Talking About My Generation (and Yours, and Theirs)

Let’s Take a Closer Look at Some Loose Talk About What is Different for Generations.


 A Little Perspective, Please

Every generation bears its burdens and has its collective personality. Some try (not a new phenomenon through the ages) to foster intergenerational tension. I thought it might be useful to take a look at some of the specifics and see how things shake out once examined.

Let’s take a look at those now coming of age, Boomers, and to get a broader perspective, back to the turn of the last century. How does everyone look when compared like this?

Sort ‘em Out: Boomers, Gen X, Y, Z, Millennials 

First, a bit of terminology. People do get confused in referring to the generations. For clarity, here are accepted definitions (some sources vary the dates and numbers a bit):

Boomers: Generally those born between mid 1940s and mid 1960s. But this population is actually two groups. Boomers I came mid 1940s to mid 1950s and total about 33 million. Boomers II came on the scene mid 1950s through mid 1960s, totaling about 49 million. Together the Boomers equaled, with some overlap, over 70 million. It appears that the post WWII young adults did a lot of serious celebrating over the ending of the war.

GEN X: These are the folks who followed the Boomers. Most were born between mid 1960s – early/mid 1980s. About 41 million of them.

GEN Y/Millennials: Late 1970’s to mid 1990s. About 71 million of them roam the US.

GEN Z: The new kids on the block, born in the late 1990s through the mid 2000s. About 23 million of them are with us. Still growing up and developing a collective personality

For this discussion, we will concentrate on Boomers (both components) and Millennials. I chose the latter to focus on because they are the centerpiece of much of the current conversation. Also, I hope that by using the term “millennial” a couple of dozen times, I may finally get around to spelling it right.

How Tough Is It to Be Among a Younger Cohort?

There has been some serious whining among millennials about how tough they have it. They complain that they may well not come to live as well as their parents. Well, they have a point, generally speaking.

This group came of age during the Iraq War and the recession of the Bush years. Not a run of events that would lead one to trust institutions. Add to that a crushing level of student debt that actually dwarfs national credit card debt.

They are an educated and sophisticated generation, but one not inclined to support on an institutional basis (churches, political parties, etc.). Consider their levels of debt and starting their earning years in the recession. The odds are high that they will indeed not do as well as the boomers have done.

On the upside, they are a remarkably diverse group. They are capable of leading the country in their turn to a better society. This generation has been at the forefront of social change pushes now evident across the land. They are willing to commit time, talent, and resources for causes worth supporting.

Boomers: OK and Otherwise

Boomers take a bit of lip from those now coming of age. The younger set claims the Boomers left them a mess. Looking at the long arc of history, that does not seem accurate. Sometimes generations get lucky streaks or bad breaks. That may be true irrespective of what came before them.

I may be a bit prejudiced here, but I would point out that the Boomers gave us a lot. How about the internet, the world wide web, and the space program? The first early successes of the civil rights movement came from them. Unquestionably better music than what has followed, and a golden age (Part I) of television. The post-Watergate Congress, among the best and most productive we have ever known.

This group also bore the burden of the Vietnam War, both Kennedys and the King assassinations. They had the Watergate era. Wide-spread social unrest, including riots that make current unrest look like kindergarten material. AIDS stalked the latter half of this population. They learned religious leaders, evangelical icons to catholic priests, could be among the worst of our species.

Let’s Compare Us All with Someone Born in 1900

So, every generation has its ups and downs. We all have our proclivities and trademark behaviors. To put things in a bit more perspective, let’s think about someone who was born in 1900 and lived to 1980. Before you feel too burdened by your generation’s load, think about these folks.

They lived through WWI, The Spanish Flu Epidemic, the Great Depression and WWII. The Cold War, the McCarthy Era and the anti-Semitism of Father Coughlin. The Korean War, the rise to power of the KKK, and everything the Boomers dealt with. And more.

Yet this same generation rose to all those challenges and beat them. Along the way, they built the most powerful economy in the world. They pretty well invented the American middle class. They took part in everything from the Wright Brothers to the Moon landing, and much more.

And the Winner Is

All of us. If we decide we are in this thing together and conduct ourselves accordingly. It is an easy thing to say the older generation had it too good and squandered what they had. It is also easy to say the younger generations are self-centered and lazy.

I have enough friends on both ends of the generational spectrum to call BS. Generations are not monolithic entities. How about we set our values and priorities and sign up allies where we find them? We have work to do. Enough with the generalizations and finger pointing.

If anyone asks, by the way, there is an election coming. Absentee ballots get mailed in most states within the next 15-20 days. Early voting in most states starts in 5-6 weeks. Election day is 60 days away. I’m just saying….

            Bill Clontz

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2 replies to Talking About My Generation (and Yours, and Theirs)

  1. Thank you for clarifying the part about Boomers I and Boomers II. I am a Boomers II married to a Boomers I, and many conversations concern what I am old enough to remember. For example, I am not old enough to remember the assassination of JFK. I was once in a group of people conversing when I was in graduate school and was the only person present who did not have that collective memory. I do find that asking about collective memories is useful when establishing relationships with persons of different (younger) generations. It gives a useful frame of reference so you can avoid discussions that are irrelevant. Going back to pivotal events, I think of those as “Where were you when … happened?” The first one I remember was the death of Elvis, but maybe because I was with someone who had tickets to see him in two weeks. The explosion of the shuttle Challenger would be the key one. Then 9/11. Those were quick events. 2020 is more like a slow motion trainwreck.

    • Could not agree more on your comments about the importance of shared collective events. They really do help one understand a different generation.

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