A Year-by-Year Guide to the Different Generations and Their Personalities
From Boomers to Gen Z, experts break down America's generational timeline, offer insight into who's who, and take a look at how parenting has evolved throughout the years.
As we exit a decade when Millennials stepped into parenthood (aka became known as parennials) and Gen Z so eloquently introduced the "Ok, Boomer" phenomenon to show their distaste for their grandparents, there seems to be more generational labels being thrown around than ever before. But who exactly is being labeled what now?
If a slew of new phrases weren't confusing enough to keep up with, the exact timeline of generations isn't that easy to decipher either. While there is some consensus among social scientists about the general periods of time for each generation, there is no clear-cut line defining when one generation ends and another begins. In other words, a quick Google search may give you a dozen different sets of dates.
Still, knowing the dates and events that define each generation can help us all understand a bit more about ourselves as parents, our children, and also why grandparents will forever be scratching their heads at "kids these days" no matter what year it is. So we reached out to experts to get an accurate timeline of generations. Here's the breakdown of what's what and who's who.
Generation Names and Dates
"A generation is a group of people born at roughly the same time, usually within a 20-year time interval," says Deborah Carr, professor and chair of the sociology department of Boston University and author of Golden Years? Social Inequalities in Later Life. "But 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."
Many experts, including Carr, agree that the most reliable and well-known generation timeline was identified by authors Neil Howe and William Strauss. However, the latest generational designations come from the Pew Research Center—a "nonpartisan fact tank that informs the public about the issues, attitudes, and trends shaping the world."
Here's a look at the timeline of American generations since 1900, and how each generation's major events shaped kids and parents.
The Greatest Generation or GI Generation: Born 1901 – 1924
Who is Gen GI? This generation survived the Great Depression and then went off to fight in WWII. Notably, they popularized jazz and swing music but don’t be fooled by the wild provocations of the music of the times.
Who are GI parents? For GI Generation parents who lived through the Great Depression, raising a family put a premium on traits like hard work and grit.
The Silent Generation: Born 1928 – 1945
Who are the Silent? They famously got their name for being so conformist that they were silent through the MacCarthy era when the fear of Communism swept the country.
Who are the Silent parents? The parenting style of the day was similar to that of their parents; kids were expected to earn their way through life using a strong work ethic.
Baby Boom Generation: Born 1946 – 1964
Who are Boomers? Gen Z may think of Baby Boomers as their out of touch grandparents (“Ok, Boomer”,) but they had a wild youth we often don’t talk about. Boomers are so named after their parents came home from WWII and the American population exploded. Baby Boomers defied their parents, protested the Vietnam War, and created the "Summer of Love".
Who are Boomer parents? Boomer parents notably redefined parenting by being the first generation to look at their kids’ perspective of growing up, and they started the concept of having family meetings.
Generation X: Born 1965 – 1980
Who are Gen Xers? So often dismissed as the slacker generation, Generation X lived through the AIDS epidemic, MTV culture, and a shifting cultural landscape that would give rise to LGBTQ+ rights.
Who are Gen X parents? Generation X parents were famously the first 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.
Millennial Generation: Born 1981 – 1996
Who are Millennials? Millennials lived through 9/11 and a worldwide fight against terrorism that continues to this day. They are also the first generation to know a childhood with the Internet, which currently plays a significant role in their personal lives. While Boomers may accuse Millennials of being self-centered and entitled due to their excessive use of technology, this generation has proven to actually be incredibly community oriented and environmentally conscious, which are traits that are being picked up by their children in the next generation.
Who are Millennial parents (or parennials)? “Millennial parents are doing lots of things well, and arguably better than prior generations. They’re open-minded. They’re raising their kids in diverse family forms,” says Carr. “They are more likely than prior generations to allow their children to freely express who they are, and are leading the movement in helping gender non-conforming kids to be happy with who they are. Some Millennial parents, who were 'helicoptered over' in their youth, are taking on a freer approach to parenting, allowing their children to explore and create without constant structure or supervision.”
Generation Z or iGen: Born 1997 – present
Who is Gen Z? While still youngsters and not old enough to have made their mark as a generation, Generation Z kids are the first to be born into a world where they know nothing else besides being constantly connected to one another, albeit through phones, screens, and tablets.
So, What's Next?
In 2019, Adage identified Generation Alpha as kids born after 2010, which means they're beginning to turn into tweens this year. They are the first generation of kids that will never know a time when social media didn’t exist, and they are far more technically savvy than any generation previously, which is a powerful tool that can change humanity in myriad positive ways.
It may be too soon to peg the Alpha’s as this or that based on how little we know about them so far. The oldest Alpha’s are only 10 and it isn’t until their teens and early adulthood that they, like the generations that came before them, will shape our cultural perception about who they are. In the meantime, as parents we get the pride and honor to help guide them to making the best choices possible.