Generation

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Four generations of one family: a baby boy, his mother, his maternal grandmother, and his maternal great-grandmother. (2008) Baby Mother Grandmother and Great Grandmother.jpg
Four generations of one family: a baby boy, his mother, his maternal grandmother, and his maternal great-grandmother. (2008)

A generation refers to all of the people born and living at about the same time, regarded collectively. [1] It can also be described as, "the average period, generally considered to be about 20–⁠30 years, during which children are born and grow up, become adults, and begin to have children."[ citation needed ] In kinship terminology, it is a structural term designating the parent-child relationship. It is known as biogenesis, reproduction, or procreation in the biological sciences.

Contents

Generation is also often used synonymously with cohort in social science; under this formulation it means "people within a delineated population who experience the same significant events within a given period of time". [2] Generations in this sense of birth cohort, also known as "social generations", are widely used in popular culture, and have been the basis for sociological analysis. Serious analysis of generations began in the nineteenth century, emerging from an increasing awareness of the possibility of permanent social change and the idea of youthful rebellion against the established social order. Some analysts believe that a generation is one of the fundamental social categories in a society, while others view its importance as being overshadowed by other factors including class, gender, race, and education, among others.

Etymology

The word generate comes from the Latin generāre, meaning "to beget". [3] The word generation as a group or cohort in social science signifies the entire body of individuals born and living at about the same time, most of whom are approximately the same age and have similar ideas, problems, and attitudes (e.g., Beat Generation and Lost Generation). [4]

Familial generation

Five generations of one Armenian family--a child with her mother, grandmother, great-grandmother and great-great-grandmother. (photograph dated from book published in 1901) Lynch Armenia Five generations.png
Five generations of one Armenian family—a child with her mother, grandmother, great-grandmother and great-great-grandmother. (photograph dated from book published in 1901)
Three generations of an Eastern Orthodox priest family from Jerusalem, circa 1893 Orthodox priest family.jpg
Three generations of an Eastern Orthodox priest family from Jerusalem, circa 1893

A familial generation is a group of living beings constituting a single step in the line of descent from an ancestor. [5] In developed nations the average familial generation length is in the high 20s and has even reached 30 years in some nations. [6] Factors such as greater industrialisation and demand for cheap labour, urbanisation, delayed first pregnancy and a greater uncertainty in both employment income and relationship stability have all contributed to the increase of the generation length from the late 18th century to the present. These changes can be attributed to social factors, such as GDP and state policy, globalization, automation, and related individual-level variables, particularly a woman's educational attainment. [7] Conversely, in less-developed nations, generation length has changed little and remains in the low 20s. [6] [8]

An intergenerational rift in the nuclear family, between the parents and two or more of their children, is one of several possible dynamics of a dysfunctional family. Coalitions in families are subsystems within families with more rigid boundaries and are thought to be a sign of family dysfunction. [9]

Social generation

Social generations are cohorts of people born in the same date range and who share similar cultural experiences. [10] The idea of a social generation, in the sense that it is used today, gained currency in the 19th century. Prior to that the concept "generation" had generally referred to family relationships and not broader social groupings. In 1863, French lexicographer Emile Littré had defined a generation as, "all people coexisting in society at any given time". [11] :19

Several trends promoted a new idea of generations, as the 19th century wore on, of a society divided into different categories of people based on age. These trends were all related to the processes of modernisation, industrialisation, or westernisation, which had been changing the face of Europe since the mid-18th century. One was a change in mentality about time and social change. The increasing prevalence of enlightenment ideas encouraged the idea that society and life were changeable, and that civilization could progress. This encouraged the equation of youth with social renewal and change. Political rhetoric in the 19th century often focused on the renewing power of youth influenced by movements such as Young Italy, Young Germany, Sturm und Drang, the German Youth Movement, and other romantic movements. By the end of the 19th century, European intellectuals were disposed toward thinking of the world in generational terms—in terms of youth rebellion and emancipation. [11]

