Exploring the Different Lengths of Generations

Despite their popularity and pervasiveness, generations still need to be better understood by many. The lines defining each generation are often arbitrary, and the mechanisms by which generations emerge often need to be simplified.

As a result, many of the conclusions reached by generational analysis need to be more accurate. 

Age Cohorts

Researchers have long disagreed about exactly how long a generation lasts. At a basic level, it should last as long as it takes for people in a particular age group to be born, grow up, and have their children. However, many other factors can impact the length of a generation. A significant event like a war can mark the end of one, while a significant change in society can cause it to expand. For example, the baby boomers are considered to have started after World War II. They then grew up in the post-war economic boom. But they could also be considered to extend their generational label into the 1980s when a new technology boom began.

Although generational labels have their limitations, they are still famous for marketing and research purposes. Marketers often use generational data to target their advertisements, and journalists frequently report on age-related trends. It is also essential to recognize that these labels are only a rough guide and that there are different characteristics among individuals of the same age group.

For example, people who grew up with television may develop a different personality than those who didn’t. This is because the TV generation was exposed to various information and opinions that people in other generations weren’t. Similarly, someone who grew up in a family that practiced thriftiness is likely to be more frugal than those who didn’t.

Historical Events

Many significant historical events have shaped the different lengths of generations. How long is a generation depends on the changes in the family structure, economic conditions, societal norms, values, and beliefs. Medical advancements and the availability of contraception and other reproductive technologies can also influence the duration of a generation. Moreover, gender can impact generational timeframes, as male-line generations, passed from father to son, tend to be longer on average than female-line generations.

As a result, it’s essential to understand how a generation’s length is determined to comprehend social trends and demographic shifts better. An excellent place to start is by looking at the different age cohorts that make up a generation. However, it’s essential to remember that defining a generational cohort is based on birth years and not age. People grow older, so a generation’s boundaries can change over time.

For example, the Millennials are often described as born between 1981 and 1996. However, some argue that a new generation, Gen Z, should be added to the cohort as they were born after 2000.

As a result, calculating the length of a generation is not an exact science and can be subject to debate and criticism. However, using generations can be helpful for businesses and marketers as they can provide a way to understand how attitudes and perspectives evolve.

Technological Advancements

Generational trends are shaped by the rapid technological changes that influence how people communicate and interact. Each significant new technological development that comes into wide use can dramatically shift how people live and perceive the world around them.

The “one-child policy” in China between 1980 and 2013 influenced the generation born during that time, known as the one-child generation. The policy was later softened into a two-child policy in 2013. This profoundly affected this generation’s identity, egoism, and how they view the role of family in their lives.

Similarly, baby boomers experienced the post-World War II era, with television expanding and computers becoming commonplace. Gen X and millennials were raised with the Internet and have a tech-savvy mindset. This generation is savvy, socially connected, and values experience over material possessions. Marketing campaigns should focus on how these technological platforms allow them to connect online with their friends, families, and coworkers.

Several studies by anthropologists, sociologists, and population geneticists have shown that male-line generations are shorter on average than female-line generations, as men tend to mate younger and have a lower life expectancy than women. However, many other factors impact the length of a generation, including societal and cultural trends, historical events, and technological advancements. These differences make it difficult to pinpoint exactly how long a generation lasts.

Economic Conditions

Regardless of the precise length of their span, a generation’s experiences shape its view of the world and its approach to life. Demographers have long studied generations, with some experts arguing that they’re the engine behind social change, and each time a group of people enters a new stage of life, they shape the society surrounding them.

Each generation is shaped by the economic conditions of their time. Baby Boomers, for example, grew up in the population explosion that followed World War II, and they became famous for spending every dollar they earned. Their consumerism fueled global economies, and they also had the opportunity to invest in their futures by buying real estate and businesses.

Millennials, born between 1981 and 1996, have experienced instability due to conflict, terrorism, and the Great Recession. This has shaped their view of the world and their approach to work, with many finding that career stability is more important than working from home or other flexible options. As a result, they tend to be less attached to their employer than previous generations and may change jobs frequently.