Generation Years at a Glance: From The Greatest to Gen Z

Published December 27, 2021
Senior Old Grandma Hugs Granddaughter Outdoors

A generation refers to people born during a timeframe bookended by a certain span of years, who share specific commonalities that tend to mold their beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors. Learning about the different generation years, and what helped shape and impact the people born and growing up during these eras, can help shed light on what makes each generation so unique.

Generation Years infographic

The Greatest Generation

Members of The Greatest Generation were born in the early 1900s and 1920s. Unlike subsequent generations, this generation has no universal cut-off date. The name for this generation stemmed from NBC journalist Tom Brokaw's book, The Greatest Generation. In his work, Brokaw explores stories, experiences and collective characteristics of the people of this generation, expressing how great he perceived them to be, and how he strived to live life in their footsteps. This group of humans takes nothing for granted and they know the true meaning of hard work and determination.

Notable Traits and Characteristics of The Greatest Generation

This generation knows turmoil and strife. They know what it means to dig their heels in and work hard to see a means to an end, and they are certainly not quitters. This is a generation of people who learned what it meant to fight for your life, due to economic despair and war.

Traits attributed to this generation include:

  • Personal responsibility- Because of The Great Depression, everyone, even children, had a hand in scraping together a living.
  • Humility
  • Work ethic - Mere survival often hinged on one's ability to work to the bone. No free handouts for those of The Greatest Generation.
  • Sacrifice - Millions left their families and homes to fight for a greater cause.
  • Frugality - You would be hard-pressed to find anyone who came of age during this generation throwing money or belongings around. Everything became precious.

Major Events That Impacted The Greatest Generation

Those belonging to The Greatest Generation were heavily impacted by the following key events:

  • The Great Depression
  • World War II (It was this generation who fought in the major world event).

Other Common Names for The Greatest Generation

Those belonging to the Greatest Generation have been referred to as:

  • G.I. Generation
  • World War II Generation
  • Federation Generation (Australia)

The Silent Generation

The Silent Generation (also known as the Post War Generation) refers to people born between the years 1925-1945. The people of this generation earned their name partly due to a 1951 Time Magazine article. This article pointed to this generation as notably quieter when compared to their predecessors, the loud, fiery generation known as The Greatest Generation. It might also have stemmed from the child-rearing practices of The Silent Generation's parents. They believed kids were to be seen, not heard.

Notable Traits and Characteristics of The Silent Generation

People of this generation pride themselves on core values like hard work and loyalty. They are traditionalists in every sense of the word, staying true to family and country. Those who grew up in this era knew nothing other than respecting authority and elders, contributing to a team, and valuing all they possess. There is no taking things for granted among the prudent people of The Silent Generation. Largely because of the influence of The Great Depression (which occurred at the start of the era but still influenced families for years to come), The Silent Generation strives for financial security. They are hustlers; they know what it means to grind it out, and you won't hear them ever complaining about having to work five days a week.

Old southern farmer standing in front of his crop

Major Events That Impacted The Silent Generation

Generations are impacted by key events that occurred during the coming of age years. Events that transformed the thinking, views, and values of The Silent Generation are:

  • Korean War
  • The McCarthy Hearings
  • The Space Race

Other Common Names for The Silent Generation

People born in this generation have also been referred to as:

  • Post-War Generation
  • Radio Babies
  • Traditionalists

Baby Boomers Generation

Baby Boomers or "Boomers" are people who were born between the years 1946-1964. They received their generational name because of the mass number of births that occurred following World War II. This generation is sometimes broken into two sub-categories to better define the Boomers who came of age in the sixties and those who grew up in the seventies. Both decades contain varying events that shaped Baby Boomers differently.

Notable Traits and Characteristics of the Boomers I

Boomers born in the early portion of the generation were all about change. They shifted focus from the previous generation of traditionalists and pleaded for action, social justice, and rights for all. This sub-generation exhibited passion and stood up for what they believed, a stark contrast to a generation of silent straight and narrows. An excellent example of this value can be seen in how so many Americans who grew up during this time acted out against The Vietnam War. A sense of optimism through activism is a vein that runs strong through so many people of this era, and even when political and economic climate shifted over the coming years, the spirit of early boomers sits heavily ingrained in a generation of people who fought for what they believed in.

Major Events That Impacted the Baby Boomers Generation

The Boomers lived through some pretty major happenings as they came of age. People of this generation witnessed:

  • The roaring sixties (a musical and cultural awakening)
  • The assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr. and John F. Kennedy
  • The Vietnam War
  • The first man on the moon
Couple dancing in a public park, 1969 - Getty Editorial Use

Other Common Names for the Baby Boomers Generation

Those born in the earlier part of the generation (between 1946 and 1955) are sometimes referred to as "leading Edge Baby Boomers." Boomers born after 1955 are sometimes also referred to as:

  • Trailing-Edge Boomers
  • Late Bloomers
  • Generation Jones

Notable Traits and Characteristics of the Boomers II

The latter wave of Boomers came of age in the seventies, a completely different decade than the sixties. Economic hardships robbed this sect of Boomers of the peace, love, and understanding persona that often coincides with the early Boomers. They are a naturally hardworking group of people who recognized early on that the good things in life would not be handed to them. Their nickname, "Gen Jones," directly correlates to the concept of "keeping up with the Jones."

