parents gladly pay over $1,000/month just to get them out of their house, and continue coddling them with a cushy living environment, rather than having them live on campus around people their age — where relationships and lifelong friendships can be developed (further evidence of the individualization that has grown further in the past 35 years, as people become more shut off and lone wolves). These people are totally oblivious to their excessive levels of noise and drunken/drug-induced behavior relative to people who work a “9 to 5”. On the weekends in this place, there is no sleep to be had, as there is constant noise from 1 AM until there is full-blown noise by 9 AM Friday through Sunday. For law school students and “working stiffs” that spells doom. Despite warnings and threats both from other tenants, the property management office and the peace officers who live on site (since they love the cushy amenities here), these people persist with their activities every night as if they are freshmen who snuck off to get trashed at a frat party off campus. Oblivious and unconcerned, they continue.
This is a mentality that the previous three or four generations that are still alive today look at and view with wincing pain, shuddering to think what would have occurred had they comported themselves in such a manner when they were the age of these millennials today. The entitlement leaks into the workplace, where, led by images in music, television and other media (which now shapes generations and tells people how/what to think more than ever), they truly believe that going to college guarantees a job, and walk into interviews with an entitled mindset that they will get the job solely on the strength of possessing a degree and being the child of so and so in middle management. This is the account of multitudes of hiring managers who express their experiences in the blogosphere and other outlets. This is not a skewed and individual observation. Attitudes toward work, developing business on the part of millennials is even starkly different to the immediate prior generation, never mind Baby Boomers and Depression Era people who are still alive today.
Generation Z (2004 – Present).
These children have not come of age yet, but most of them arrived on their first day of school with cell phones, by necessity in most cases, and know nothing outside of a heavily digitzed life. Playing outside is an option, not the chief desire, as was the case with previous generations. The lines are blurred between virtual reality (video games) and actual tactile life. That man is not your maker, kids (some will get this pun). I shudder to think of what will happen with this generation. They have been set up to fail by their parents, by government mishandling of taxes and international affairs, and they have been shielded almost completely from the character-developing experiences that were commonplace even two generations prior to theirs. However, every previous generation has failed their offspring and subsequent generations. Music is abhorrent trash, so is most television and movies, and much like people who came along prior to this generation and that of millennials, it is the first time that wistful, waxing nostalgic of the halcyon days and bemoaning the way things are today as compared to those generations’ halcyon days is LEGITIMATE instead of griping of jealous older people, as was the case as recently as the Generation Next’s generation coming of age, when most of the groaning by older generations was unfounded, if not hypocritical.
This is not so, today, and previous generations have no one to blame but themselves.