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Moments That Shape a Generation

How a generation is defined by more than just their birth year

Multiple generations compose today’s workforce, so there’s been a lot of talk about how members of each group behave. To better understand generational behaviors, it’s a good idea to explore each group’s generation-shaping moments. This is true whether you’re talking about The Silent Generation (aka Traditionalists), Baby Boomers, Gen X, Millennials (aka Gen Y), or Gen Z.



The Builders (aka Traditionalists): Although this group (born 1945 or earlier) has largely left the workforce, its experiences influenced how the next generation would (or would not) grow up. In fact, the Builders witnessed the emergence of technologies that future generations would take for granted — from automobiles and aircraft to indoor plumbing. Growing up during the Great Depression and World War II, many members of the so-called Silent Generation witnessed economic death, came of age in stark surroundings, and struggled quietly through hardship. As adults, they chose conservatism, conformity, and traditional family values over speaking out.

The Baby Boomers: Boomers (born between 1946 and 1964) came of age during the relative prosperity of the post-war years. During the 1960s, young Baby Boomers saw the rise of leaders from the previous generational group such as JFK, RFK, and Martin Luther King – seeing their assassinations, or the aftermath of those tragedies, on live TV. Moved by these and other events, adult Baby Boomers challenged and rejected the very institutions and values that provided security for them while growing up.

Generation X: As its name reflects, Generation X (born 1965 to 1976) members lacked a sense of connection with the world around them as they came of age. They grew up in the midst of national emergencies, global transitions, and epic endings: They witnessed the Watergate scandal, the Iranian hostage crisis, the energy crisis, the fall of the Berlin Wall, and Operation Desert Storm. And although they were the first generation to become comfortable with personal computers, they were also the first to experience the disruption of divorce. As a result, Generation X members developed a strong skepticism for existing institutions and became independent, self-reliant, and wary of Baby Boomer values.

Millennials (aka Gen Y): As reflected in their name, Millennials (born 1977 to 1995) were children and young adults that entered consciously into the 21st century. Although Millennials also saw the rise of social media and online technologies, their most significant event is 9/11. As Jason Dorsey explains in his TEDx Talk: “You cannot be born after 1995 and process the significance of September 11th, 2001 in the way those born before 1995 do.” In fact, the ability to remember the events of September 11th is what defines Millennials, who came of age at the commencement of the subsequent “war on terror.”

Generation Z: Today’s teenagers and young adults (born 1996 to present) came of age during a time of cultural and political change that is unique to their generation. In fact, they don’t recall a moment when the US war on terror did not exist; when same-sex marriages were not legal; or when the national economy was not struggling. And they will not recall a time before there was a black US president. Simply stated, homeland security issues, diversity, and financial struggles are firmly woven into the tapestry of the Gen Zer’s experience. As a result, members of Generation Z need to be connected instantly and constantly, to experience stability, and to make an impact on the world.

For FAQs about generations, click here. Still unsure which generation you really are? Take our Generational Power Index and find out your true generation now.

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