Here’s a look at six generations of Americans in the 20th century: the Greatest Generation (or GI Generation), the Silent Generation, baby boomers, Generation X, millennials and Generation Z.
In order to examine economic trends and social changes over time, demographers compare groupings of people bracketed by birth year. There are sometimes variations in the birth year that begins or ends a generation, depending on the source. The groupings below are based on studies by the US Census, Pew Research and demographers Neil Howe and William Strauss.
The Greatest Generation (or GI Generation)
Born in 1924 or earlier.
Tom Brokaw coined the term the Greatest Generation as a tribute to Americans who lived through the Great Depression and then fought in WWII. His 1998 bestselling book, “The Greatest Generation,” popularized the term.
John F. Kennedy, born in 1917, was the first member of the Greatest Generation to become president. Lyndon B. Johnson, Richard M. Nixon, Gerald R. Ford, Ronald Reagan, Jimmy Carter, and George H.W. Bush were also born between 1901 and 1924.
The Silent Generation
Born 1925-1945 (Sometimes listed as 1925-1942).
A 1951 essay in Time magazine dubbed the people in this age group the “Silent Generation” because they were more cautious than their parents. “By comparison with the ‘Flaming Youth’ of their fathers & mothers, today’s younger generation is a still, small flame.”
The Silent Generation helped shape 20th century pop culture, with pioneering rock musicians, iconic filmmakers, television legends, beat poets, gonzo journalists and groundbreaking political satirists.
President Joe Biden is the first member of the silent generation to serve as president.
Born 1946-1964 (Sometimes listed as 1943-1964)
Baby boomers were named for an uptick in the post-WWII birth rate.
At the end of 1946, the first year of the baby boom, there were approximately 2.4 million baby boomers. In 1964, the last year of the baby boom, there were nearly 72.5 million baby boomers. The population peaked in 1999, with 78.8 million baby boomers, including people who immigrated to the United States and were born between 1946 and 1964.
According to the Census, the baby boom began in 1946 but Howe and Strauss, authors of the groundbreaking 1991 book, “Generations: The History of America’s Future,” argued that the baby boom began as a social and cultural phenomenon with people who were born in 1943.
Born 1965-1980 (Sometimes listed as 1965-1979)
“Class X” was the name of a chapter in a 1983 book, “Class: A Guide Through the American Status System,” by historian Paul Fussell. Novelist Douglas Coupland used the term as the title of his first book, “Generation X: Tales for An Accelerated Culture,” published in 1991.
No members of Generation X have served as president.
In the 2016 presidential election, Generation X-ers and millennials made up more than half of the electorate, according to Pew. For the first time in decades, younger voters outnumbered older voters, albeit by a slight margin. Millennials and Generation-X-ers (age 18-51), cast 69.6 million votes, compared with 67.9 million votes cast by Baby Boomers and older voters (age 52 and up).
Born 1981-1996 (Sometimes listed as 1980-2000)
Howe and Strauss introduced the term millennials in 1991, the year their book, “Generations,” was published.
In 2014, the number of millennials in the United States eclipsed the number of baby boomers, according to the Census Bureau. The Census counted approximately 83.1 million millennials, compared with 75.4 million baby boomers. Millennials represented one quarter of the nation’s population. The Census also reported that millennials are more diverse than previous generations, as 44.2% are part of a minority race or ethnic group.
About 39% of millennials ages 25-37 have a bachelor’s degree or higher, a larger percentage than previous generations, according to Pew. Millennials with a bachelor’s degree or higher had median annual earnings valued at $56,000 in 2018, about the same earnings as Generation X workers in 2001. Millennials without a college education had lower earnings that prior generations. About 46% of millennials ages 25-37 were married in 2018, a lower percentage than Generation X (57%), baby boomers (67%) and the Silent Generation (83%).
About 15% of millennials age 25-37 lived at home with their parents as of 2018, according to Pew. Fewer members of older generations lived at home with their parents between the ages of 25-37. The rate for Generation-X was 9%. The rate for Baby Boomers and the Silent Generation was 8%. Education factors into the percentage of millennials living at home. Among millennials without college degrees, 20% lived at home with their parents.
2016 was the first year any millennial was eligible to run for president (the minimum age is 35).
Generation Z or Gen Z (sometimes called post-millennials)
Born 1997- no endpoint has been set
In January 2019, Pew announced that the post-millennial cohort will be called Gen Z.
According to Pew, Gen Z is the most racially and ethnically diverse cohort. One in four members of Gen Z are Hispanic while 52% are non-Hispanic white and 14% are black. A total of 6% are Asian and the remaining 4% are of another racial identity, primarily two or more races. The majority of individuals in Gen Z live in metropolitan areas and western states, with just 13% residing in rural areas.
High school completion and college enrollment rates for Gen Z are up, with significant increases for young adults who are Hispanic or African-American, according to Pew. In 2017, 64% of Gen Z women aged 18-20 were enrolled in college, an increase over millennials (57%) and Generation X (43%).