Differences between decades of generations

CJ Coombs

So when do you fit under a generation label? The day you are born.

We all know what the Baby Boomer and Millennial generation cohorts are because we’ve heard about them for a long time. It’s always been confusing to me as far as which generation cohort belongs to which ages. If you know the time period, it’s easier. For example, we know Baby Boomers started after World War II.

It doesn’t matter how old you are now. The year you were born will determine which generation cohort (group of people with shared characteristics) you were born into. Each cohort represents years — usually 20–25 years — and within those years, people have had different expressions, goals, attitudes, and even experienced the same historical event.

Who and what are the generational groups?

The Baby Boomers — Let’s start with the Baby Boomers since I belong to that group. The Baby Boomers were born between 1946 and 1964. As of 2021, their ages fall between 57–75 years old (check this out — there are about 71.6 million Baby Boomers in the United States). After World War II, people in the United States were hopeful and excited about new prosperity which resulted in many people having babies, e.g., the baby boom, and there you have it, the Baby Boomers. Sidenote: the Baby Boomers also experienced the hippie era.

The largest consumers of traditional media are the Baby Boomers with a very high percentage of them having a Facebook account. This unit has tried to become educated with technology whether through employment or just to keep in touch with family members and even reconnect with old friends. With the advancement of technology, one is nearly forced to learn how to get involved. Also, cell phones began replacing landlines.

The Baby Boomers became more educated with preparing for retirement since life expectancies were increasing. They prefer to use cash and have experienced the highest increase in student loan debt. This generation helps their children with their student loan debt. Baby Boomer parents believe they should take care of their children to help them find their path in life. They may not plan on leaving an inheritance because they could be outliving their retirement fund. A major concern to Baby Boomers is to ensure they can fund their retirement. Also, more Baby Boomers use a smartphone now even compared to 10 years ago — the percentage has increased.

Population pyramid of the United States in 2016.Wikimedia.
The population pyramid of the United States illustrates the age and sex structure of population and may provide insights about political and social stability, as well as economic development. The population is distributed along the horizontal axis, with males shown on the left and females on the right. The male and female populations are broken down into 5-year age groups represented as horizontal bars along the vertical axis, with the youngest age groups at the bottom and the oldest at the top. The shape of the population pyramid gradually evolves over time based on fertility, mortality, and international migration trends.

Generation X — The people who represent Generation X are those born between 1965–1980 and are aged between 41 and 56 based on the year 2021. They were named Generation X because there were no strong identifiers for this cohort. People who fit this cohort are also referred to as the latchkey or MTV generation (their size is about 65.2 million). They still read forms of media, listen to the radio, and watch television. They like digital mediums and spend more time on Facebook than other generational cohorts. Surprise, surprise. They handle their finances online. They are more loyal to their banking institutions and don’t mind going to the bank in person. They are part of the movement involving the rise of personal computing. They take care of their parents who are aging and might be raising a family. They are also paying off their student loan debt. These demands put a high strain on their resources.

Generation Y — Generation Y is also called Gen Y or as most of us refer to them — the Millennials. The Millennials were born between 1981 and 1994/6. As of 2021, they are between 25 and 40 years old (there’s about 72.1 million Gen Ys in the United States). There are cohorts within Gen Y that break down this generation even further: Gen Y1 includes people aged between 25 and 29 (around 31 million). Gen Y2 includes people aged between 29 and 39 (around 42 million). Interestingly, this cohort of Millennials has been widely credited to Neil Howe and William Strauss who used the label in 1989 when the upcoming millennium began to seed our brains.

Howe and Strauss developed a theory about generations of people within a time period and an age group who were sharing similar characteristics — values and attitudes, and who experienced certain events, and then they grow up and become adults in a certain time of history — all sharing similar views. Howe and Strauss believed these generation cohorts are cyclical. They have written books revealing their notion of the generations. Sadly, Strauss passed away in 2007, but Howe still continues his own work. With each generation running 20–25 years before one generation turns into another, and there’s a cyclic nature to that.

Regarding the dividing up of the Millennials, Javelin Research noticed Millennials were at different stages in their lives; some were still in early adulthood, wrestling with new careers and settling down, while the older Millennials had a home and were raising families. The younger group is just starting to use their buying power and the older group has had that experience and is into managing their money.

