The Generation Game

Have you, like me, wondered exactly what is meant when a newspaper runs an article on Generation X, Or Y? Or Millennials? Or wonder why one group, now mostly ‘young’ pensioners or those approaching pensionable age, are called ‘Baby Boomers’?

Well, here is a handy briefing note:

A Baby Boomer is someone born between 1946 and 1964. The name comes from a combination of the thousands of soldiers returning after the second World War, and increasing prosperity caused by the cessation of said war. Conjugal relations were resumed with enthusiasm,  resulting in – you’ve guessed it – a boom in the number of babies born over the next couple of decades. And a very privileged lot we are too, enjoying for the first time, in the UK at least, free education, free health care, ‘free’ love (with the coming of the contraceptive pill), student grants rather than loans, and generous work based, index-linked, pensions.

After the baby boomers came Generation X (1965 – 1980) so named because the rise in birth rate had flattened out and there was nothing distinctive about those two decades, so nobody could come up with a catchy term (sorry X-ers). Sadly, they and subsequent generations are also likely to miss out on most of the perks the baby boomers took for granted.

Generation X has been followed by the Millennials (1981 – 1996), so named because they were either young adults or children old enough to understand the change from the twentieth to the twenty-first century (the Millennium), and therefore quite a distinctive bunch – though maybe, to this baby boomer at least, not as special as they think they are (sorry kids).

The Millennials are sometimes referred to as Generation Y, for no other reason than because Y follows X. In due course, Generation Z has followed Y (1997 – 2012). A variety of names have been tried out for Generation Z – Zillennials, GenTech, post Millennials, Gen Y-Fi, Zoomers. But nothing so far has captured the narrative for this cohort like the terms ‘baby boomer’ and ‘millennial’ have. One term may catch on in due course, or the Z-ers may come up with a snappy descriptor for themselves (though I’m pretty sure the term ‘snowflake,’ sometimes bandied about by us oldies, will be rejected).

In 2012, apparently, the Z-generation window closed and we came to the end of alphabet. But the urge to bundle age groups into distinctive cohorts continues and we have now gone back to square one – or rather, to A / Alpha (2013 to 2025 at least). Seems we have a hundred or so years of generation planning and pigeon-holing before we get back to X.

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