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From Baby Boomers to Generation Z

A detailed look at the characteristics of each generation.

Sovereign Health/Shutterstock
Source: Sovereign Health/Shutterstock

If you were born in the U.S. after 1946, you are a Baby Boomer; if you were born after 1964, you belong to Generation X; and if you were born after 1980, you are a Millennial. People flock to these generational identities like they flock to their horoscopes, combing through all the traits to seek out the good characteristics and throw away the bad attributes that are reflected in their generational identities.

Although information about them varies, there may be some truth to these generational identities and how they have shaped today’s society. From the Great Depression and World War II to technology and startup companies, society has made drastic changes that have shaped the psychology behind these generational eras.

The Baby Boomers, aka flower children

The Baby Boomers were born roughly between the years of 1946 and 1964, placing them in the age range between 51 and 70 years. Perhaps the most influential generation in history, this “flower power” generation is known for their pivotal roles in the civil rights movement, Woodstock, and the Vietnam War.

The term “Baby Boomer” was derived due to the dramatic increase in birth rates following World War II; soldiers came home from the war and had more time to spend creating babies, resulting in a population in the U.S. of 75.4 million strong.

This generation values relationships, as they did not grow up with technology running their lives. Baby Boomers grew up making phone calls and writing letters, solidifying strong interpersonal skills. Yet as they got older, they actually became fluent in technology and now use cell phones and tablets. The difference is they use these technologies as productivity tools as opposed to connectivity, an idea that came from the Millennial generation.

As this generation reaches retirement, American politics have been shaped to find a solution for the depletion of the Medicare and Social Security systems. Geriatric medicine has become a popular specialty, since the need for medical and psychological health care is now focused on meeting the needs of senior citizenry.

In the workforce, Baby Boomers play by the rules, putting their work life first and living the true “American Dream,” which encompasses kids, a 9-to-5 career, a house, and a minivan. They paved the path for the workaholic in Corporate America, which is currently being re-structured today, thanks to the Millennials.

Generation X, aka the lost generation

Generation X, known as the “sandwich” generation, was born between 1965 and 1980, and is currently approximately 35 to 50 years of age. They are lodged in between the two big well-known generations, the Baby Boomers and the Millennials. Unlike the Baby Boomer generation, Generation X is focused more on work-life balance rather than following the straight-and-narrow path of Corporate America.

Dubbed by media as “latch-key kids,” Gen Xers are considered the first “daycare” generation, because many were raised by two parents who worked or by a single divorced parent. This generation delayed marriage and childbearing to focus on developing themselves first. They are the first generation to value work-life balance, possibly in response to experiencing the consequences of their parents’ workaholism — their broken homes.

In her blog about the global essay collection she edited, “Generation X Goes Global: Mapping a Youth Culture in Motion,” Christine Henseler summarizes this generation as “a generation whose worldview is based on change, on the need to combat corruption, dictatorships, abuse, AIDS, a generation in search of human dignity and individual freedom, the need for stability, love, tolerance, and human rights for all.”

The Millennials, aka the narcissistic tech gurus

The first generation to reach adulthood in the new millennium, Millennials are the young technology gurus who thrive on new innovations, startups, and working out of coffee shops. They were the kids of the 1990s who were born roughly between 1980 and 2000. These 20-somethings to early 30-year-olds have redefined the workplace. Time magazine called them “The Me Me Me Generation” because they want it all. They are known as confident, entitled, and depressed.

This blog-savvy generation was raised by parents who were not authoritative, but rather saw themselves as partners. The Millennials grew up making the rules rather than having their parents tell them what is right. Their lives are now run by their smart gadgets, their third appendage.

These people date through online dating websites, as opposed to the Baby Boomers who met their spouses through friends or at social outings. The Millennials may be known as successful and driven, but their marriage to technology has nearly destroyed their interpersonal skills and, as a result, depression is rampant in this generation.

“Generation Me: Why Today’s Young Americans Are More Confident, Assertive, Entitled — and More Miserable Than Ever Before,” authored by Jean M. Twenge, Ph.D., is based on her “decades’ worth of psychological data”; and she “contends that depression, loneliness, and panic attacks are all significantly more characteristic of today’s 20-somethings than of preceding generations at the same age.”

This could be due to the extreme pressure to be successful. Buying a home, keeping a good job, and getting married isn’t as easy as it once was due to the extraordinary high costs in our current society. As a result, mental illness on college campuses is rampant. Mass school shootings are common, and they hardly existed during the past generations.

These stressors and mental illnesses are probably multi-factorial, driven by the hardships of society, the obsession with technology, and the “I am better than you mentality.” In the workplace, Millennials, contrary to Baby Boomers, strive for flexibility rather than a higher tax bracket. They want more vacation time, casual dress, and the flexibility of working from home rather than the office. They are all about working smarter, not harder.

Generation Z: The unknown

Born roughly between 1995 and 2012, Generation Z is the next generation that is still growing up. Not a lot of data is published about this generation, as the average age is somewhere between 4 and 19 years old. But we do know that these toddlers are already hooked on technology. Stay tuned for the new developments of this upcoming generation.

Contributed by Kristen Fuller, M.D.