Two important contributing factors to the change in mentality were the change in the economic structure of society. Because of the rapid social and economic change, young men particularly were less beholden to their fathers and family authority than they had been. Greater social and economic mobility allowed them to flout their authority to a much greater extent than had traditionally been possible. Additionally, the skills and wisdom of fathers were often less valuable than they had been due to technological and social change. [11] During this time, the period between childhood and adulthood, usually spent at university or in military service, was also increased for many people entering white-collar jobs. This category of people was very influential in spreading the ideas of youthful renewal. [11]

Another important factor was the breakdown of traditional social and regional identifications. The spread of nationalism and many of the factors that created it (a national press, linguistic homogenisation, public education, suppression of local particularities) encouraged a broader sense of belonging beyond local affiliations. People thought of themselves increasingly as part of a society, and this encouraged identification with groups beyond the local. [11] Auguste Comte was the first philosopher to make a serious attempt to systematically study generations. In Cours de philosophie positive Comte suggested that social change is determined by generational change and in particular conflict between successive generations. [12] As the members of a given generation age, their "instinct of social conservation" becomes stronger, which inevitably and necessarily brings them into conflict with the "normal attribute of youth"—innovation. Other important theorists of the 19th century were John Stuart Mill and Wilhelm Dilthey.

Sociologist Karl Mannheim was a seminal figure in the study of generations. He elaborated a theory of generations in his 1923 essay The Problem of Generations. [2] He suggested that there had been a division into two primary schools of study of generations until that time. Firstly, positivists such as Comte measured social change in designated life spans. Mannheim argued that this reduced history to "a chronological table". The other school, the "romantic-historical" was represented by Dilthey and Martin Heidegger. This school focused on the individual qualitative experience at the expense of social context. Mannheim emphasised that the rapidity of social change in youth was crucial to the formation of generations, and that not every generation would come to see itself as distinct. In periods of rapid social change a generation would be much more likely to develop a cohesive character. He also believed that a number of distinct sub-generations could exist. [2]

According to Gilleard and Higgs, Mannheim identified three commonalities that a generation shares: [13]

Authors William Strauss and Neil Howe developed the Strauss-Howe generational theory outlining what they saw as a pattern of generations repeating throughout American history. This theory became quite influential with the public and reignited an interest in the sociology of generations. This led to the creation of an industry of consulting, publishing, and marketing in the field [14] (corporations spent approximately seventy million dollars on generational consulting in the U.S. in 2015). [15] The theory has alternatively been criticized by social scientists and journalists who argue it is non-falsifiable, deterministic, and unsupported by rigorous evidence. [16] [17] [18]

Generational theory

While the concept of a generation has a long history and can be found in ancient literature, [19] there are also psychological and sociological dimensions in the sense of belonging and identity which may define a generation. The concept of a generation can be used to locate particular birth cohorts in specific historical and cultural circumstances, such as the "Baby boomers". [19]

Historian Hans Jaeger shows that, during this long history, two schools of thought coalesced regarding how generations form: the "pulse-rate hypothesis" and the "imprint hypothesis." [20] According to the pulse-rate hypothesis, a society's entire population can be divided into a series of non-overlapping cohorts, each of which develops a unique "peer personality" because of the time period in which each cohort came of age. [21] The movement of these cohorts from one life-stage to the next creates a repeating cycle that shapes the history of that society. A prominent example of pulse-rate generational theory is the Strauss-Howe generational theory.

Social scientists tend to reject the pulse-rate hypothesis because, as Jaeger explains, "the concrete results of the theory of the universal pulse rate of history are, of course, very modest. With a few exceptions, the same goes for the partial pulse-rate theories. Since they generally gather data without any knowledge of statistical principles, the authors are often least likely to notice to what extent the jungle of names and numbers which they present lacks any convincing organization according to generations." [22]

