Generations: Yours, mine, and theirs

Today, on her blog Time Goes By, Ronni Bennett talks about how the media address different generations differently. Specifically, she refers to New York Times articles about Boomers being “upbeat, optimistic and cheerful,” while the only articles for those older than Boomers are about “failing health.”

I surmise that the major cause of this is the writers being younger than either group; to them Boomers are the aging generation; those of us older than that are just dead or dying. That aside, I began to wonder what my generation is called. I’ve known I was a war baby, born during WWII (1943), but what is my generation called?

Somehow I’ve lived this long without knowing (or, more likely, forgetting) that mine is the Silent Generation. Silent as in invisible, dead, gone, voiceless? Hardly. After all, we were leaders in the civil rights and nascent women’s lib movements. And some of us were young enough to get involved in the Vietnam protests and rub elbows with the hippies of the ’60s.

Wikipedia explains the origin of the name:

The label “Silent Generation” was first coined in the November 5, 1951 cover story of Time to refer to the generation coming of age at the time, born during the Great Depression and World War II, including the bulk of those who fought during the Korean War. The article found its characteristics as grave and fatalistic, conventional, possessing confused morals, expecting disappointment but desiring faith, and for women, desiring both a career and a family….

The phrase gained further currency after William Manchester‘s comment that members of this generation were “withdrawn, cautious, unimaginative, indifferent, unadventurous and silent.”

Some sources say the Silent Generation was born from 1925 to 1942. Others extend that through 1943, which puts me (1943) right on the cusp, neither Silent nor Boomer, or some of both. It’s interesting and frustrating trying to decide exactly where my ideas and attitudes fit in.

While trying to find my generation’s name, I came across an article, “The Six Living Generations in America,” by Dr. Jill Novak. It pegs me as a Mature/Silent, a group she defines as born 1927-1945, although her description varies a bit from the Wikipedia entry.

Her six generations and some (be sure to read all) of her defining characteristics:

GI Generation 1901-1926 (my parents’ generation and a strong influence on me)

  • They saved the world, then built a nation
  • Strongly interested in personal morality and near-absolute standards of right and wrong
  • Marriage is for life; divorce and having children out of wedlock were not accepted
  • There was no “retirement”; you worked until you died or couldn’t work anymore
  • Avoid debt … save and buy with cash
  • Sometimes called The Greatest Generation

Mature/Silents 1927-1945 (me and one of my siblings)

  • Went through their formative years during an era of suffocating conformity, but also during the postwar happiness: Peace! Jobs! Suburbs! Television! Rock ‘n Roll! Cars! Playboy Magazine!
  • Pre-feminism women: women stayed home generally to raise children; if they worked it was only certain jobs like teacher, nurse, or secretary
  • Men pledged loyalty to the corporation; once you got a job, you generally kept it for life
  • Marriage is for life; divorce and having children out of wedlock were not accepted
  • In grade school, the gravest teacher complaints were about passing notes and chewing gum in class
  • “Retirement” means to sit in a rocking chair and live your final days in peace
  • The Big-Band/Swing music generation
  • Strong sense of trans-generational common values and near-absolute truths
  • Disciplined, self-sacrificing, and cautious

Baby Boomers 1946-1964 (three of my four siblings)

  • Two subsets: the save-the-world revolutionaries of the ’60s and ’70s, and the party-hardy career climbers (Yuppies) of the ’70s/’80s
  • The “me” generation
  • “Rock and roll” music generation
  • Ushered in the free love and societal “non-violent” protests which triggered violence
  • Women of this generation began working outside the home in record numbers, thereby changing the entire nation
  • The first divorce generation, where divorce was beginning to be accepted as a tolerable reality
  • Their aging will change America almost incomprehensibly; they are the first generation to use the word “retirement” to mean being able to enjoy life after the children have left home. Instead of sitting in a rocking chair, they go skydiving, exercise, and take up hobbies, which increases their longevity.

Generation X 1965-1980 (my son’s generation)

  • The “latch-key kids” grew up street-smart but isolated, often with divorced or career-driven parents
  • Entrepreneurial
  • Very individualistic
  • Cynical of many major institutions, which failed their parents or them, during their formative years
  • Raised in the transition phase of written based knowledge to digital knowledge archives
  • Tend to commit to self rather than an organization or specific career
  • Short on loyalty and wary of commitment
  • Cautious, skeptical, unimpressed with authority, self-reliant

Generation Y/Millennium 1981-2000

  • Respect authority
  • Falling crime rates and falling teen pregnancy rates, but with school safety problems
  • Prefer digital literacy, as they grew up in a digital environment
  • With unlimited access to information, tend to be assertive with strong views
  • Envision the world as a 24/7 place; want fast and immediate processing

Generation Z/Boomlets born after 2001 (my grandchildren)

  • Since the early 1700s the most common last name in the US was Smith but not anymore; now it is Rodriguez
  • 61 percent of children 8-17 have televisions in their rooms
  • 35 percent have video games
  • 4 million will have their own cell phones; they have never known a world without computers and cell phones
  • Have eco-fatigue: they are actually tired of hearing about the environment and the many ways we have to save it
  • With the advent of computers and web based learning, children leave behind toys at a younger and younger age. It’s called KGOY — kids growing older younger

Novak’s research was to help marketers decide how to appeal to target audiences. But it provides an interesting overview of our society, and who and what drives our ideas, concerns, and aspirations. Each of us is influenced in varying degrees by our parents, siblings, friends and neighbors, classmates, workplace, etc. So much more goes into making us who we are than just our birth years, and yet we can see definite generational characteristics.

