Here’s a look at five generations of Americans in the 20th century: the Greatest Generation (or GI Generation), the Silent Generation, baby boomers, Generation X and millennials. In order to examine economic trends and social changes over time, demographers compare groupings of people bracketed by birth year. There are sometimes variations in the birth year that begins or ends a generation, depending on the source. The groupings below are based on studies by the US Census, Pew Research and demographers Neil Howe and William Strauss.
The “Greatest Generation” (or GI Generation)
Born in 1924 or earlier.
Tom Brokaw coined the term the “Greatest Generation” as a tribute to Americans who lived through the Great Depression and then fought in WWII. His 1998 bestselling book, “The Greatest Generation,” popularized the term.
John F. Kennedy, born in 1917, was the first member of the Greatest Generation to become president. Lyndon B. Johnson, Richard M. Nixon, Gerald R. Ford, Ronald Reagan, Jimmy Carter, and George H. W. Bush were also born between 1901 and 1924.
The “Silent Generation”
Born 1925-1945 (Sometimes listed as 1925-1942).
A 1951 essay in Time magazine dubbed the people in this age group the “Silent Generation” because they were more cautious than their parents. “By comparison with the ‘Flaming Youth’ of their fathers & mothers, today’s younger generation is a still, small flame.”
The Silent Generation helped shape 20th century pop culture, with pioneering rock musicians, iconic filmmakers, television legends, beat poets, gonzo journalists and groundbreaking political satirists.
No members of the Silent Generation have served as president.
Born 1946-1964 (Sometimes listed as 1943-1964)
Baby boomers were named for an uptick in the post-WWII birth rate.
At the end of 1946, the first year of the baby boom, there were approximately 2.4 million baby boomers. In 1964, the last year of the baby boom, there were nearly 72.5 million baby boomers. The population peaked in 1999, with 78.8 million baby boomers, including people who immigrated to the United States and were born between 1946 and 1964.
According to the Census, the baby boom began in 1946 but demographers Neil Howe and William Strauss, authors of the groundbreaking 1991 book, “Generations: The History of America’s Future,” argued that the baby boom began as a social and cultural phenomenon with people who were born in 1943.
Born 1965-1980 (Sometimes listed as 1965-1979)
“Class X” was the name of a chapter in a 1983 book, “Class: A Guide Through the American Status System,” by historian Paul Fussell. Novelist Douglas Coupland used the term as the title of his first book, “Generation X: Tales for An Accelerated Culture,” published in 1991.
No members of Generation X have yet to serve as president.
Although about 75% of people in this group earn more than baby boomers did when they were the same age, only 36% have more wealth than their parents, due to debt, according to a 2014 report by the Pew Charitable Trusts.
In the 2016 presidential election, Generation X-ers and Millennials made up more than half of the electorate, according to Pew Research. For the first time in decades, younger voters outnumbered older voters, albeit by a slight margin. Millennials and Generation-X-ers (age 18-51), cast 69.6 million votes, compared with 67.9 million votes cast by Baby Boomers and older voters (age 52 and up).
Born 1981-1997 (Sometimes listed as 1980-2000; the range of birth years for millennials may be updated as further demography studies about this generation are conducted, according to Pew Research).
Howe and Strauss introduced the term millennials in 1991, the year their book, “Generations,” was published.
In 2014, the number of millennials in the United States eclipsed the number of baby boomers, according to the Census Bureau. The Census counted approximately 83.1 million millennials, compared with 75.4 million baby boomers. Millennials represent one quarter of the nation’s population. The Census also reported that millennials are more diverse than previous generations, as 44.2% are part of a minority race or ethnic group.
About 15% of millennials age 25-35 lived at home with their parents as of 2016, according to a Pew Research study. Fewer members of older generations lived at home with their parents between the ages of 25-35. The rate for Generation-X was 10%. Baby Boomers ranged between 8% and 11%. The Silent Generation was 8%. Education factored into the percentage of millennials living at home. Among millennials without college degrees, 20% lived at home with their parents.
In a 2016 report, Pew found that young men were more likely to live with a parent than a spouse or domestic partner, with 35% living with parents and 28% living with spouses or partners. It’s a reversal from 1960, when about 56% of young men lived with spouses or partners while 23% lived in their parents’ homes.
According to a 2015 Census study, earnings for young adults who work full time are about $2,000 less than earnings for young adults in 1980. The analysis also found that millennials are more likely to have a college degree than Gen X-ers did in 1980, yet there are also higher numbers of millennials living in poverty vs. their counterparts in 1980.
2016 was the first year any millennial was eligible to run for president (since the minimum age is 35).
Post-Millennials? What’s Next?
The next generation of children and teens younger than millennials has not been formally named by demographers yet.