Social scientists follow the "imprint hypothesis" of generations (i.e., that major historical events — such as the Vietnam War, the September 11 attacks, the COVID-19 pandemic, etc. — leave an "imprint" on the generation experiencing them at a young age), which can be traced to Karl Mannheim's theory of generations. According to the imprint hypothesis, generations are only produced by specific historical events that cause young people to perceive the world differently than their elders. Thus, not everyone may be part of a generation; only those who share a unique social and biographical experience of an important historical moment will become part of a "generation as an actuality." [23] When following the imprint hypothesis, social scientists face a number of challenges. They cannot accept the labels and chronological boundaries of generations that come from the pulse-rate hypothesis (like Generation X or Millennial); instead, the chronological boundaries of generations must be determined inductively and who is part of the generation must be determined through historical, quantitative, and qualitative analysis. [24]

While all generations have similarities, there are differences among them as well. A 2007 Pew Research Center report called "Millennials: Confident. Connected. Open to Change" noted the challenge of studying generations:

"Generational analysis has a long and distinguished place in social science, and we cast our lot with those scholars who believe it is not only possible, but often highly illuminating, to search for the unique and distinctive characteristics of any given age group of Americans. But we also know this is not an exact science. We are mindful that there are as many differences in attitudes, values, behaviors, and lifestyles within a generation as there are between generations. But we believe this reality does not diminish the value of generational analysis; it merely adds to its richness and complexity." [25]

Another element of generational theory is recognizing how youth experience their generation, and how that changes based on where they reside in the world. "Analyzing young people's experiences in place contributes to a deeper understanding of the processes of individualization, inequality, and of generation." [26] Being able to take a closer looks at youth cultures and subcultures in different times and places adds an extra element to understanding the everyday lives of youth. This allows a better understanding of youth and the way generation and place play in their development. [27]

It is not where the birth cohort boundaries are drawn that is important, but how individuals and societies interpret the boundaries and how divisions may shape processes and outcomes. However, the practice of categorizing age cohorts is useful to researchers for the purpose of constructing boundaries in their work. [28]

Generational tension

Norman Ryder, writing in American Sociological Review in 1965, shed light on the sociology of the discord between generations by suggesting that society "persists despite the mortality of its individual members, through processes of demographic metabolism and particularly the annual infusion of birth cohorts". He argued that generations may sometimes be a "threat to stability" but at the same time they represent "the opportunity for social transformation". [29] Ryder attempted to understand the dynamics at play between generations.

Amanda Grenier, in a 2007 essay published in Journal of Social Issues , offered another source of explanation for why generational tensions exist. Grenier asserted that generations develop their own linguistic models that contribute to misunderstanding between age cohorts, "Different ways of speaking exercised by older and younger people exist, and may be partially explained by social historical reference points, culturally determined experiences, and individual interpretations". [30]

Karl Mannheim, in his 1952 book Essays on the Sociology of Knowledge asserted the belief that people are shaped through lived experiences as a result of social change. Howe and Strauss also have written on the similarities of people within a generation being attributed to social change. Based on the way these lived experiences shape a generation in regard to values, the result is that the new generation will challenge the older generation's values, resulting in tension. This challenge between generations and the tension that arises is a defining point for understanding generations and what separates them. [31]

List of social generations

Western world

Timeline of generations in the Western world - retirement age and life expectancy are approximate Generation timeline.svg
Timeline of generations in the Western world retirement age and life expectancy are approximate

The Western world includes Western Europe, the Americas, and Australasia. Many variations may exist within these regions, both geographically and culturally, which means that the list is broadly indicative, but very general. The contemporary characterization of these cohorts used in media and advertising borrows, in part, from the Strauss–Howe generational theory [14] [32] and generally follows the logic of the pulse-rate hypothesis. [33]

Other areas

Other terminology

The term generation is sometimes applied to a cultural movement, or more narrowly defined group than an entire demographic. Some examples include:

Criticism

Philip N. Cohen, a sociology professor at the University of Maryland, criticized the use of "generation labels", stating that the labels are "imposed by survey researchers, journalists or marketing firms" and "drive people toward stereotyping and rash character judgment." Cohen's open letter, which outlines his criticism of generational labels, received at least 150 signatures from other demographers and social scientists. [90]

