You might have heard terms like ‘Millennial’, or ‘Baby Boomer’ floating around, but what do they mean? Or more accurately, who do they mean?
As we enter a period of advancing technology and fast societal change, the gap between generations and the way they have lived their lives have grown to reveal interesting characteristics as well as common misconceptions.
"Generations take on special meaning because their members tend to experience critical life events and transitions at particular historical moments, and these moments define their lives."
says Deborah Carr, Ph.D., professor and chair of the sociology department of Boston University and author of Golden Years? Social Inequalities in Later Life.
Maturists (Born 1928 – 1945)
Also known as the Silent Generation, Maturists are categorised as those born before 1945 (and who therefore lived through WW2). As suggested in Times Magazine in the 50s, the name ‘Silent Generation’ stems from the saying that children should be seen and not heard, which is how this generation was raised. In drastic contrast to today’s children, Maturists grew up without technology, instead taking to the great outdoors to seek entertainment from classic games like Kick the Can.
This pre-feminism era saw genders largely conforming to the social norms of their time, with women taking the role of stay-at-home mums, and men committing years to a single career. Notable famous figures from this generation include Audrey Hepburn, Elvis Presley and Martin Luther King Jr.
Children of this generation were taught to have a strong work ethic and were expected to earn their way through life.
Baby Boomers (Born 1946 to 1960)
Baby Boomers describes the generation of people born between 1945 and 1960 with the name referring to the boom in births in the years following WW2. This generation bore witness to and likely participated in waves of activism across the globe, with many coming of age during peak historical eras such as The Civil Rights movement, the Women’s Movement and The Vietnam War.
As well as the emergence of Rock & Roll, this generation was also the first to grow up with television and a slate of iconic movies including The Godfather, Jaws and Clockwork Orange.
Parenting styles were redefined by the Baby Boomer generation, being the first parents to consider their children’s perspectives and introducing the ‘family meeting’.
Generation X (Born 1961 to 1980)
With seemingly lower numbers than both Baby Boomers and Millennials, Generation X refers to people born between 1961 and 1980. This generation is often referred to as the ‘Latchkey’ or ‘Middle Child’ generation given its position between the larger groups of Millennials and Baby Boomers.
The combination of the growth in dual-income families and the boost in the divorce rate during their childhoods meant that many people from this generation spent their hours unsupervised after school. Whilst this creates a sense of independence, it is also responsible for the common misconception that this generation plays host to a great deal of scepticism. Perhaps the most significant characteristic of this age group is that they experienced the start of digitalisation in society, enjoying the emergence of music videos, Walkmans and even computers (although the Rubiks Cube was certainly still a hit!).
Generation X parents were famously the first to use helicopter parenting styles. “Unlike their Boomer parents, who famously let their kids stay outside until the streetlights came on, Generation X parents have a tendency to be far more involved with their children's social and educational development.”
Generation Y (also known as Millennials, born 1981 to 1995)
Generation Y, more popularly known as Millennials, is the largest populated age group in modern history, born between 1981 and 1995. As a group, they mark a particular historical milestone in that they were the first generation to grow with access to unlimited information at their fingertips through the likes of Google, Yahoo, Facebook, and iPhones.
Millennials are often wrongly labelled as lazy or even careless with money, with one Australian article even suggesting that people in this age group should stop spending money on avocado toast if they want to buy a house. This, however, likely only stems from the fact that on average, Millennials will live at home for longer than their parents did.
Millennial parents are more open-minded than previous generations, raising their kids in diverse family forms, and are generally more accepting of their choices, allowing their children to explore and create without constant structure or supervision.
Generation Z (‘Gen Z’) (Born 1995 to 2010)
People belonging to Gen Z were born between 1995 and the early 2010s. Unlike previous generations, they’ve never known a world without the technology we have today. Whilst this sometimes earns them an assumed reputation for being ‘addicted’ to their smartphones, it also makes them incredibly digitally savvy, having grown up in a world of technology-based toys like handheld game consoles, tablets, smartphones and cyber pets.
People of this generation were children during a time of life-changing historical events such as 9/11, the recession, and most recently, the COVID-19 pandemic. Interestingly, it is these tragic events that have caused Gen Zers to be seemingly more nostalgic than other generations, particularly when it comes to trends from the early 2000s. This is apparent in the return of previously crowned fashion-faux-pas from Crocs, to double denim.
Following Generation Z comes their younger siblings, Generation Alpha, describing those born in or after 2010. It is a generation that is intended to span to include those born up until 2024 and will outnumber the Baby Boomers as the largest generation in history. These children have grown up with iPads as entertainment and have been forced to adopt a new way of digital home-schooling in light of the COVID pandemic.
This generation is the first to be born totally in the 21st century and is growing up during the domination of social media, as well as experiencing first-hand the impact of climate change.
Whilst we cannot predict the behaviours of Generation Alpha, it is clear that technology will play a significant role, as well as in the future of other generations.
All generations alive today have access to untapped knowledge at the click of a button, the ability to build relationships with people a thousand miles away, and access to purchase or sell pretty much anything on the internet. We just all choose to use that power in different ways, often because of the vastly different worlds we grew up in.
Undoubtedly some trends and nostalgic traits of years gone by will inevitably make a comeback.
Gen Z’s brought back the fashion trends of the 90s, with tie-dye, velvet, choker necklaces, Doc Martens and double denim back on the high street.
Gen X and Millennials got to enjoy the eighties movie scene, with classics like Jurassic Park, Alien, Karate Kid, Top Gun, Star Wars, Ghostbusters, Rocky, and the Terminator movies. Many of which have returned to cinemas in recent years and some have even been adapted into TV series'. The jury is out on whether the sequels live up to the originals!
And popular toys like the Rubiks Cube, first invented in 1974, made a massive comeback with Generation Alpha! It was one of the bestselling Christmas Gifts of 2022, accelerated the YouTube speedcubing craze, and world records are still being broken today.
And it’s not just fashion, toys and gaming trends making a comeback. There’s a lot to learn from older generations when it comes to family values, appreciating love and loss, having no regrets, and learning from experience.