Among generations, boomers are easy to identify, and millennials have made their mark. But who is a Xennial and where did Gen Alpha come from? And Generation Jones?
The contemporary naming of generations dates back to poet Gertrude Stein, who wrote of those who came of age during World War I, “You are all a lost generation.” Nearly a century later, names, labels, and character studies for the generations have multiplied.
Many observers debate the precise dates and definitions or decry stereotypes attached to each generation. Nevertheless, their shared values and experiences shape education techniques, marketing strategies, purchasing decisions, work styles, voting preferences, social service needs, entertainment choices, musical tastes, and more.
Generations by year
Here’s a list of all generations/age groups and their names based on birth year:
- The Greatest Generation: born 1901 to 1924
- The Silent Generation: born 1928 to 1945
- Baby Boomers: born 1946 to 1964
- Generation Jones: born 1955 to 1965
- Generation X: born 1965 to 1980
- Xennials: born 1977 to 1983
- Millennials: born 1981 to 1996
- Generation Z: born 1997 to 2010
- Generation Alpha: born after 2011
The Greatest Generation: born 1901 to 1924
The Greatest Generation refers to the cohort of individuals who grew up during the Great Depression and went on to fight in World War II. This term was coined by journalist Tom Brokaw in his book “The Greatest Generation,” published in 1998, to honor and recognize the resilience and achievements of this generation.
The Silent Generation: born 1928 to 1945
The Silent Generation, also known as the Traditionalists or the Lucky Few, refers to the cohort of individuals born between 1928 and 1945. This generation came after the Greatest Generation and before the Baby Boomers. The term “silent” is often associated with the perception that this generation was relatively less vocal or assertive compared to others.
Baby Boomers: born 1946 to 1964
The Baby Boomer generation began immediately after World War II (with people born in 1946) and wrapped up in 1964. Those are people born during the post-war mid-century baby boom. Until recently, they were the largest adult living generation. These days, boomers are in their late 50s to early 70s, many about to be or already retired. As of 2023, there are 71 million baby boomers in the US.
Generation Jones: born 1955 to 1965
Younger boomers — titled Generation Jones to reflect “keeping up with the Joneses” culture, the slang term “jones” for desire, the confusion of Bob Dylan’s Mr. Jones, and just the generic anonymity of the Jones name — were born between 1955 and 1965.
Generation X: born 1965 to 1980
With a decline in birth rates in 1965 came Generation X, which demographers generally say lasted until 1980. Gen X is also called the “baby bust” because of its smaller post-boom numbers.
Xennials: born 1977 to 1983
Squeezed in next was a “micro-generation” of Xennials born in the late ’70s and early ’80s. Also known as the “Oregon Trail generation,” Xennials had an analog childhood and a digital adulthood.
Millennials: born 1981 to 1996
According to Pew Research Center, Millennials were born between 1981 and 1996. The older segment of the demographic are well into adulthood. Millennials are also called Generation Y for following Generation X, and as the children of boomers, they’re sometimes called “echo boomers.”
Generation Z: born 1997 to 2010
Then came Gen Z, or iGen, which roughly starts with people born in 1997. Generation Z kids are the first to be born into a world where there’s always a way to be constantly digitally connected to one another, either through smart phones, screens, and tablets.
Generation Alpha: born after 2011
What comes after Gen Z? Generation Alpha are the first to be born entirely in the 21st century. Most members are the children of gen xers or millennials. Gen Alpha kids are the first who will never know a time when social media didn’t exist.
Technology by the numbers
One of the most defining experiences shared by a generation is the technology it grew up with.
Boomers passed through childhood as television took hold, Generation X saw computers come onto the scene and Millennials were born into the age of the Internet.
More recently, members of iGen or Generation Z are the first to grow up with smartphones, said Dr. Jean Twenge in her book iGen: Why Today’s Super-Connected Kids Are Growing Up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy — and Completely Unprepared for Adulthood — and What That Means for the Rest of Us. Absorbed with social media and texting, they are said to spend less time with their friends in person, which could be making them anxious or lonely, experts like Twenge say.
Many members of Generation Alpha have grown up using smartphones and tablets as part of their childhood entertainment, with many being exposed to devices as a soothing distraction or educational aids. Some 90% of young children used a handheld electronic device by the age of one; in some cases, children started using them when they were only a few months old.
What defines a generation
According to many sociologists a generation is a clusters of people born during a given timeframe. They have experienced similar life situations, share comparable views and attitudes, and differentiate themselves from other generations. Some common generational influences are easy to identify: current events, technology, fads, economic times, parenting, education, and size.
According to the US Census Bureau, while the Baby Boomer generation is associated with a rise in fertility, no similar demographic event can be used to distinguish Millennial generation or generations after; it’s shared experiences rather than demographics that define them.
Older Baby Boomers observed the Korean and Vietnam wars, and older members of that generation also participated in the latter.
Generation Jones had Watergate, the 1979 oil embargo, and AIDS, fostering what many see as a loss of trust in government and other institutions.
Those in Generation X are “the last Americans that know how to fold a newspaper, take a joke, and listen to a dirty story without losing their minds,” Vanity Fair magazine once wrote.
But Gen Xers also are described as the first “latchkey” kids, exposed to daycare and divorce that made them cautious and pragmatic.
During a short grace period, Xennials went to school before Columbine and found jobs before the recession.
Millennials learned about popular culture via cable television, joined the workforce at the height of the recession and delayed leaving home and marriage, giving them a “slow-start” reputation. They were old enough to understand the Sept. 11 attacks, helped elect the nation’s first black president and are the second-largest generation of voters after baby boomers
Generation Z will have more money than any previous generation — but more school debt as well. Donald Trump may be the first U.S. president they know.
Generation Alpha was born into an environment where the use of electronic devices is ubiquitous and have been surrounded by adult Internet use from the beginning of their lives. Much of Generation Alpha has lived through the global COVID-19 pandemic as young children. Many were faced with extended periods out of school or daycare, and spent much more time at home.
But does it really matter?
Not everyone buys into the concept of generations, by the way.
A Slate magazine piece argued there was no scientific evidence to support the distinct characteristics of generations and that the concepts were arbitrary, flawed and stereotyped.
“Generations and generational differences are intriguing and inherently appealing concepts. As such, the media will keep on reporting on them, academics will publish, pundits will talk, and consultants will sell to whoever is buying,” it said.
“But the science says that, despite their popularity, generations simply aren’t a thing.”
This is an update by Hella Staff to an article previously published in July 2020 written by Helen Wolfe.