Generations why?

In recent years terms such as ‘Baby Boomer’, ‘Millennials’ and ‘snowflakes’ have become commonly used to define people of different generations. But what do they mean and why are they used?

The terms have generally been coined by sociologists, and are used by marketing specialists, among others, as tools to help them understand how people of a certain era may think and behave.

The terms used to group people into generations refer to when they were born, rather than current age. In theory this allows patterns and generalisations to be seen. For example, what people born at a similar time go through in terms of social change, economic boom and recession, war, industrial and technological change, and how they respond to these events and trends. Researchers do also recognise the risk of ignoring cultural similarities and difference within generations and the dangers of devaluing individuality.

But the terms, with the stereotypes that they inevitably bring, are sometimes used as a stick with which to beat people of different ages, tending to divide generations rather than bring them together. For example, ‘Baby Boomers’ are sometimes seen as the ‘had it all generation’, who don’t care about younger generations, which has spawned the dismissive phrase ‘OK Boomer’. Stereotypes about ‘Millennials’ include that they are lazy and entitled. This negative view is linked to the phrase ‘Snowflake generation’, referring to people alleged to see themselves as too precious and unique to cope with the difficulties of adult life.

The range of generational terms used can be confusing, especially as new ones are developed. It’s also worth remembering that the groupings are more likely to be established in the US than the UK, or elsewhere in the world, and that the dates given are often debated.

These are commonly accepted groups, as defined by the Pew Research Centre.

  • The Silent Generation: born 1928-1945
  • Baby Boomers: born 1946-1964
  • Generation X: born 1965-1980
  • Millennials (or Generation Y): born 1981-1996
  • Post-Millennials: born 1997-2015

We can now add the latest term:

  • Generation Alpha: born 2016-present

The term ‘Snowflake generation’ is mostly linked to Millennials.

Time to Shine, as with many organisations and services working with ‘older people’, works with people aged 50+. This therefore includes people from the generation before The Silent Generation, right through Baby Boomers, up to older members of Generation X !

What do you think of these defined divisions of generations?

Are they a useful way of thinking about age and experience, or do you feel they are just divisive?

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