A Primer On Generations: How Do They Work?

Learn More About The Personal History Of The Different Generations

What Is A Generation?

A generation refers to all the people born within a specific period. The word “generate” comes from the word “generare” in Latin, which means “to beget” or to bring a person into existence.

Most genealogists break generations up into two sub-categories.

Family Generations

A family generation describes relatives in the same peer group in the line of descent from a shared ancestor. For instance, you share a generation with your siblings and cousins, while your parents, aunts, and uncles share the generation before you.

Social Generations

Social generations describe groups of people born within the same period and have shared cultural experiences. These characteristics can influence career choices, financial decisions, the decision to have children, and when these people might retire.

Factors that might affect when a generation ends and begins include:

  • Wars
  • Recessions
  • Pandemics
  • Technological changes

Social generations include:

  • Baby Boomers
  • Millennials
  • Generation Z

How Long Is A Generation?

Generations typically last between 20 and 30 years, though there is no hard and fast rule about this. Genealogists state that a generation lasts for as long as it takes for its people to be born, grow up, and produce offspring.

Significant changes in society or technology can prematurely end a generation. For example, new technological advancements can create significant divides between people even in the same generation.

What Is A Generation Gap?

A generation gap is the difference in values, opinions, and beliefs between two or more social generations. You can distinguish between generation gaps by studying language, technology, demographics, and workplace culture.

What Generation Am I?

Remember, while generations often last between 20 and 30 years, this number might change according to your experiences and family history. Otherwise, the easiest way to determine what generation you are part of is to use this simple guide.

What Is The GI Generation? (1924 Or Earlier)

Sometimes referred to as the “Greatest Generation”, this describes people affected by the Great Depression in WWII. The GI Generation was afflicted with hardships brought about by income inequality, a flourishing economy, famine, and, most importantly, the war.

What Is The Silent Generation? (1928 - 1945)

People from the Silent Generation included those who participated in the Korean and Vietnam Wars. Like the GI Generation, those from the Silent Generation suffered economic hardships and were exposed to Nazism.

The Silent Generation was generally frugal and thrifty. They were also very law-abiding.

What Are The Baby Boomers? (1946 - 1964)

Born during the post-World War baby boom, Boomers experienced significant educational reforms and political unrest. People were more likely to experience psychological depression and other mental health problems.

Baby Boomers also became prone to health issues like obesity, diabetes, stroke, and cardiac arrest. However, Baby Boomers also enjoyed economic prosperity, and many were wealthy.

What Is Generation X? (1965 - 1980)

Societal values changed drastically for Generation X, sometimes referred to as the “MTV Generation”. Many Generation X-ers self-identified as punk and heavy metal, paving the way for many fashion movements and progressive films.

Generation X-ers also strayed from communism, transitioning society into capitalism. Toward the latter 20th century, Generation X became happier and more active due to a strong work-life balance.

What Are Millennials? (1981 - 1996)

Millennials were the first to experience the Internet Age, with marked elevated usage of mobile phones and laptop computers. Many describe millennials to be non-religious but sometimes spiritual and less inclined to get married and have children.

Because of the media explosion, millennials are more heavily influenced by pop culture and often base their decisions on film and television idols.

What Is Gen Z? (1997 - 2012)

Also occasionally dubbed “zoomers”, Generation Z is the first generation to grow up with Internet access. Despite being “digital natives”, members of Gen Z are highly afflicted by the adverse effects of too much screen time and tend to live “more slowly” than their predecessors.

While better-educated, Gen Z-ers are also more significantly predisposed to depression and are sometimes considered “the most stressed generation.”

Are There People Who Don’t Fit Into Generations?

Some people may not feel they belong to certain generations and are often referred to as Cuspers. Cuspers are born between two generations and may relate to characteristics from both.

Another reason you might feel you don’t belong to a specific generation is if you have older parents and relate more to the generation before yours.

What Types Of Technology Existed Throughout Different Generations?

Almost every generation experienced a significant technological advancement. These innovations included:

  • Radio: GI Generation
  • Film: Silent Generation
  • Television: Baby Boomers
  • Computers: Generation X
  • The Internet: Millennials
  • Smartphones and social media: Generation Z

How Do People Study Generations?

Cultural scientists study generations in many ways, including on a personal level and through the study of trends and patterns. There are more accessible ways for individuals to learn about their family history, including DNA testing from 23andme and Ancestry. 

According to scientists who specialize in epigenetics, it is possible to study generational characteristics on the DNA level. Epigenetics refers to the study of biological mechanisms that change throughout generations. Ultimately, the goal of epigenetics is to determine what makes an individual or an entire generation unique.