Spending power.Stephen Phillips.

Other nicknames for this cohort are Gen Y, Gen Me, Gen We, or Echo boomers. Many of the Millennials watch television but rather than lean on cable companies as a provider, they turn to Netflix and Hulu, streaming shows is the way to go. This generation cohort enjoys their cell phones and performs shopping online. Millennials have several social media accounts. Unlike their parents, they are less loyal to a specific bank (building a relationship isn’t as important); and have less patience for inefficient or poor service. This is probably why they lean to Apple and Google for their needs. Millennials are strengthening the workforce, but not without a lot of student debt and due to debt, they look for access before ownership.

Millennials stand to inherit millions from Baby Boomer and early Gen X parents by the year 2030, setting them up to potentially be the most wealthy generation in U.S. history.

Generation Z — Generation Z is expected to make a lot of money by 2030 and pass the spending power of the Millennials. This generation cohort is born between 1997 and 2012, and are currently between 9 and 24 years old (there’s about 68 million Gen Zs in the United States). This cohort generally refers to babies born from the late 1990s through now. They used to be the youngest people but have been replaced by Generation A. We’ll have to wait and see what the next generation cohort will be labeled. Some other nicknames for Generation Z are iGeneration, post-millennials, or Homeland Generation. The average Gen Z child received their first cell phone at around age 10. Many of them grew up playing with their parents’ mobile phones or tablets. They have grown up in a hyper-connected world and the smartphone is their preferred method of communication. On average, they spend 3 hours a day on their mobile device. I believe it. This generation has seen the struggle of Millennials and is a bit more conservative. They want to avoid debt and like mobile banking. They don’t know life without a smartphone, learned social media, and witnessed their parents’ financial issues. Generation Z wants to be financially educated. If you want to know more interesting comments about Gen Z, check out Kasasa. The other fact to remember is that new technology is typically first adopted by the youngest generation because they were born into the routine and habit of its usage.

Generation A (Alpha) — Last but not least, we have Generation A (Alpha), a name given by social analyst Mark McCrindle to the youngest children on Earth. By the year 2025, there will be nearly 2 billion members of Generation A worldwide. Generation A starts with children born in 2012 and will continue at least through 2025, or later (about 48 million in the United States). Generation Alpha is named for the first letter of the Greek alphabet. The ages of Generation Alpha are currently from birth to age 9 and are born between 2012 and 2025. This cohort doesn’t have any nicknames yet. Right now, there are about 48 million people in this cohort. Technology is part of their everyday lives. Because of COVID-19, many attended school virtually. It’s expected that Generation Alpha will be highly educated and wealthy. The events that have helped shape their lives will be the pandemic, social justice movements, and politics of the Trump era.

The generational cohorts, if anything, help us to understand the behavior and characteristics of consumers in each named generation. Each generation cohort banks differently. They have been in the workforce for different times and have different levels of wealth. Some generation cohorts haven’t established a level of wealth yet. During COVID-19, every existing cohort had to adapt accordingly as far as the way they handled money or lived in general.

The trend has long been for each new generation to adopt digital and mobile banking services more readily. But the COVID-19 pandemic has turned on a new wave of late-adopters who now bank digitally, too.

According to a recent Zelle survey, 82% of seniors aged 55 and over bank online more often, and more are involved with social media. The older generations like the Baby Boomers are “behaving more like younger generations.”

Sources: Boomers, Gen X, Gen Y, Gen Z, and Gen Z Explained; Consumer Culture Report; A Look At Wealth — Millennial Millionaires; Gen Z’s surging economic power will permanently change the investing landscape over the next decade, Bank of America says; Adobe Analytics Research: How Different Generations Bank; Senior Research — 55+; Generation Alpha

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Hello! I have 30 years of experience in the legal field, and a BA in Eng Journalism & Creative Writing. I am an incessant thinker, giver, and lover of life. Born into the service life of the Air Force in Louisiana, life has taken me to Idaho, Kauai, Nebraska, South Dakota, and ultimately to Missouri, I don't have that true concept of "home," but believe every living experience is tied to language. I applaud all writers who churn language into something artful, meaningful, and productive. I love my family, art, true crime, non-fiction, reading, travel, and red pinot.

Kansas City, MO

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