—March 21, 2016
Are you a Millennial, a member of what is also referred to as Generation Y?
If you said “yes,” I have to ask, “how can you be sure?”
How do you know that you’re not a Gen. Xer? Or, on the other end of the spectrum, a member of the onrushing Generation Z?
Who or what defined you as Millennial, and under what authority? Or perhaps you “self-identified” (which seems to be quite popular within all matrixes of “identification” in the 21st Century).
I ask because journalists, market researchers and so-called generational experts spout off about “Millennials” ad nauseam, and yet few of them take the time to explain exactly how they determined what constitutes a Millennial, if they bother to delineate the generation at all.
Quick question: what are the Millennial birth years?
Ask 10 different people that question, and I’ll bet you get 10 different answers. You will also find a wide variety of birth-span ranges should you read 25 assorted Gen. Y-related news stories, market research reports or insights into the mind of the “Millennial” by an “expert.”
The same applies to a much greater extent with Generation X, the most maligned U.S. generation of the last 100 years. Let’s see, “Slacker Generation,” “Generation Me,” “Baby Bust,” and other negative monikers are often used to describe this generation. All undeserved, I must add.
For the record, I have the creds to debate this issue, because when I’m not writing for several other web sites and providing editorial consulting for various clients, I work as a demographic researcher.
And let me tell you, most of what you might read about Generations X, Y and Z is fraught with unsubstantiated opinions and likely not based on any substantive objective research.
Why, you ask?
Because few of the so-called experts delineate the generations or, when they do, explain any justification for their delineation. And, absent clearcut, logical delineation, objectivity is essentially rendered moot.
Consider this first in relation to the Baby Boomer generation, which was–for marketing purposes–the most studied generation in American history…up until the advent of Gen. Y.
Pretty much everyone agrees that the Boomers’ birth-year span started in around 1945/46 and ended in 1964/65, and that the generation’s birth range consisted of 20 years, which has historically been accepted as standard for delineating a generation.
But then came the Xers and that axiom was thrown out the door. I have seen Generation X delineated with as few as seven years, and have seen them described as starting in 1960, when most everyone believes that Boomers were still in full-production swing. I have seen more than 50 different delineations of Gen. X, in various articles and reports, with only about 25 percent making any logical sense.
Especially given that so many of the experts compare and contrast the generations. And, if the generations being compared are given different numbers for their birth-year spans then of course the comparisons are going to be flawed. Most of the “experts” talk about how small Gen. X is compared to the Boomers, but most of these “experts” only give the Xers a 10- to 15-year birth span, and sometimes, less.
Duh…. If you’re going to compare 15, 10 or less years of a generation’s births to 20 years of births, the generation in question is going to be comparatively smaller.
But, for the record, the X birth numbers were small. If you give Gen. X the standard 20-years of births and “logically” follow the Boomers by beginning the generation in about 1965, then yes, by births Gen. X was about 9 million smaller than the Baby Boomers. But guess what? Add a little time and a lot of immigrants to the equation and Generation X numbers almost grew as large as those of the boomers.
All this to say that the delineation of Generation Y, the Millennials, is all fucked up because the “experts” played around with Gen. X so much. I’ve seen Generation Y described as being born between 1980 and 2000, or 1985 to 2006, 1990 to 2002, and even 1977 to 1993. But at least they occasionally get a 20-year time span, though usually less, and sometimes more.
And just to complicate things further, the “experts” are already pontificating about Generation Z, waxing poetic about the characteristics of this still-emerging generation. And these characteristics are all over the map: “Least likely to believe that there is such a thing as the American Dream.” “More risk averse than the Millennials.” “Have a digital bond to the internet.” “Tend to be independent.” “Expect to find a job that will be an expression of their identity.”
A Job! Really…?
According to what would be the most logical delineation based on a sequential following of the Boomer Generation, the oldest members of Gen. Z are only 11-years-old, and I seriously doubt that these 11-year-olds are already pondering their future employment.
Oh, and some of these pundits are also asserting that Gen. Z is the largest generation currently alive in America, and/or the largest American generation ever, but I would surmise that these generational geniuses are either using an especially broad birth range, or just haven’t bothered to actually count the population numbers according to the delineation being used.
I believe that the lack of a universally accepted delineation of the generations is largely due to researchers and marketers liking it that way. It lets them move the goalposts in order to shift populations in order to fit particular preconceived premises, and then absolves them from any blame should their generational theories prove wrong.
So, next time you read an article about Gen. Y, X or Z, take note of whether the author has bothered to delineate them by noting their generational age span or birth-date range. If so, try to determine if it makes sense, and that the given time frames work in relation to other generations. If not, treat the article with the same skepticism you should be giving to the vast majority of 21st Century U.S. Politicians.
Oh, and for the record, the logical delineation of Generations X, Y and Z based upon sequentially following the Boomers with the standard 20-year generational time frame is as follows:
- Generation X—born between 1965 and 1984 and currently aged 32 to 51 (est. U.S. population of 82.9 million).
- Generation Y—born Between 1985 and 2004 and currently aged 12 to 31 (est. U.S. population of 86.6 million).
- Generation Z—born between 2005 and the still-to-come 2024, and currently aged 0 to 11 (est. U.S. population of 40.4 million).