Picture a grandparent trying to decode the emoji-filled IG messages from your grandkids, a young parent attempting to decipher if being a sigma is good or bad, or a CEO juggling the workplace vibes of Baby Boomers and Gen Z. It's a generational adventure, and 'Generations' by Dr. Jean Twenge is just the kind of guide we need. Learning about these generational differences is more than an intellectual exercise; it's a powerful tool for forging deeper connections with our families, colleagues, and the wider community.
As you search for the electric carving knife minutes before Thanksgiving dinner or patiently navigate the busiest airport days of the year, we invite you to share and ponder some our thought-provoking questions about —The Silents, Baby Boomers, Gen X, Millennials, Gen Z, and even the still-to-be-named Alphas. Each generation has its own unique characteristics and experiences, and we'll delve into them one by one, inviting you to better understand the generations that makes up your family. Happy Thanksgiving!
The Silents, born 1925–1945
What do Warren Buffet and Marilyn Monroe have in common? They're both part of the Silents, who had the unfortunate luck of coming after 'The Greatest Generation.' Tough act to follow, but Robert, John, Mary, and Dorothy (the most popular Silent names) certainly left their imprint on the world. This generation made huge strides for this country in equality and education and boasts alumni such as MLK Jr., Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and Muhammad Ali.
You know what else this generation did well? They were really good at making babies. There's a lot of charts that stood out in this amazing book, but good for the Silents.
Questions for Silents:
- (Chart) Did you have a big family growing up? Did your friends have big families? What's the best part of coming from a big family?
- How has the idea of college changed from when you were growing up vs. what you see today?
- What political leaders and activists made an impact on how you thought about certain issues?
Baby Boomers, born 1946–1964
The generation that includes Oprah, Bill Murray, Michael Jordan, and Cyndi Lauper can't be that bad. It turns out, it wasn't just the girls who wanted to have fun, it was everyone. The Baby Boomers made significant strides in increasing the representation of Black voters and politicians in the United States, as well as contributing to the rise of women in the workforce. They also changed the way we think about drugs. The Boomers changed the way people thought about a lot of substances, and eventually became the politicians who would legalize and decriminalize things like marijuana.
Questions for Boomers:
- (Chart) What has been the most surprising change in how this country views substances like marijuana? Depending on their answer, would you like a gummy before dinner?
- How did the events of 9/11 change how you thought about the world?
- There's an case for the Boomers doing more to advance the rights and opportunities for women than any other generation. How has the role of women in the world changed in your lifetime?
Gen X, born 1965–1979
The MTV Generation, often referred to as the "Latchkey kids," includes heavy hitters like Julia Roberts, Jay-Z, Elon Musk, and both Nancy Kerrigan and Tonya Harding.
X was the last generation to grow up with significant unsupervised time. Twenge points out that not only did latchkey kids exist because more mothers were working, but organized after-school programs didn't become widespread until the '90s. This generation of Michael, Jason, Lisa, and Jennifer (most popular names) was shaped by the freedom they had during their formative years and the supervision pendulum has swung hard and fast in the opposite direction. What did they do while unsupervised? This chart tells part of the story.
Questions to kick around with a Gen X friend or family member:
- Were you left alone after school and on the weekends as a kid? What valuable lessons or skills do you think this unsupervised time taught you?
- (Chart) Gen X is noted for starting certain activities at a younger age compared to other generations. Why do you think this trend emerged within your generation's timeframe?
- What's your all-time favorite John Hughes movie? (They'll know what you're talking about) How do you think the themes in these movies resonate with your generation's experiences?
Millennials, born 1980–1994
Millennials can be defined by their belief in themselves, and that self-confidence has given the world Taylor Swift, Mark Zuckerberg, Serena Williams, Steph Curry, and LeBron James.
Jessica, Ashley, Michael, and Christopher (the most popular names) also have one thing in common—lots of student debt. As Twenge aptly puts it, "The easiest way to piss off a Millennial is to say, 'In my day, we worked our way through college.'" The rising cost of education made that impossible.
The Millennials are a generation defined by a multitude of factors, such as waiting longer to get married and having fewer children. However, my cohort is also sub-divided by a simple question: how old were you when you got your first iPhone? Millennials are seemingly the last generation to understand the pre and post-internet world, making them a bridge between older and younger generations. They're also the first generation to grapple with the mental health effects of social media and constant notifications, foreshadowing the challenge ahead of us.
Questions for Millennials:
- (Chart) Did anything major or terrifying jump out at you about this chart?
- A fun one for you: Which show do you think was better—90210, Saved by the Bell, or Dawson's Creek?
- How did the 2008 recession impact your life and career, for better or worse?
Gen Z, born 1995–2012
TFM partners and clients skew a bit older, which means the final two generations will likely be talking about your kids and grandkids. It's easy to look at a group of people who are different and write them off, but taking the time to understand is something that would benefit all of us.
Gen Z, as a whole, is doing way less of the things that 'Dazed & Confused' associated with being a young person—smoking, drinking, having sex, and going out with their friends. In many ways, this generation of Jacobs, Ethans, Emmas, and Isabella (the most popular names) is not as active with 1 in 3 young adults being clinically obese based on 2016 data. On the other hand, Z's are extremely active in other areas like voting, with young adult voter turnout reaching 48% in the 2018 Mid Terms and 2020 elections, the highest since 1976.
Twenge seems confident that, in the same way other generations fought for transformative change in civil rights, same-sex marriage, and abortion, this generation will fight for gender fluidity and their mental health. But the question remains: Does social media and smartphone use affect mental health? If the mental health data on millennials gave us a clue, the Gen Z mental health data is the smoking gun. This is not a U.S. problem caused by the left or the right; it's the medium, not the message.
Questions for Gen Z:
- What causes and issues do you think your generation cares the most about, and why?
- What are the best and worst parts of the online world?
- (Chart) If we assume that there's a correlation between smartphone use and depression, which there is, what ideas do we have to combat this at a personal and societal level?
Polars & Alphas, born after 2012
The name 'Polars' is derived from a blend of 'melting of the polar ice caps,' referencing global warming, and the increased political polarization of society—sometimes referred to as Alphas. This generation is still in the process of being born, and their birth years will likely extend through 2028-2030. It's hard to fathom, but this generation, including Olivias, Sophias, Noahs, and Liams (the most popular names), will not experience a world without Uber, adults referencing the pandemic, or on-demand Paw Patrol."
The good news is that many societal changes and laws have led to a safer world for children, with fewer car accidents, homicides, drownings, and poisonings. The bad news is that many of the trends Twenge points out for Gen Z are continuing among the Polars, including being less physically active, more overweight, and experiencing increased rates of anxiety.
No questions for Alphas - but maybe a game of freeze or flashlight tag is in order... (you might have to explain the rules)
For thousands of years, elders have been walking around convinced the next generation is going to screw it all up, and the kids are convinced the old people are out of touch. It's easy to complain about the people whom we don't understand, but more empathy and less judgment will go a long way for all of us. If you're still reading at this point in the article, it means you care enough to understand and listen—something we could all do a bit more, myself included. Follow TFM on LinkedIn for more ways to find your family's flow.