Will Somebody Please Definitively Define The Generations?

I’ve often referred to Boomers and Gen Yers in my blog posts without defining exactly who I’m talking about. I use the definitions that Forrester Research has used for the past few years: Gen Yers are born between 1975-1990, Gen Xers 1964-1974, Boomers 1946-1963, and Seniors pre-1946.

And although I thought that the Millennials were born after 1990, more and more I’m seeing the terms Gen Y and Millennial used interchangeably.

I didn’t consider this blogworthy until I saw the Nov/Dec 2007 issue of BAI Banking Strategies magazine. An article titled Banking on the Future with Generation Y shows data from Javelin Research that contains the following note:

Baby boomers defined as people born between 1945 and 1965, Generation X between 1961 and 1981 and Generation Y between 1979 and 1999.”

Not only are these dates radically different from what I’ve used in the past, there’s a huge overlap! According to Javelin, if you were born between 1961 and 1965, then you are a Boomer and a Gen Xer. Born between 1979 and 1981? Then you’re an XYer (which genetically makes you a ….never mind).

This isn’t inconsequential. Of about 110 million households in the US, about 14 million would be classified as BoomerXers, and 5 million XYers.

We need a standard definition. Who’s in charge of this stuff?

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29 thoughts on “Will Somebody Please Definitively Define The Generations?

  1. Ron,

    I actually like the overlap because of a couple of things.

    1. It pertains to me. Born in 1962, but definitely identify with the Gen Xers more so than the Boomers.

    2. In my research I found that WHEN you are born is as important as when the people that RAISED you were born. (was that grammatically correct?)

    EXAMPLE: One of my favorite pictures of my mom is when she’s playing Pinochle with her friend Opal, pregnant with my brother, smoking a cigarette and drinking a martini, listening to Haper’s Bizarre Feeling Groovy. I’m standing next to her (age 7) trying to figure out her next move.

    My mom’s parents were young when they had her, she was young when she had me.

    SIDEBAR: I chose not to have kids, btw. I thought it best. (PS – my brother is the father of three beautiful children and works for IBM – he rocks!)

    A good friend of mine, only 4 years older was raised by a mom that grew up during the depression. She would lay her used paper towels out to dry so she could get one more swipe with them. Totally different values than I was raised with.

    I think these surveys miss that point altogether. 50% of your influence comes from the environment (outside) and 50% from the values of your parents (and the generation that raised them).

    • Denise, I swear you really need to write a book! This is the best reading I have had the pleasure to read in a very long time. Your writing style is GREAT! Thanks for the laughs; I will be watching for your book. :)

  2. Actually, I am sick and tired of hearing anything at all about generations and marketing to/at them. People are people, and people hold an infinite and diverse array of attitudes and beliefs. Age is simply how many revolutions around the sun you’ve participated in this planet. We all know young kids who act as if they are old people, and old people who have a youthful attitude. I’m far more interested in psychographics than demographics, and age (and therefore “generation”) is part of old-school thinking about demographics.

    In the old days, we had much more of a homogenous society, so it was useful to label an entire generation in one seething lump of humanity. Now that the information/internet revolution is happening around us, diversity of people is flourishing more than ever before, rendering the lumping of millions of people together in one broad stroke, based on planetary revolutions, a rather silly and pointless exercise.

    This is a big part of the problem in the current financial industry. Management is targeting age groups (meaningless) rather than what can I do that is important to different types of people (meaningful).

    • I think you have missed a large chunk of what the generation gaps is trying to define. Gen Y will never understand what it was like to not have the internet. As other generations will never understand the internet.That to me defines what a generation is, the events that take place in a certain time frame that a generation is scoped. I think a few books on this topic might help you relax a little towards understanding the differences. I’m not american and certainly thankful for that, but a good book would be ‘The Lucky Few’ written by Elmond Carlson. Depicts Gen X between to other generations and how we gap the old and the new. Don’t hate something so much until you understand it more.

  3. Denise and Morriss both have great points. I was born in ’75 and I consider myself to be a Gen Xer, based on descriptions, but I tend to hang out with more Gen Yers. We get along, but there are definite differences in the way we see things — even with friends who are as little as four years younger than I am. I think most of it has to do with my parents having me at an older age and them being conservative in a lot of ways.

  4. Morriss: The generations matter. Big time. Denise’s points about the values are one component of why. I would take that one step further and say it’s because of the shared values that [many] members of a generation have. Second, generations matter because of the experiences that occur that help shape those shared values that members of future generations don’t experience. To the early boomers it was Kennedy’s assassination, My Lai, and a few others. To later boomers, it was Watergate, and on it goes. These events shape the psyche of a LOT of people which makes understanding generations so important for marketers.

  5. This very topic has frustrated me for years. Never mind the inability to place segments of individuals into a nice and neat little group so I can apply some magic formula to make them like me; rather, being born in 1976, I cannot even identify which neat little groups I belong in. I guess I am a Young Gen-X or an Old Gen-Y. Ironically though, my values are probably more consistent with the GI generation of my grandparents than that of my own (or my parents) anyway.

  6. Damn, I really can spell and I am normally quite good with grammar. I just need to proof-read more!

    @Jeff – pinchole would hurt.

    @Denise – pinochle is quite fun!

    @Ron – Yes, there ARE. Thanks.

  7. Denise – totally agree! My Dad was an only child, born to a 43 year old woman in 1950. He’s relatively young, but acts like someone quite older by virtue of his parents’ age.

