There’s a lot of contradicting information in the media, press, and political circles about the concept of generations. How are generations defined? What can we learn from generational analysis? How do different generations compare in terms of education, social economic status, and beliefs? How can we differentiate between the industries that profit from sensational content on generations and peer-reviewed data?
This section serves to answer these questions and provide scientific data and thoughtful analysis of the changing attitudes and preferences across generations. If you can think of an additional resource to add to the list, let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Research on Generations
“The Whys and Hows of Generations Research” (2015)
Pew Research Center
“An individual’s age is one of the most common predictors of differences in attitudes and behaviors. On issues ranging from foreign affairs to social policy, age differences in attitudes can be some of the widest and most illuminating. Age denotes two important characteristics about an individual: their place in the life cycle – whether a young adult, middle-aged parent or retiree – and their membership in a cohort of individuals who were born at a similar time. The nature of age as a variable allows researchers to employ an approach known as cohort analysis to track a group of people over the course of their lives.
The Pew Research Center’s approach to generational analysis involves tracking the same groups of people on a range of issues, behaviors and characteristics. Setting the bounds of generations is a necessary step for this analysis. It is a process that may be informed by a range of factors including demographics, attitudes, historical events, popular culture, and prevailing consensus among researchers. As a result, the lines that define the generations are useful tools for analysis, but they should be thought of as guidelines, rather than hard-and-fast distinctions.”
“Defining generations: Where Millennials end and post-Millennials begin” (2018)
Michael Dimock, President, Pew Research Center
“In order to keep the Millennial generation analytically meaningful, and to begin looking at what might be unique about the next cohort, Pew Research Center will use 1996 as the last birth year for Millennials for our future work. Anyone born between 1981 and 1996 (ages 22 to 37 in 2018) will be considered a Millennial, and anyone born from 1997 onward will be part of a new generation. Since the oldest among this rising generation are just turning 21 this year, and most are still in their teens, we think it’s too early to give them a name – though The New York Times asked readers to take a stab – and we look forward to watching as conversations among researchers, the media and the public help a name for this generation take shape. In the meantime, we will simply call them ‘post-Millennials’ until a common nomenclature takes hold.”
“Most Millennials Resist the ‘Millennial’ Label” (2015)
Pew Research Center
“Despite the size and influence of the Millennial generation, however, most of those in this age cohort do not identify with the term “Millennial.” Just 40% of adults ages 18 to 34 consider themselves part of the “Millennial generation,” while another 33% – mostly older Millennials – consider themselves part of the next older cohort, Generation X.”
“How Millennials today compare with their grandparents 50 years ago” (2018)
Richard Fry, Pew Research Center
“1. Today’s young adults (Millennials ages 21 to 36 in 2017) are much better educated than the Silent Generation.
2. A greater share of Millennial women have a bachelor’s degree than their male counterparts – a reversal from the Silent Generation.
3. Young women today are much more likely to be working, compared with Silent Generation women during their young adult years.
4. Millennials today are more than three times as likely to have never married as Silents were when they were young.
5. Millennials are much more likely to be racial or ethnic minorities than were members of the Silent Generation.
6. Young Silent men were more than 10 times more likely to be veterans than Millennial men are today.
7. Greater shares of Millennials today live in metropolitan areas than Silents or Boomers did when they were young.”
“The Generation Gap in American Politics” (2018)
Pew Research Center
“From immigration and race to foreign policy and the scope of government, two younger generations, Millennials and Gen Xers, stand apart from the two older cohorts, Baby Boomers and Silents. And on many issues, Millennials continue to have a distinct – and increasingly liberal – outlook.
Increased racial and ethnic diversity of younger generational cohorts accounts for some of these generational differences in views of the two recent presidents. Millennials are more than 40% nonwhite, the highest share of any adult generation; by contrast, Silents (and older adults) are 79% white. But even taking the greater diversity of younger generations into account, younger generations – particularly Millennials – express more liberal views on many issues and have stronger Democratic leanings than do older cohorts.”
“The Millennial Muddle: How stereotyping students became a thriving industry and a bundle of contradictions” (2009)
Eric Hoover, The Chronicle of Higher Education
“Figuring out young people has always been a chore, but today it’s also an industry. Colleges and corporations pay experts big bucks to help them understand the fresh-faced hordes that pack the nation’s dorms and office buildings. As in any business, there’s variety as well as competition. One speaker will describe youngsters as the brightest bunch of do-gooders in modern history. Another will call them self-involved knuckleheads. Depending on the prediction, this generation either will save the planet, one soup kitchen at a time, or crash-land on a lonely moon where nobody ever reads.”
“Over the last decade, commentators have tended to slap the Millennial label on white, affluent teenagers who accomplish great things as they grow up in the suburbs, who confront anxiety when applying to super-selective colleges, and who multitask with ease as their helicopter parents hover reassuringly above them. The label tends not to appear in renderings of teenagers who happen to be minorities, or poor, or who have never won a spelling bee. Nor does the term often refer to students from big cities and small towns that are nothing like Fairfax County, Va. Or who lack technological know-how. Or who struggle to complete high school. Or who never even consider college. Or who commit crimes. Or who suffer from too little parental support. Or who drop out of college. Aren’t they Millennials, too?”
“Generation Screwed: Why millennials are facing the scariest financial future of any generation since the Great Depression” (2017)
Michael Hobbes, Huff Post
“But generalizations about millennials, like those about any other arbitrarily defined group of 75 million people, fall apart under the slightest scrutiny. Contrary to the cliché, the vast majority of millennials did not go to college, do not work as baristas and cannot lean on their parents for help. Every stereotype of our generation applies only to the tiniest, richest, whitest sliver of young people. And the circumstances we live in are more dire than most people realize.”
“Against Generational Politics” (2018)
Andrew Hart, Jacobin
“The Strauss-Howe theory depends on two assumptions. The first, as laid out above, is that history unfolds in recurring patterns, a claim that requires bizarre historical comparisons. The second — that generations are coherent concepts to begin with — requires equally painful contortions. Strauss and Howe have filled thousands of pages arguing for their theory of history, but they have spent far less time justifying the group essentialism that underlies their project.
“According to Strauss and Howe, each generation’s ‘peer personality’ (‘Artist’ or ‘Hero’) corresponds to the ‘generation’s collective mind-set.’ They concede that any given individual ‘may share many of these [generational] attributes, some of them, or almost none,’ but they nevertheless base their theory on this peer personality, which they call ‘essentially a caricature of its prototypical member.’ This ‘distinctly personlike creation’ has ‘collective attitudes about family life, sex roles, institutions, politics, religion, lifestyle, and the future.’ Underneath language appropriated from the social sciences, the authors admit what ‘peer personality’ really is: ‘essentially a caricature.’ A stereotype.”