Louis Menand, writer at The New Yorker , stated that "there is no empirical basis" for the contention "that differences within a generation are smaller than differences between generations". He argued that generational theories "seem to require" that people born at the tail end of one generation and people born at the beginning of another (e.g. a person born in 1965, the first year of Generation X, and a person born in 1964, the last of the Boomer era) "must have different values, tastes, and life experiences" or that people born in the first and last birth years of a generation (e.g. a person born in 1980, the last year of Generation X, and a person born in 1965, the first year of Generation X) "have more in common" than with people born a couple years before or after them. [15]

See also

Related Research Articles

Generation X Cohort born between circa 1965 and 1980

Generation X is the demographic cohort following the baby boomers and preceding the millennials. Researchers and popular media use the mid-to-late 1960s as starting birth years and the late 1970s to early 1980s as ending birth years, with the generation being generally defined as people born from 1965 to 1980. By this definition and U.S. Census data, there are 65.2 million Gen Xers in the United States as of 2019. Most members of Generation X are the children of the Silent Generation and early boomers; Xers are also often the parents of millennials and Generation Z.

Baby boomers Generational cohort born c. 1946 to c. 1964

Baby boomers, often shortened to boomers, are the demographic cohort following the Silent Generation and preceding Generation X. The generation is often defined as people born from 1946 to 1964, during the post–World War II baby boom. The term is also used outside the United States, but the dates, the demographic context, and the cultural identifiers may vary. The baby boom has been described variously as a "shockwave" and as "the pig in the python". Most baby boomers are children of either the Greatest Generation or the Silent Generation, and are often parents of late Gen Xers and Millennials. Late baby boomers can also be the parents of older members of Generation Z.

Demographics of the United States Overview of the topic

The United States had an official resident population of 331,893,745 on July 1, 2021, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. This figure includes the 50 states and the District of Columbia but excludes the population of five unincorporated U.S. territories as well as several minor island possessions. The United States is the third most populous country in the world. The Census Bureau showed a population increase of 0.8% for the twelve-month period ending in July 2012. Though high by industrialized country standards, this is below the world average annual rate of 1.1%. The total fertility rate in the United States estimated for 2021 is 1.664 children per woman, which is below the replacement fertility rate of approximately 2.1.

Millennials Cohort born between 1981 and 1996

Millennials, also known as Generation Y or Gen Y, are the demographic cohort following Generation X and preceding Generation Z. Researchers and popular media use the early 1980s as starting birth years and the mid-1990s to early 2000s as ending birth years, with the generation typically being defined as people born from 1981 to 1996. Most millennials are the children of baby boomers and early Gen Xers; millennials are often the parents of Generation Alpha.

A generation gap or generational gap is a difference of opinions between one generation and another regarding beliefs, politics, or values. In today's usage, generation gap often refers to a perceived gap between younger people and their parents or grandparents.

A baby boom is a period marked by a significant increase of birth rate. This demographic phenomenon is usually ascribed within certain geographical bounds of defined national and cultural populations. People born during these periods are often called baby boomers. The cause of baby booms involves various fertility factors. The best-known baby boom occurred in the mid-twentieth century, sometimes considered to have started after the end of the Second World War, sometimes from the late 1930s, and ending in the 1960s.

Silent Generation Cohort born between circa 1928 and 1945

The Silent Generation is the demographic cohort following the Greatest Generation and preceding the Baby Boomers. The Silent Generation is generally defined as people born from 1928 to 1945. By this definition and U.S. Census data, there were 23 million Silents in the United States as of 2019.

Generation Jones is the social cohort of the latter half of the Baby Boomer Generation to the first years of Generation X. The term Generation Jones was first coined by the cultural commentator Jonathan Pontell, who identified the cohort as those born from 1954 to 1965 in the U.S., who were children during Watergate, the oil crisis, and stagflation rather than during the 1960s, but slightly before Gen X.

Generation Z Cohort born between the mid to late 1990s and early 2010s

Generation Z, colloquially known as zoomers, is the demographic cohort succeeding Millennials and preceding Generation Alpha. Researchers and popular media use the mid to late 1990s as starting birth years and the 2010s as ending birth years. Most members of Generation Z are children of Generation X.

