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Problems with the Popular Definitions of “Generations”

Many people are often uncritically accepting of mass media popularized cultural definitions. They do so without thinking through the official rationale or basic reasoning. I am going to illustrate this problem by dissecting the legitimacy of media-driven definitions of “generations”. One of the most popular ways of classifying the various generations born in western countries since WW2 goes something like this- “Boomers“, “GenX“, “GenY” etc. Have you ever wondered if there is something logically inconsistent in the way we define these groups?

Let us start with the easiest to define group- aka the “boomers”. They are popularly defined as those born after WW2 (after 1945 to the early or mid 1960s). Sure there is the whole “early boomers” (1946-1955)and “late boomers” (1956-1965) issue, but statistical and economic data on birth rates does indeed support that those born in that period were born in a particularly fecund and optimistic time in the west.

Defining Gen-Xers is more complicated. There was a significant fall in the birth rate due to a variety of technological and cultural shifts after the mid 1960s. The general economic outlook and optimism did also darkened after the mid 60s, and was certainly the case by the 1970s. So we can say that kids born from the early-mid 60s to the mid 70s could be considered as Gen-Xers. Indeed, there is some overlap between the last baby boomers and the first Gen-Xers. They are traditionally defined as those born between the mid 1960s to the early 1980s- and that is problematic as I will show in the next paragraph.

Things become problematic when you start defining Gen-Y who are traditionally considered to the children of “boomers” and born after the early 1980s. There is however a slight mathematical problem with this assumption- namely, if the first children of baby boomers were born in the early 1980s, that would make their first-time parents kinda old (1981-1946=35 yrs). Now I don’t know about you, but I find that suspiciously late for having your first kids 30 years ago.

Some of you might say- “but what about the later kids of those of the generation before the baby-boomers?” Let us lump those born between 1930-1944 (too young to be adults in WW2)into one generation. Now remember that they were a smaller group than the baby-boomers. Given the standards of the era they were born in, most had kids in their early to late 20s and stopped having kids by the time they were in their late 30s-early 40s. Therefore the majority of their progeny were born before the early 1970s (1972-1944= 38 yrs old).

So is there a better, more consistent and logical way to define generations?

In my opinion, “generations” are best understood in terms of their parents. The maximum age gap between siblings born to the same set of parents is rarely larger than 15 years. Therefore the bulk of most generations are about 10-15 years part with a couple of years on either side. Technology, wars, lifestyle and occupational changes also matter..

So the best definition of “Boomers” would then change (slightly) to those born between 1946 and 1959 with some stragglers in the early 60s. Similarly “Gen-X” would be those born from the early-mid 1960s to the early to mid 1970s (always consider the age of their parents). ‘Gen Y’ers would then start to be born in the in the mid-to late 1970s till the late 1980s.

What do you think? Comments?

  1. March 1, 2012 at 7:08 pm

    http://www.mercurynews.com/top-stories/ci_20078313

    hahaha, diablo is gonna get teaching credentials now…

    • P Ray
      March 2, 2012 at 3:58 pm

      Watch the mother running relational aggression and making accusations, so predictable.
      If it is found that her accusations are false and no contact occurred while he was in a position of responsibility over her I hope the mother gets the pants sued off of her.
      Seems women want to be like Twilight mums but want men to be attracted to their aging asses.
      Next step, criminalise male desire (even with girls of legal age) and say actresses in their 40s and 50s are “hawt” :O

  2. G.Bush
    March 1, 2012 at 7:16 pm

    I have been thinking about this too. I am an X’er. But the way the media talks . We have never had any kids. Gen Y are boomers kids? Boomers are their grandparents. I think the boomer ego cannot accept that they are grandparents.

    See vice.com the other day about how to kill your parents.

  3. Webe
    March 2, 2012 at 11:15 am

    Obviously the divisions between generations are arbitrary. The cultural narrative that is enabled by these “pegs” is one of many possible story lines to put matters into perspective. Many people are not typical exponents of “their” generation, and one could easily write a different story with different generations. And that applies to all the favourite shibboleths of history, whether the dark ages or the age of rationalism, or nationalism, or all those politics revolving around kings and queens. It is also a way that the living can reign supreme over the dead — no one to contradict someone’s favourite interpretation of what was really going on back then.

    A small example: Does anybody truly think that Joan of Arc, a 15 year old peasant girl, would be having “religious” experiences about helping the king of “France” to become the sole monarch of a unified France? Why should she care about a political unit that didn’t even exist? Why care about the “King?” Wouldn’t it be more likely that she was wondering why Frenchmen had been losing at the hands of the English for 100 years, despite the logistics? Wouldn’t it seem more likely that she was concerned with the poverty and oppression among her peers than the fate of somebody belonging to a different class of society, no friend to the small-time peasants? And if she was such a big help to the French cause, why did they sell her out to the enemy? And do you really think the power-mongers of the day had nothing better to do than to persecute young girls who thought they were in love with God?

    Do you think Jesus was accused, arrested, and crucified 2/3/4 days after kicking the bankers out of the temple because his “heretical religious” views were at odds with other thinkers?

    Who would have thought your were not insane if you had foretold in 1989 that after the collapse of communism, the next big threat to Western civilization would be 160 fanatic muslims living in clay houses in Waziristan?

    Stories always reveal more about the story-teller than about the characters or the plot.

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