I was heavily influenced by two happily married, financially secure parents; four siblings, one older and three younger, spanning two generations; and neighborhood schools that were actually in and reflective of the neighborhood, i.e. not integrated and within walking distance. I grew up a conformist with strong, even rigid, ideas of right and wrong, expecting to marry for life and be a stay-at-home mom. Still, I expected to go to college, and once there it made sense to study for a possible career.

As it turned out, economics eventually dictated I go to work, even though everything in me protested I should be at home with my son. It didn’t help that I much preferred job and career to parenting and homemaking. Marriage, too, turned out to be not a bed of roses, not a lifetime commitment. I struggled mightily with what I’d expected for and of myself vs. reality. Such were the conflicts that women my age faced.

Despite what the various definitions say, I consider myself very much of the rock and roll era (not big band/swing), “Happy Days” and “Father Knows Best,” the nascent women’s lib era, and the era of technology. I tend to identify more with Boomers, yet suffer the inhibitions of the Silents. Labels and stereotypes don’t fit me any better than they fit anyone else.

What about you? Are you content with your generation’s description (see Novak’s complete list)? Do you fit neatly into your assigned cubby or do you find yourself torn between generations with constantly conflicting ideals?

And on an entirely different but very important note, what do these generational characteristics say about our future as a nation?

18 thoughts on “Generations: Yours, mine, and theirs

  1. Wow, what a well put together post! I’ve felt completely at odds with just about every “group” I’ve encountered PT, and the thought that there are those who dedicated so much of their time categorizing people disturbs me to know end. If forced to, I’d go with a self-categorization similar to yours – as long as you include the “conscience-based” subset of rock and roll! 😀

    1. Rock and roll forever! I can’t imagine a world without it. As for the categorizing, some people just aren’t happy until they’ve neatly categorized and labeled everything. Our birth dates are immutable; I guess that’s why they make such good categories. But in every other respect each of us is unique and constantly evolving.

      1. Each of us, a cell of awareness
        Imperfect and incomplete
        Genetic blends, with uncertain ends
        On a fortune hunt that’s far too fleet.

        Rush – “Freewill”

        1. It always amazes me how much truth and insight can be found in rock lyrics — so often written by young people who are dismissed as caring only about sex, drugs, and rock and roll.

          1. Those are the ones with enough guts to say it? Ones strong enough to still withstand life’s repeated blows, challenges, compromises, and scorn?
            The cubbies? Some compelled to freeze everything/one and give it a set definition and worth. Others know you might as well try and catch the wind

          2. True, they probably “live” more in their first 20 or 30 years than I have in my lifetime.

            The cubbies give us a frame of reference, even if most of them are generalizations. It’s human nature to try to impose order on our surroundings. “Try” being the operative word.

  2. Illuminating since what it mostly shows is where media and advertisers deposit us. Born in 1933, I can related to a couple of characteristics of my “assigned” group. Feminists like myself, were perking at home in late 1960s, early 70s, were the ones who had the time to support the second wave of the women’s movement–then when to work to struggle against old ideas about our “place.”

    Our future as a nation: not optimistic. What I worked hard to help achieve–voting rights, women’s equality,civil rights, CHOICE–are heavily under siege. And successful, hard working children more cynical, less inclination/less time to do the heavy lifting needed now.

    1. Stereotypes abound when it comes to media and advertisers. Unfortunately their saturation of our lives and mores tends to become a sort of self-fulfilling prophecy. Not a healthy trend, since their motive is profit, nothing more.

      I share your pessimism about the future. So many people suddenly seem so determined to turn back the clock. Where did they come from? Why now? And will the next generation have the will, the concern, the sense of purpose to defend what we worked so hard for?

      Incidentally, I would add environmental awareness and scientific knowledge to your list.

  3. A boomer here. But not really representative of that generation as understood. But I have notice one intergenerational key. The years 1964 through 1967 split the boomers. Those who graduated High School in 64 couldn’t recognize high school by 67. The shifting values of those four short years were revolutionary and set the tone for politics that still play out today. The culture war of the last thirty years is intergenerational. Boomer against Boomer. When you go from Shelley Fabares to Janis Joplin, that quick and concentrated, the center can’t hold. And it didn’t.

    This is way too long and simplistic for a really good post.


    1. Fabares vs. Joplin. Thirty years of culture war in three words. Summed up as only a poet could. I’m not a poet. It would take me too long to write that short. But then, I was looking at a lot more than thirty years.