Boomers Overall

As a generational cohort, the Boomers devote themselves to their work and passions. They know how to be part of a team and aren't likely to raise a stink over trivial things. This generation chooses to see a broader picture, not a self-possessed one. As a whole, they value relationships, as they grew up during a time where face-to-face interaction was the everyday norm.

Generation X

Generation X includes individuals born between the years 1965-1980. They are often referred to as "the latchkey generation" because they grew up during a period of high rates of divorce and mothers leaving home and entering the full-time workforce.

Notable Traits and Characteristics of Generation X

Those who grew up as a part of this generation learned how to be self-sufficient and independent. Many had to, since divorce was steadily climbing, single-parent households were commonplace, and both parents often worked outside the home. Gen X went to latchkey living, let themselves in the door, and made a sandwich after school all by themselves.

This generation is noted for focusing attention on work-life balance, likely due to growing up with extreme workers for parents. Because of key events that occurred at the rise of this generation, Gen X learned to question what was taking place around them. They are often characterized as being critical thinkers as well as flexible beings.

Major Events That Impacted Generation X

Generation X came of age during a period of profound global and economic change as well as political change. These changes and occurrences heavily influenced the generation in values and attitudes.

  • The Challenger Disaster
  • The fall of the Berlin Wall
  • Operation Desert Storm
Battle tanks test their guns during Operation Desert Shield - Getty Editorial Use

Other Common Names for Generation X

Compared to previous generations, this group of youths came home to empty houses as parents were divorcing and both working outside of the home at increasingly higher rates compared to previous generations. They are also sometimes referred to as:

  • The MTV Generation
  • The Sandwich Generation
  • Middle Child Generation (This generation falls between the famous Baby Boomers and the Millennial generations).

Millennial Generation

The Millennial generation refers to clusters of people born between the years 1981-1996. They got their generational name thanks to becoming adults at the turn of the millennium. They are the first generation to be heavily influenced by technology and the hands-on parenting style of Generation X and the Baby Boomers.

Notable Traits and Characteristics of the Millennial Generation

Millennials are the first generation to live, play, and exist in a heavy technological world. They are the masters of startups, the brains behind ingenuity, and they aim to play by their own rules. This generation grew up with parents who filled a partner or friend role instead of an authoritarian role; hence, they grew up to challenge, question, and focus on themselves and their own desires and motivations. While these traits have garnished a certain level of backlash over the years, the same qualities have propelled Millenials to be highly successful individuals.

Millennials are educated, technologically savvy, and civic-oriented. They have a strong sense of dedication to the community, on a local and global scale. They want to see change in their world and are devoted to being a part of that change.

Casual businesswomen having brainstorming and sticking notes on a wall

Major Events That Impacted Millennials

Millennials have witnessed some of the country's most impactful moments to date. They have been molded and influenced by the events of September 11th, as they were becoming adults at this time. They had the opportunity to vote for a Black president in their early adult years. Pinnacle happenings that helped shape Millenials' views and values include:

  • The election of Barack Obama
  • September 11th
  • Equal marriage rights
  • The Great Recession

Other Common Names for Millennials

This generation has no shortage of nicknames. Besides being known as "the Millenials," they are also commonly referred to as:

Gen Z (also known as iGen)

The oldest people in this generation were born in 1997, and the youngest members of the generation were born in 2012. They won't know a time where the universe wasn't interconnected by mass modes of technology. They are a generation influenced by speed, consumption of immediate knowledge, and social media.

Notable Traits and Characteristics of Gen Z

Gen Z is environmentally conscious, entrepreneurial, technologically innovative, educated, and authentically individualized. They are a take-charge generation who expects much of those around them, and much of themselves. Their goals and aspirations are lofty, and their confidence is high.

Greta Thunberg and their supporters rally for action on climate change on September 20, 2019 in New York City - Getty Editorial Use

Major Events That Impacted Gen Z

Gen Z will undoubtedly be impacted by major events that occur during the time these individuals are coming of age. While it can be assumed that this generation will be affected by what happens in the world, it is still too early to know which events will hold the greatest weight in their generational trait description. It is possible that the following events become key in how this generation views themselves and the world:

  • War and terrorism
  • Social networking
  • Climate change
  • Human rights
  • Global pandemic

Other Common Names for Gen Z

Generation Z is also commonly referred to as the Centennial Generation because many were born at the turn of the century. They are also sometimes referred to as:

  • iGen
  • Zoomers

Generation Alpha

Per AdAge, a new generation is on the cusp of formulation. Make way for the Alphas! The Alpha generation will include those born after 2010. Because the oldest members of this generation are not even into their teen years, it is hard to discern what common traits, characteristics, and values they will most identify with. Judging from the trajectory of generations past and the current world view, this generation can be expected to be heavily influenced by the internet and social media. They are also likely to be the most globally informed generation to date, the most educated generation, and ethnically diverse.

Examining the Generation Years

Looking at the generations, we can learn much about how humans are influenced by the people who came before them and major happenings and events during their formative years. Diving into the traits and characteristics of the generations creates a better understanding of the human experience over time.

Generation Years at a Glance: From The Greatest to Gen Z