Back around the Turn-of-the-Millennia demographers, sociologists, and the like were trying to figure out the Pre-Quarter-Life-crisised demographic of early-twenty somethings. They were a much bigger group than their predecessors, Generation X, and displayed some traits distinct from them as well. I realized the other day that just a few years from now when millennials are mentioned, it will mean an age demographic that is staunchly within it’s 20s and 30s. Full-grown adults.
I’ve read a bit about the generation on the heels of millennials, usually called Generation Z (creative, I know). I haven’t researched this generation yet, thinking of them as Middle School age and younger. But recently the birth year of 1995 popped up as the starting year for Gen Z. Yes, that means college Freshman this year have been identified as Gen Z.
Who is who, and who start where?
At first I felt slightly territorial as the “Youth Culture” demographic has (in my mind) belonged solely to the Millennial generation. And according to other sources, millennials are as young as 13. So why the confusion? The main problem is that the birth years of millenials are still in dispute, which makes it less clear where millennials start, and Gen Z begins. Including all sources, the birth years for millennials are anywhere from 1977 to 2003. I know a very long stretch, right? The years encompass two generally used birth-year spans. PEW Research tends to favor 1977-1997, while Howe & Strauss (also Winograd & Hais) determine that the span is about 1982-2003.
I see merit to both year-spans, which leaves me a bit confused and indecisive. Personally, I usually split the difference (I know very scientific) and start with 1980, and end the date at about 1998. Part of the reason I start with 1980 is because of the starting point of Generaton X. Baby Boomers have had pretty clear span for a long time with the years 1946-64. That means Generation starts at 1965, and to cut off the birth year of this generation at 1976 makes it rather small indeed– only 11 years. Another slap in the face to this generation– no one wants to be identified in the X category (which is actually sort of fitting, don’t you agree?). But I can see traits of people born all the way in 1977 as being “millennial”— it’s why identifying “generations” is such a soft science.
With that said, I generally think of millennials as starting in 1980-1982 (to give GenXers some breathing room). But because the GenX/Millennial is in dispute, it’s created a dispute about the generation after. Now we have these GenZ people to start analyzing. Where to begin? I guess 1995?
Who are these “Z” People??
J. Maureen Henderson wrote an article about Generation Z a few months back with a few points on how millennials and GenZ differs. Some interesting contrasts are that while millennials are much bigger, GenZ seems to have the same level of entitlement issues as millennials. On top of that GenZ is more cautious about money in the light of the economy they have grown up in. So where GenZ lacks size, they seem to be making up with it in entitlement/confidence, and may be more calculating in navigating an uncertain world. A trait millennials desperately missed out on (hello major Quarter-Life crisis, and whine-fests).
Lastly, according to the early analysis of GenZ, they (bizarrely) have similar traits to an Adaptive generation on the Generational Cycles Theory. A quote from the last Adaptive generation (called Silent generation) recently used in the Time article “The Me Me Me Generation” says of Silents: “Youth today has little cynicism, because it never hoped for much.” GenZ could end up having a similar mantra. While Millennials are FOMOing ourselves crazy, and being burdened by our high expectations, GenZ may look up the ladder at us, look around at the world and decide to aim for stability.
Whatever your thoughts on generational theories, one thing I’m sure of is that generations have a way of reacting to the one that came before them. With the dawn of GenZ, it will be interesting to follow how they develop differently (and react to) the biggest generation in US history: millennials.