How Long Is A Generation: Measuring The Generation Gap

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The word “generation” is often used in everyday conversation. Some people even use generation as a way to calculate the passage of time. However, a generation isn’t as easily measured when compared to a decade or a century.

What is a generation and how long is a generation, anyway? Whether you’re trying to get in touch with your family history or are curious about how society evolved over time, we’ve got you covered. In this article, we’ll discuss everything you need to know about generations!

What Is A Generation?

The term “generation” has its roots in the Latin word generare, which means “to beget”. In social sciences, the word is used to define a group of individuals that were born and lived around the same time. 

This is often used as a way to measure periods in history because most people in one generation share many similar ideas and attitudes, as well as witnessed the same events. For instance, most Americans born in the 1950s would have come of age early enough to witness and remember the Kennedy assassination. 

Different generations often have differing worldviews and career prospects, thanks to the unique events that shaped them. This is one of the primary sources of generational tension and rifts in a professional or parent-child relationship.

The Two Types Of Generations

While in the general public “generation” only has one meaning, social science has two ways to define generations. These two types are family generation and social generation. To help you understand and be able to tell them apart, we’ll break it down.

Family Generation

In physical and biological sciences, family generations are defined as a group of people within the same line of descent from an ancestor. Simply put, this is the way we usually define generations. Common wisdom says that the average length of a familial generation is four generations per century, but this length can vary depending on many factors. 

One of the most defining factors is the country’s level of development. Families in developed countries usually have a high 20s to 30-year gap between generations. In these nations, people are more hesitant to have children at a young age because of many economic and social factors.

Conversely, less-developed countries have shorter generation gaps, averaging in the low 20s. Many people in developing countries tend to marry younger, resulting in the next generation being born sooner.

Social Generation

Social generations are generally defined as “a group of people who were born and lived around the same time”. Because they went through similar events, people in one generation usually share many traits and worldviews. 

There are eight of the most recent generations in the Western world, from the Lost Generation that started in 1883 to Generation Alpha that began in the 2010s.

Some people make new micro-generations to combine a generation that has overlapping characteristics with previous or succeeding generations. For example, there is a micro-generation between Millennials and Gen Z called Zennials.

How Long Is Each Generation?

Calculating generational intervals isn’t an exact science, especially in family generations. However, social generations are better-defined since it applies to a broad range of people and has been recorded in history. 

If you’re curious about how long a social generation lasts, we’ve broken down the eight Western generations and how many years each of them lasted. 

Lost Generation

Sometimes known as the Generation of 1914, the Lost Generation made up the bulk of World War I’s fighters. Most experts agreed that this generation was born in the 17 years between 1883 and 1900, then came of age during WWI and the Roaring Twenties.

Greatest Generation

Many of the Greatest Generation or G.I. Generation are veterans who fought in World War II. This generation consists of people born from 1901 to 1927, which means this generation lasted about 26 years.

Silent Generation

This generation came of age in the post-WWII era. Born in the 17 years between 1928 and 1945, many of the Silent Generation fought in the Korean War and some also fought in Vietnam.

Baby Boomer Generation

Baby Boomers took their name from the post-WWII baby boom which lasted 18 years from 1946 to 1964. The baby boom made this generation relatively large, and many of them either fought in Vietnam or were part of 60s counterculture movements.

Generation X

Generation X lasted 15 years and was made up of people born from 1965 to 1980. This generation is characterized as being independent and took heavy cultural influence from MTV. Gen X was also witnesses to the last days of communism and the increase of maternal participation in the workforce.

Millennial Generation

So named because they came of age around the turn of the millennium, Millennials or Generation Y were born in the 15 years between 1981 and 1996. According to the Pew Research Center, Millennials overtook the Baby Boomers as the largest generation in the United States.

Generation Z

Sometimes known as Zoomers, Generation Z consists of people born in the 15-years between 1997 and 2012. Many of them are children of Generation Y and were termed “digital natives” since they were born at the height of technological advancement.

Generation Alpha

Generation Alpha is the first generation born entirely in the 21st century and is one of the most recent generations. Many experts agree that babies from this new generation are born between the early 2010s and the mid-2020s.

How Long Do Family Generations Last?

While historians are responsible for determining social generations, a field called genetic genealogy is responsible for counting how long family generations last. 

The conventional wisdom states that the average generational length lasts 25 years. In primitive cultures when humans mated younger and life expectancies were shorter, this average generation length would have been around 20 years. 

However, researchers in this field have shown that the more appropriate interval for both male generations (father to son) and female-line generations (mother to daughter) is longer than that. The actual male generational interval would be a third longer than that, while the female line interval would be half that amount. So average male line lineages showed to last around 31-32 years, while female lines would last 28-29 years. 

Nevertheless, the common 25-year estimate works well as just that – an estimate. If there’s too long a span between generations, it’s a reason for researchers to re-check their information because there may have been mistakes made along family lines.

Calculating Your Family Generational Interval

If you’ve ever been curious how long each generation in your own family lines lasted, you can count generational intervals yourself! All you need to prepare is the birth dates of relevant family members – three generations are enough, meaning yourself, your parents, and grandparents. You also need to know at what age they had children.

Calculating One Generation’s Interval

If you’re trying to calculate the whole lineage length of one generation, for instance between you and your parents, you need to average your parents’ age when they had children. For example, if your father had you when he was 27 and your mother was 25, the average age is 26 – this is the generational interval between you and your parents.

Calculating Your Entire Family’s Generational Interval

If you want to know how long generations are in your family, the method is simpler. Say, you want to calculate the average interval between five generations in your family. Simply subtract your birth year with your oldest ancestor’s birth year and divide the results by the number of generations.

For instance, your oldest ancestor was born in 1860 and you were born in 2000. The result will be 140 – divide this by the number of generations between them and you—let’s say 5—and you’ll get 28. This means that the average lineage length in your family is 28 years. 

Other Generational Calculations

You can take these two calculations and apply them in many ways. For example, you want to see how long the male generation in your family lasts compared to the female generation. You can do this by calculating the average generational intervals of male lines exclusively, then comparing it to the interval of your maternal line.

Closing Thoughts

There’s no exact way to convert generations into years. While the length of social generations is easier to determine, figuring out how long your family generation lasts may need some extra calculations. 

Researching past generations is a good way to get in touch with your family history. Another great way to help with your research is to look through old photos. However, they may have been damaged after decades in storage – which is where Image Restoration Center comes in. Contact us today for world-class photo restorations at an affordable price!

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