    I was born in 1979, which means I’m not quite a Millenial…and not really a Gen X. Behavior-wise, I have attributes that are truly GenX, some that are Millenial, and some that are even Baby Boomer (ask Jeff H. about my politics).

    The point is that you can’t pigeon-hole anyone. Generalization based on overwhelming survey data, however, is unavoidable.

  8. Generational classifications are only a general guideline into understanding behavior – there are so many other factors that come into play as Morriss points out in his comment. I think we can identify with Robbie’s reaction to 60 minutes – we really hate sweeping generalities, especially when they are erroneous.

    At the end of the day, we really need to ask “how am I going to use this information?”

  9. I personally LOVE this generational stuff. Helps me understand people in my personal life. And, in my business life, it adds a layer to segmentation that goes way beyond simply including ‘age’ as an attribute.

    Born in 1963, I am commonly tagged as a Baby Boomer, but in my mind, I KNOW I’m closer to a GenXer.

    So, answer this one–do we aspire to be the next younger generation? Like, being middle aged is now something we don’t think we’ll reach until we’re at LEAST 60, whereas before I think it started at 40 or so…

  10. Gen X starting in 1976? That’s a new one to me. (1974, btw.) It always seemed to me that the X/Y gap occurred somewhere between my two younger sisters. (76 & 80 respectively.)

    What I dislike about generational marketing is (a) how broadly it’s usually painted, and (b) how much it often panders to Boomer prejudices. That, and after a while it all starts to sound like astrology.

    And to hell with pinochle. I’m all about the canasta. Or, um, Dungeons & Dragons anyone?

  11. @Elaine – I love the comment about Boomer prejudices! How much GenY marketing have you seen that has the whiff of “This is what we think you think is cool”?

  12. These broad generation groups are silly…

    I was born in the late 70’s. How could my life experience and perception of the world be the same as someone born in 1990?

    For example, I didn’t have a cell phone when I was in high school in the mid-90s. And I didn’t have an email address until I got to college either.

    On the other hand, folks born late 80’s early 90s are currently in HS (or just graduating)… They’ve used cell phones, they’ve texted answers to each other during tests. They’ve looked at a LOT of internet porn (or a lot more than me :-)

    Bottom line is: Trying to figure out generational cut-off years seems a waste of time… Especially as advances in media and communications tech is occurring at a rapid and exponential pace. Marketers should probably start narrowing down generational assumptions and focus on the impact of being born within a few months of each other.

  13. @CU Communicator: don’t get me started. And I think Generations? point has some connection to that — before the 20th century, most of life/technology moved so slowly, for most people, that this idea of generations having such radically different viewpoints didn’t make any sense. The concept of the generation gap begins in the early 20th century and reached a peak with…wait for it…the Boomers, because they were such a large group, and came of age amidst massive social & technological change. Whereas (!) since then, those changes have continued to accelerate. Theoretically, that should mean that the band of years identified as a “generation” would get smaller and smaller. If you’re using generation as a small portion of an overall view of your audience, then I suppose it can be helpful. But I’d be damn careful. (As a sliver of that…in 1991 the GenX outlook would’ve been anxiety about recession, falling behind our parents, slackerdom, etc….in 1999, dot-com euphoria…and now? You don’t want to let that view get fixed. People and their environment change.)

  14. @Generations?:

    Thanks for commenting. I’ve got to disagree with you, though. The generational segments aren’t silly at all. While no marketer should segment solely on the basis of age, there are common threads among the generations — and importantly, sub-segments (see my earlier post on Generational Niches).

    But I don’t expect you to understand this, really. What do you have — one or two years experience in the workplace? I guess that’s enough to know everything there is to know, eh?

    But enough lecturing — I’ll let you get back to your porn sites.

  15. Um, Ron? If Generations? was born in the late 70s, then s/he is 28 – 32, assuming a traditional career path, s/he has been in the (post-college) workforce 6-10 years. I get that his/her last point may be over the top, but there’s no need to be insulting about it.

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  17. I want to publically thank Elaine for sticking up for me… :-)

    And I also want to point out that, according to Ron: Because he’s a Baby Boomer, he then shares values with my 61 year-old mother.

    I know Ron, and I know my mother, and even if you sub-categorize them or look at their separate “generational niches” or whatever, and we call Ron a “late Boomer” and my mom an “Early Boomer” — I’m telling you people, they’ve got very little in common as relates to shared values, psyches etc. Ron notoriously rocked out to Stevie Ray and the Dead. My mom likes Elvis. As a guy born at the end of X and beginning of Y (so almost 2 generations separated from Ron) I know that we have a LOT more in common than he does with my mother (he can refute having anything in common with me all he wants, but he knows on the inside that we’re cut from the same cloth).

    Listen, of course people born within the same generation will have some stuff in common… But I take back what I said before about today’s rapid acceleration of media tech as narrowing the generational divide relative to the divides that exisited before…

    Because, in retrospect, looking at the Mom vs. Shevlin example, the gap between those two “boomers” is as big if not bigger than the gap I experience with the MySpaced-Out younginz here in the office.

    I’m all for factoring “generations” into marketers’ targetting efforts… But my argument here is that the generations, as currently envisioned, (regardless of subtle differences in year-ranges) are pretty silly… Smart marketers will narrow those down into many, many more categories, and only use the generational attribute in complement to more concrete data about the individual.

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