Although it’s tough to “define” a group of 9.6 million Canadians, here are some of the basics. Don’t worry if this is all news to you – you didn’t miss “Generation’s Day” in high school. The word Millennial is relatively new, and some of the specifics are unclear… which has tended to promote confusion. Frankly, I’ve personally had a lot of trouble trying to figure out what group name to put on the younger generations (I’m a boomer). Maybe you’ve had trouble too?
How old are they?
Demographers disagree, but the general definition I use – and the one that Pew Research uses – is: Millennials are those who were between the ages of 18 and 34 in 2015. As I mentioned, there has been some disagreement among the so-called experts on the dates – I’ve listed some of the differing viewpoints below.
Other proposed dates for Millennials:
- According to Iconoclast, a consumer research firm, the first Millennials were born in 1978.
- Newsweek magazine reported that the Millennial generation was born between 1977 and 1994.
- In separate articles, the New York Times first pegged Millennials birth years as 1976-1990 and later on, as 1978-1998.
- A Time magazine article placed Millennials as born from 1980 through
Since the whole topic of demographics can rapidly become very confusing, I thought a very quick review of the various generations might be in order. Boomers are those born between 1946 and 1964. I discovered that, most of the time, this is the only generation that has really been defined.
GenX are those born between 1965 and the early 1980’s … after that, you have a number of groups that all fall under the umbrella name of Millennial … they are variously known as Generation Y or the Net Generation. Yes, “Millennial” and “Gen Y” are the same thing. To simplify things a little, GenX follows the Boomers and Millennials are the demographic cohort right behind Generation X. Other names that apply to Millennials
- Echo boomers: As children of Boomers, Millennials make up the largest generation since their parents.
- Digital natives: They are the first generation who don’t know life without the internet and personal tech devices.
Members of Gen Y, who, in reality, are just older Millennials, don’t identify with the term “Millennial.” Perhaps this is because of the negative connotations that are associated with the Millennial generation in the media, such as “entitled” or “lazy.” I also find this group to be more focused on describing themselves as individuals (hence the rise in “personal branding” as a career skill), rather than as members of a massive group.
Credit for the nickname “Millennial” goes to Neil Howe and the late William Strauss, who first used the term in the mid-90s. It came out of the work they had done for a book called Generations, which was among the first to explore the idea that groups share qualities such as beliefs, attitudes, values and behaviors because of the time period when they grew up.
So, what should we call them? Clearly I do use the term Millennial (because it’s helpful to call this cohort something), but most Millennials don’t care for any group name at all. All of that said, most people seem to appreciate definitions, so I have identified six of them, and labeled their eras.
Greatest Generation: These are the people that fought and died in World War II for our freedom, which we appreciate. But it’s a little over-the-top as far as names go, isn’t it? Tom Brokaw made the name up and of course everyone loved it. Will you be the one to argue with your grandfather that he isn’t from the greatest generation? The generation ended when the war ended.
Baby Boomers: This is the agreed-upon generation that falls within the 1946 -1964 timeframe. It began when the Greatest Generation arrived home from the war and a lot of sexual inhibitions were dropped; it ended when the Pill changed the outcome of those dropped inhibitions!
Generation X: One expert puts this generation in the timeframe of 1965 to 1984, in part because it’s a neat 20-year period. He also calls them “Baby Busters”, mocking their parents’ “Baby Boomer” generation.
Generation Y: The same expert addresses this group, too, putting it “anywhere from the mid-1970s when the oldest were born to around 2005 when the youngest were.” But Generation Y is mostly a made-up generation; it comprises the young kids who didn’t really fit the cool Generation X aesthetic, although not enough of them were born to designate a new generation.
Millennials: As previously noted, Pew defines this group as being born between 1981 and 1997. Note, however, that in 2012, Howe and Strauss affixed the end point as 2004. As clear as mud, right?
TBD: The kids born in the 10 years ending in 2014 so far lack a designation. One thing you can be certain of is that they are not Millennials. Recently, Pew Research asked people what the group should be called, and some terrible names were offered. Contenders such as Post Generation, the iGeneration and the Pluralist Generation, also known as the “Plurals”, were names put forward. “Plurals” is the name that’s used most often. And that’s leading some to speculate on the generation after that, many of whom are now only two years old. Since we are now at the end of the alphabet, one expert has stepped forward to call these (some yet-to-be-conceived) kids Generation Alpha.
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