Understanding The Five Generations Alive in 2019
Updated: Jan 15
As of 2019, the oldest human alive in the United States is Alelia Murphy, standing proudly at 114 years old. Alelia has seen 20 presidents and two world wars. She’s lived at a time when alcohol was illegal, when abortion was illegal, and when she didn’t even have a right to vote—only to later see that same world where all of those freedoms were rightfully in her hands. She knew America without Barbie dolls, credit cards, and refrigerators.
Now, she can send her grocery list from her fridge to her smartphone and then order groceries for same-day delivery.
Nearly 250 babies are born every minute. So by the time you finish reading this sentence, 250 babies are assuming the position directly opposite to Alelia, as the youngest humans alive right now. These babies will never know what life was like before FaceTime and Venmo. Social Media will be part of their curricula, just as multiplication tables, pencil sharpeners, and pull-down maps will be obsolete. Being alive at the same time is just about the only thing they have in common. Otherwise, Alelia and all of these babies come from very different worlds.
A recent podcast from Nikki Eisenhauer’s Emotional Badass addressed the 5 generations that we live with in the United States. Her podcast does a great job explaining the key characteristics of the 5 generations. Inspired by Nikki’s piece, here’s another take on the U.S. generations alive in 2019:
The Traditionalist Generation (Born between 1922-1945)
Aka: The Veterans, The Silent Generation, and The Greatest Generation
“Children are meant to be seen, not heard.”
A good majority of this group was born into the Great Depression or its aftermath, and, as a result, is comprised of hard workers, discipline-lovers, and huge followers of tradition. Largely because of their upbringing and the instability that came along with birth dates in the ‘20s and ‘30s, they view rules and order as necessary virtues.
“Children are meant to be seen, not heard,” is a mantra for this group. Traditionalists grew up in lean times, from the Great Depression to World War II, and became adults during times of major change—civil rights movements, terrorism, and social justice, to name a few. Throughout these changes, the Silent Generation continued to work diligently and loyally, with little understanding of why people hop from job to job and even less of an understanding of why people desire to travel the world and capture all of its opportunities. Why? To put it simply, the Traditionalist Generation didn’t always see the world as a place with open arms. In many ways, they grew up fearing the world instead.
Baby Boomers (Born between 1946-1964)
“Make love, not war” OR “Keeping up with the Joneses”
These are the post-war babies. The name, baby boomer, comes from the “boom” of births that immediately followed WWII. This generation lived at the impressionable time of the invention of hydrogen bombs—where “boom” had a very different meaning. A common complaint from the baby boomers is that they’re misrepresented. We tend to toss them the boomer title and leave it at that, but there really is a divide within this generation.
The earlier cohort of boomers (1946-1954) grew up in a world experiencing radical changes. These early boomers were inspired to take action and to experience life to the fullest. The post-war economy was shifting, patriarchal boundaries were beginning to soften as women emerged in the workforce, civil rights movements were making an impact, and throughout it all, the early boomers were curious, impressionable teenage witnesses.
In the aftermath of America's radical shifts, the second wave of boomers (1954-1964) felt the impact of the dwindling economy. These boomers, sometimes referred to as Generation Jones, viewed tie-dye and Woodstock as relics of the past. Rather than indulging in the free-spirited mentalities of their predecessors, these boomers felt a threat from financial struggles at home. Gen Jones is comprised of hard workers that were significantly more independent and self-sufficient than early boomers. Some may even say that this part of the boomer generation is more similar to its successor, Gen X.
Generation X (Born between 1965-1980)
Aka: Gen X
Sometimes dubbed the “middle child” of generations, Generation X falls into an interesting category. Kids growing up in the ‘70s and ‘80s entered an era of the aftermath. At this point, the Great Depression and WWII were in their history textbooks, and the free love movement felt like a distant utopia from the past. Life, by most standards, was normal.
Generation Xers were sandwiched in between two strong forces: the early boomers and millennials. In many ways, Generation X was the calm before (and after) the storm. It’s arguable that there will always be a storm, by nature of humanity, but this was a close kiss to calm.
With that calm came an element of negligence. This was an era before terrorism, sex slavery, and modern-day violence were so prevalent, so Gen Xers didn’t hesitate to let their kids play outside or walk home alone in the dark. On the same token, many of these kids had Traditionalists for parents, who believed that children should be silent. Generation X, in many ways, was actually a silent generation. Most of Generation X grew up to be individualistic, self-sufficient, and self-motivated. In the workplace, they hate being micromanaged and they crave a work-life balance more than the former generations.
Millennials (Born between 1981-1996)
Aka: Generation Y
"Let me take a selfie."
Without knowing it, many people categorize anyone from an infant to a 40-year-old as a millennial. Millennials are older than you think. Believe it or not, they can all remember 9/11 and the genesis of the iPhone.
Millennials have so many tools at their fingertips, and with social media being a double-edged sword of competition and motivation, they have grown to be a self-sufficient group of opportunists. There are pros and cons to the opportunist side of this generation, which depends a lot on who you’re asking. Lots of millennials value travel, environmentalism, and worldliness. Culture is important to this generation, and their explorations are vessels for self-exploration and self-awareness. They see so many opportunities in life, so they're less inclined to settle down young. Career is a focus for this generation; millennials strive for jobs that satisfy them and grow them as people.
With lots of opportunities come lots of decisions, so this generation sometimes struggles with making decisions and being loyal and committal. Unlike the Traditionalists, who value loyalty and job stability, it’s typical to find a millennial growing bored and hopping onto the next job or opportunity.
Generation Z (born between 1997-present)
It’s hard to paint a full picture of Generation Z because there’s still so much to learn. This generation hit right before the turn of the century, hence the nickname Centennials. Generation Zers entered a realm of major cultural and political change. Their perception of politics is vastly different than any previous generation because these changes happen on a daily, even hourly, basis.
Time will tell with Gen Z. If I had to predict—with help from a few trusty experts— I’d say this generation will be a group of entrepreneurs, hungry to learn and antsy when kept waiting. It’s also fair to say that this generation will be the most diverse by far. The world is becoming more progressive and connected, and this new generation will likely mirror these changes.
“Always put yourself in others' shoes. If you feel that it hurts you, it probably hurts the other person, too.”
That’s a wrap. It’s hard to be understanding of our neighbors’ differences, but I see value in putting myself in every pair of shoes I can find. Some shoes belong on older feet, and some are brand new and miniature, but they all belong to humans. And being a human is a damn wild and beautiful thing.