Each generation since WWII has been labelled as distinctly different from each other, and popular wisdom has it that they do not get along very well. But all this name calling can get confusing. Are Baby Boomers the parents of Millennials? Are Gen Y the offspring of Gen X? Navigating the generation gap can be tricky, so here is a guide to the generational step ladder that started with the Baby Boomers.
The Boomers were born between 1946 (the end of the war) to 1964 (the post Kennedy Assassination period). The term baby boom refers to the belief that soldiers returning from WWII got busy starting families as soon as they stepped ashore from postings overseas. While post-war shortages continued for some time, growing confidence in the 1950s created a strong building and nesting urge as families became nuclear – mom, dad and the kids – building their own secure little environments inside white picket fences and cosy homes. The rise of home entertainment such as TV and radio helped to reinforce the feeling of security and, with better pay and working conditions available, they became the prime target for advertising. Many social mores changed during this period with the introduction of the contraceptive pill and the rise of young celebrities in music and movies. Many Boomers are now in retirement and are regarded by younger generations as having used up all the best resources, leaving a depleted planet and social problems for later generations to fix.
This generation is generally believed to have started in the mid-1960s, when Boomers started having babies. The tag Gen X took a while to become part of the lexicon – this generation were also referred to as the ‘latch-key generation’ as they were often the children of two working parents. They came to adulthood at a time when the flower power and mystical leanings of the 1960s had long declined. In the 1970s there had been a strong movement back to the land with the aim of self-sufficiency and many Gen Xers had grown up with hippy ideals. But the 1980s were typified by Family Ties, a TV sitcom where hippy parents were astonished to find they had raised materialistic children. There were great social upheavals occurring through the 1970s, when this generation was growing up, including a rise in divorce, single motherhood and having two working parents. Computers started to become regular technology, starting with affordable brands like Atari, Commodore and Apple II. This was the first generation to have computers, game software and printers at home. Love of gaming was one reason older people regarded Gen X as slackers. But it is worth remembering that this generation supplied most of the firefighters, emergency workers, police and selfless heroes who came to the fore in 21st Century terror attacks, including 9/11.
These are properly the children of Gen X, and the grandchildren of the Boomers, although the definitions can get blurry around these two groups. Gen Y could be the children of adult Gen Xers or even some younger Boomers. Basically, Gen Y grew up in an era when all the rules were turned upside down. The official time period is from the mid 1980s to the mid 1990s. Gen Y are also known as Millennials. Gen Y have created a new culture, one of Instagram selfies, entrepreneurial ventures on YouTube and as other ‘influencers’ of public opinion through social media. This generation has seen the meteoric rise of the iPhone and iPad and rather than be parted from them for a moment, Gen Yers have chosen to work, study and socialise online. They are indeed millennia away from the Baby Boomers who are mostly their grandparents, and they don’t have much in common with their Gen X parents either – except for the ubiquitous iphone. Many of them are incensed that they are inheriting a world suffering from the neglect of previous generations in power, and face considerable changes to their lifestyles due to .environmental concerns and crippling social problems such as homelessness and the shrinking job market.
Now that a new generation is on the brink of launching into adulthood, the burning question is – what should we call them? In the interests of keeping faith with the alphabet, Gen Z is the frontrunner. Even its link to World War Z, with overtones of zombies and the end of the world, could make it a popular choice with that zombie-obsessed generation. After that, the question is thrown to the winds. Perhaps we start again with Gen A or Gen Alpha? Or perhaps, finally the craze for labelling the generations will quietly slip away into oblivion.