Defining Generations

January 22nd, 2014 by Potato

There is no authoritative body or ISO standard that defines what “generational” label applies to a given group, or what the age barriers are. When I saw the label “millennials” extended to those born in 19791, I thought it was going too far. I personally use the definitive year of 1982. Those born after that point were too young to have the formative experience of watching Orson Welles’ greatest and final film in the theatre: Transformers.

Now, my use of Transformers: the Movie is partly to be funny, and partly to highlight that part of what defines (or perhaps should define) a generation is the shared formative experiences. I find the broad, broad range of ages that many people throw into one “generation” makes this really hard to accomplish. The baby boomers are fairly easy to define because you can see quite clearly the massive up-swing in birth rates following WWII.

But GenX? By some people’s reckoning, people my age are the tail end of GenX, and then after that are the “Echo” of the baby boomers, often also called GenY (though I am myself, as are many GenXers my age and even a bit older, the child of baby boomers). Other than “not baby boomers” I’m not sure precisely what should define GenX. Cable TV, NES, and synth in our music? It’s hard to say what, exactly, people my age have in common with 50-year-olds to join us together in a generation.

After that was supposedly Gen Y, those born around 1980 through to sometime in the 1990’s. Children of the 80’s we used to call them, though in Ontario the last OAC cohort might also be a good grouping metric. Then those born in the 1990’s had their formative years in the new millennium, so they’re “millennials” (though some will hold that the term applies to those born in the 2000s). Except the start date for “millennials” keeps getting pushed back by different sources, until the point now that they’ve completely merged with the Echo generation.

One issue is that we can’t even decide how long a “generation” should span. Again, the baby boomers are relatively well delineated across a nearly 20-year span. But by no means does that mean that all following generations should be 20-year spans, that’s ridiculous (and a big source of the disappearing Gen Y). For some teenage mothers, two biological generations would fall within the same meme generation. More generally, it’s so tough to have shared experiences across that timespan, and the demographic pig-in-the-python factor just isn’t there. So ultimately, it’s an arbitrary label.

And the damned problem is that as useless and ridiculous a notion of dividing up “generations” is, it’s not going away. It’s so much easier and cuter to refer to “millennials” or “GenX” in a column than “young 30-something adults” or “those kids now pouring through high school and undergrad.” And we can forget enitrely about disposing with the human propensity to generalize and engage in ageist stereotyping. We could at least agree on what the delineations for the generations are so we can speak the same language about it. But because it is ultimately completely arbitrary, there are numerous definitions out there. And there is no good choice for who the standard-setter should be (StatsCan won’t touch it, though several academics have tried).

So, to make the definitions less arbitrary but the source more so, here I present Potato’s Definitive Generational Breakdown. There are multiple potential labels for different groups depending on how you want to split them up, with justifications for each.

1910-1927 - The Greatest Generation. This label has been around long enough that it is in common use.

1927-1945 - The Silent Generation. This label and range has been around long enough that it is in common use.

1946-1965 - The Baby Boomers (”boomers”). Defined at first by demographics and then by a shared love of cars, suburbia, and pop music (and by definition, anything the boomers listened to en masse became popular).

1965-1976 - Generation X (”GenXers”). Some people extend it right into the 80’s, but not me. These people cherish memories of when MTV (and Much) played music videos and still can’t ever quite feel like they belong. Also, thanks to global warming weirding, 1976 was the last year someone could have been born and still experienced an average year for global temperatures: each year since has been above the long-term mean.

1977-1981 - Echo Prime (”primers”). A narrow band of responsible, upstanding citizens raised on a steady diet of Mattel and Hasbro role models, particularly including giant transforming robots. Old enough to remember a world without technology, but young enough to have adapted to it. Their formative years were spent in a world where the Matrix of Leadership was a solemn burden carried for the good of all, and opened only in the most dire of times. A world where you had to work hard, scraping across the surface of the earth to get ahead (and not a universe where everybody could fly because flying is cool and gravity sucks). A world where you had to transform yourself into another shape and behaviour to fit in amongst earth culture and stay safely invisible2.

1982-1994 - Children of the Eighties, Echo Boomers (”echos”). Growing up with GUIs most of them don’t remember the horrors of DOS or 640k of system memory. With their boomer parents well-secured in their careers before spawning, and controlling the world (as boomers do), they are spoiled beyond belief. The positive messaging they’ve lived with in their sheltered little lives has meant that even when they do hide their true face, it’s still some unrecognizable, unique-and-beautiful-as-a-snowflake-space-hovercraft thing, making no attempt to fit in at all. Or gorillas and dinosaurs living together, with no sense of scale. For them there’s no respect for the Matrix of Leadership, and a crisis worthy of cracking it open can include any time a rave’s lightshow needs a little something extra.

1995-2010 - Millennials. Too young to remember what the fuss and fear was over Y2K, or for that matter Terminator, they think computers are their friends and live on their smartphones. Language capabilities are nearly completely atrophied: if u tlk 2 dem yul c. Sometimes the children of boomers, they are just as likely to be the organic, free-range kids of GenX. That cross-over point happened (and thus marked the end to the “echos”) around 1995, adding further credence to a separation between millennials and GenY/echos.

2010-2025 - Children of the (Zombie) Apocalypse (CZA or tentatively “GenZ“). The zeitgeist and humanity’s collective imagination clearly indicate that the zombie apocalypse is coming soon, but it is a bit too early to definitively label this generation with the “Z”. It could be any one of a number of apocalyptic scenarios that defines my daughter’s generation. For instance, a robotic uprising is still in the cards, and despite recent disarmament treaties the world still has more than enough nuclear weapons to bring about a Fallout-esque end, complete with skin-eating mutants.

2026-2050 - New Empire Citizens (”We have evolved beyond such arbitrary titles”or “Neckers“). A span even longer than the baby boomers, and an even more prolific demographic bump, these children of the survivors grew up in the New Empire and all its technological marvels. Writing and typing skills have completely atrophied in the wake of telepathic implants, and they have never had to face death at the hands of the shambling hordes and/or robot stormtroopers. Their food comes fresh from “farms” and the bountiful ocean, and the spoiled brats wouldn’t eat a 10-year-old can of cat food found in a basement pantry of the bombed-out house they’re sheltering in — not even on a dare — representing the greatest experience gap a generation has ever experienced from their parents’ time.


1 - Via this post at Boomer & Echo.
2 - I’d just like to say at this point that I’m even impressing myself for milking the crap out of my Transformers analogy/joke. Of course, I only had 3 hours of sleep last night so who knows how that actually comes across to a rational, rested mind.

2 Responses to “Defining Generations”

  1. Noel D'Souza Says:

    Potato, you are lighting our darkest hour.

  2. save. spend. splurge. Says:

    Finally, a comprehensive post on generations that works for me. Echo Boomer here, without the spoiled upbringing.