Mid-20th century baby boom Baby boom which occurred after World War II

The middle of the 20th century was marked by a significant and persistent increase in fertility rates in many countries of the world, especially in the Western world. The term baby boom is often used to refer to this particular boom, generally considered to have started immediately after World War II, although some demographers place it earlier or during the war. This terminology led to those born during this baby boom being nicknamed the baby boomer generation.

The Strauss–Howe generational theory, devised by William Strauss and Neil Howe, describes a theorized recurring generation cycle in American history and global history. According to the theory, historical events are associated with recurring generational personas (archetypes). Each generational persona unleashes a new era lasting around 20–25 years, in which a new social, political, and economic climate (mood) exists. They are part of a larger cyclical "saeculum". The theory states that a crisis recurs in American history after every saeculum, which is followed by a recovery (high). During this recovery, institutions and communitarian values are strong. Ultimately, succeeding generational archetypes attack and weaken institutions in the name of autonomy and individualism, which eventually creates a tumultuous political environment that ripens conditions for another crisis.

Theory of generations Sociological theory

Theory of generations is a theory posed by Karl Mannheim in his 1928 essay, "Das Problem der Generationen," and translated into English in 1952 as "The Problem of Generations." This essay has been described as "the most systematic and fully developed" and even "the seminal theoretical treatment of generations as a sociological phenomenon". According to Mannheim, people are significantly influenced by the socio-historical environment of their youth; giving rise, on the basis of shared experience, to social cohorts that in their turn influence events that shape future generations. Because of the historical context in which Mannheim wrote, some critics contend that the theory of generations centers on Western ideas and lacks a broader cultural understanding. Others argue that the theory of generations should be global in scope, due to the increasingly globalized nature of contemporary society.

The working environment has gone through a major transformation over the last decades, particularly in terms of population in the workforce. The generations dominating the workforce in 2022 are baby boomers, Generation X, millennials and Generation Z. The coming decades will see further changes with emergence of newer generations, and slower removal of older generations from organisations as pension age is pushed out. Many reports, including a publication by Therese Kinal and Olga Hypponen of Unleash, warn that understanding differences between the generations, and learning to adapt their management practices is critical to building a successful multigenerational workplace.

Xennials are the micro-generation of people on the cusp of the Generation X and Millennial demographic cohorts. The term Oregon Trail Generation has also been used as a moniker, to reference the video game which was widespread in the childhood classrooms of Xennials. Researchers and popular media use birth years from the late 1970s to the early 1980s. Xennials are described as having had an analog childhood and a digital young adulthood.

A cusper is a person born near the end of one generation and the beginning of another. People born in these circumstances tend to have a mix of characteristics common to their adjacent generations, but do not closely resemble those born in the middle of their adjacent generations. Generational profiles are built based on people born in the middle of a generation rather than those on the tails of a generation. Generations may overlap by five to eight years. As such, many people identify with aspects of at least two generations. The precise birth years defining when generations start and end vary.

The impressionable years hypothesis is a theory of political psychology that posits that individuals form durable political attitudes and party affiliations during late adolescence and early adulthood. In United States political history, the theory has been used to explain the waxing and waning in the strength of the two major political parties. The theory has also been applied outside of the United States.

Millennial socialism is a resurgence of interest in democratic socialism and social democracy among Americans born in the 1980s and later, generationally known as millennials and Generation Z.

Generation Z in the United States American generation born between the mid-to-late 1990s and early 2010s

Generation Z, colloquially also known as zoomers, is the demographic cohort succeeding Millennials and preceding Generation Alpha. This article focuses specifically on Generation Z in the United States.

Generation Alpha Cohort born between the early 2010s and mid-2020s

Generation Alpha is the demographic cohort succeeding Generation Z. Researchers and popular media use the early-to-mid 2010s as starting birth years. Named after the first letter in the Greek alphabet, Generation Alpha is the first to be born entirely in the 21st century. Most members of Generation Alpha are the children of Millennials.

A group where we all pretend to be boomers is a Facebook group created in May 2019, for users – the majority of whom are millennials and in Generation Z – to pretend to be baby boomers. The group has been described as "digital larping". The members of the group post in the manner of a stereotypical internet user from the baby boomer generation.

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