  4. The generational values seem to me to apply fairly well, although obviously there are many individual exceptions. I don’t hold the pessimistic view of the future. Many people in older generations tend to disparage the characteristics of the newer models. Yet, the U.S. continues to lead the world in many areas and remains the magnet for people everywhere who seek opportunity for personal growth. Those misguided kids must learn how to do a lot right as they mature!

    1. I try hard not to be the stereotypical old fart who thinks the younger generation is worthless, but I’m a natural born worrier. It doesn’t help that I live alone and rely (too much) on the TV for company.

      Speaking of the younger generation(s), we’ve had Gen X, Y, and Z. What are they going to call the next one?

  5. Interesting. Yes, I think I probably fit into my niche fairly well. And it does describe my kids too. Particularly my son, who gave up toys for electronics very early. I mean, I was a lego brat, but he never got into them despite my encouragement. And he never got into action figures. For him, legos are the pieces of Minecraft. He’s a collaborative kid, and he loves working with others on projects. For me, creation is an isolated art form.

    My wife (who is slightly older than I am), is clearly a Boomer. She’s the youngest of four, and was highly influenced by her siblings, who are even more stereotypical of that generation than she is. My parents are also Boomers – they had kids early as was common back then. Now they’re retired and seem to be enjoying it. My mother was certainly one of your prototypical “working outside the home” mothers. I grew up listening to their music, reading about their history, and going to school during the “experimental” years of “let’s change the education system!” I have a great deal of respect for the Boomers. They massively shifted our culture, and lived through major alterations, all of which have led to a “now” that I see as better than “then.”

    As for my own generation, I think we’ve had a very weird mixture of cultural shifts. We grew up watching the world shrink. We started when there were no computers, saw the advent of the Commodore 64, Apple IIc, and IBM 8080 systems. We moved from black and white televisions, to color, to green screen monitors, to CGA, to VGA, and to DVI and HDMI, adapting as we went – excited with the change. We straddle the digital divide, experienced with the old and the new, picking up and creating more as we go, and watching the complexity increase. But now, it’s become so complicated that learning all of it isn’t an option anymore, and we watch our children swim through this mess, picking up what they want and ignoring the other pieces. We took it all in because we could. There wasn’t as much of it. Now, there’s too much, and the newer generations will be forced to specialize where we could afford to be more generalist. But we’re not done yet. We’ll be in the workplace for decades more. We can’t rely on social security, and unlike our parents, some of us may never retire. We’ll end up working with our children and competing with them for jobs.

    I was a latch-key kid. I was isolated. I am entrepreneurial. I am highly individualistic. I’m very cynical of major institutions. I took to technology with excitement. I can commit to people, but I don’t trust organizations. My “career” (if that’s what you want to call it) is constantly shifting in scope and focus. Cautious, skeptical, and unimpressed with authority describes me perfectly. So there you go. I’m your stereotypical gen-Xer.

    No wonder I’m so screwed up.

    1. No, not screwed up. You sound exactly like my son, and the world is lucky to have you guys. That’s my very objective, unbiased opinion, of course. You are driving and directing this complicated technological age we live in. The rest of us would be lost without your making sense of it all. By comparison, I started out before television, before commercial jets, and way, way before all the tech stuff that I love but can barely keep up with.

      My grandkids are like your kids. They moved from toys to electronics at an early age, influenced, no doubt, by two totally geek parents. Their screen time is carefully regulated, however, and they do feel a bit deprived compared to many of their friends. I think of the electronics as just a different kind of toy. And yes, Minecraft is their trunkful of Legos.

  6. I love the Williamj Manchester quote “withdrawn, cautious, unimaginative, indifferent, unadventurous—and silent”, but i cannot find where it is published. Do you know? I thought I had read it in Tom Brokaw’s “The Greatest Generation: but cannot find it now. So if you know where it is publishd and would share that information that would be great. thanks Vesta

    1. It’s mentioned in the Wikipedia article on the silent Generation that it appeared in Time Magazine. I assume the article quoted Manchester. It doesn’t say whether he said it or wrote it. ’Fraid that’s all I know about it. Back issues of Time are available if you’re interested.

  7. Shame! on those hideous souls belonging to one of the two generations in which she (Novak) finds virtually nothing commendable.

    Actually, I don’t really see the validity of the categories that Novak defines nor the characteristics she assigns them. Each has it’s weaknesses and strengths which we may or may not choose to identify.

    For example, I don’t identify the ‘GI’ generation as the welfare generation simply because it was popularized in their era by a minority of powerful people. Similarly, it’s hard to image the ‘boomers’ as skydiving retirees living it up when they haven’t even reached retirement age! and incidentally, probably won’t receive the benefits they spent their whole life paying into. Lol, it’s laughable really.

    1. Novak was trying to identify for advertisers the type of people most common in each generation, so that they (the advertisers) might better reach their target audiences. The generations had already been named and loosely defined by many other sources. She’s generalizing about entire generations, not individuals. Certainly no one would say you are necessarily a certain type person just because you happened to be born into a particular generation.

      But hey, thanks for dropping by and commenting on an old post.

... and that's my two cents