Beyond Words

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Generational Gaps April 7, 2020

Filed under: Uncategorized — carlawordsmithblog @ 7:11 pm


We are now three-plus weeks into our social distancing and #stayhome regarding coronavirus. When the crisis first hit the states, it was reported that the elderly and health-compromised were most at risk to catch the disease but that hasn’t necessarily been the case. Yes, seniors have been hit and hit hard, but so have many of younger generations.


The past few weeks Spring Breakers were spotted on beaches and a large group of local college-aged students returned from a Spring Break trip to Mexico and many are now testing positive for COVID-19. Those blasted Millennials, right? Wrong.


That age group, come to find out, is not officially “Millennials.” I’m as guilty as anyone in automatically considering anyone between 20 and their mid-30s to be Millennials, but defining generations is quite the science and there’s perhaps no place better to refer than Pew Research.


Pew defines generations based on the following birth years:


You might see some of those years vary a year or two depending on where you look or who you ask, but these are generally agreed upon eras. But what does it matter and where do we go from here? And where’s the “Greatest Generation” and why the letters?



It all started with Generation X, which came after the Baby Boomers, called that because they were born during a spike or “boom” of baby births after WWII and new-found post-war prosperity. Hello soldiers returning triumphantly home!


But what to call the next group? With no distinct qualifier like the war or a run of births, X marked the spot of who came next. They were named Gen X because it was thought the “X” described their lack of identity. After that it was the end of the alphabet in order with Millennials originally dubbed Generation Y. The name “Millennial” is said to have come from Neil Howe and William Strauss who coined the term in 1989 when the turn of the millennium was coming. Gen Z is next, but has yet to define what that Z actually stands for.


Each generation serves as a reference to around 20 years and the historic events, attitudes, and what was popular during those times. Let’s take a look at each and escape the COVID-19 news if even just for a bit.






Pew Research and most experts consider anyone born before 1927 to be in what is called the “Greatest Generation,” those we owe so much respect and gratitude toward and the parents of “Baby Boomers.” They grew up, came of age during, and fought in WWII as well as the Great Depression. The Cold War and the start of the Civil Rights Movement are also ingrained in their lives. This group of patriots were proud to plant their roots in the U.S. and set high standards of education for their children. Today, this elderly and simple generation lives by a “waste not want not attitude,” love conformity and traditional values, and value having financial security and not depending on others for assistance. They are great team players, understand and respect sacrifice, and are loyal to the end. These American heroes grew up very simple and don’t appreciate or understand today’s “throw away” society and lack of being thrifty and respectful.




This group, born between 1928-1945, was also raised during WWII and the Great Depression and have many of the same traits as their elders in the Greatest Generation. In all honesty, I had never heard of this group and still somewhat lumped all together with the Greatest Generation. In any case, they are similarly characterized by a strong work ethic and highly regard discipline, the upholding of values, gratitude, and life’s simplicities rather than extravagances.




Hello ME! I’m a certified Boomer, born between 1945 and 1964. Today’s “Empty Nesters,” Baby Boomers have seen it all through some monumental events including the Cold and Vietnam Wars; the assassinations of JFK, Robert Kennedy, and Martin Luther King; the Moon Landing, Woodstock and endless protests and sit-ins of the hippie movement; the Civil Rights and Women’s Movements, and Watergate and resignation of President Nixon. No wonder they are often free-spirited and social-cause oriented! The term “workaholic” came about thanks to Baby Boomers, who are hard workers but also individualistic, love to experiment, and never say never.


Baby Boomers grew up as television was coming to be and living rooms everywhere welcomed the new technology. They are still the largest consumers of TV, as well as radio, magazines, and newspaper. I personally can attest to this as I’m a consumer of all four. Just as the internet, cell phones, Wi-Fi, and social media have revolutionized younger generations, televisions did the same for Baby Boomers. For Boomers, technology is more about convenience and keeping in touch with friends and family then a necessity. Many still have landlines but use smart phones proficiently.




This is the generation for which the term “slackers” was coined. Born between 1965-1979, they were also dubbed “latchkey” kids and the MTV generation. Nevertheless, they are the first generation to be at ease with technology and spend more time on Facebook per week than any other group. Gen X also has more single parent families and more divorces than any other generation. It should come as no surprise therefore, that they are independent, reject rules, mistrust institutions, and are on a constant quest for emotional security. They are also very informal and today’s more casual work environments and flexible work schedules are somewhat thanks to them. Gen X is also balancing quite a bit, including growing their careers, raising a family, and taking care of aging parents. Monumental and historic events that will be attached to them for generations to come include computers, grunge/hip hop, MTV, AIDS, the Challenger explosion, the fall of the Berlin Wall, and Reaganomics.




“Ask a Millennial” to the above question, right? Those poor Millennials; so made fun of and blamed. Born between 1980 and 1994, Millennials are a distinct age group in more ways than just their distinct name. They’ve given us Paleo and gluten free diets, designer dogs and reality TV, avocado toast and endless toasts of rose all day. What’s not to make fun of, right? In all honesty though, it’s not totally their fault.


Millennials were raised by parents who helicoptered them, sheltered them, and/or constantly built them up. These are the “trophies for everyone” kids who today want constant communication and positive reinforcement from their bosses and strive to be close to their peers. Often called entitled, Millennials are indeed impatient, achievement oriented, and have short attention spans, but they are also optimistic, entrepreneurial, and financially savvy.



Perhaps through a combination of those helicopter parents and a “listen and learn” attitude toward Gen X’ers, Millennials are better educated than any previous generation and Millennial women are more likely to work outside of the home than prior generations, with 72 percent being employed. They are also more likely to be “boomerang kids” who return home and live with their parents. Many struggle with student debt, which is keeping some from getting married, buying a home, and starting families.


This “work to live rather than live to work” group entered the work force in the middle of an economic recession and is often referred to as the “slow start” work force even though they did so in a particularly challenging job market. They were probably the first generation to perfect the art of multi-tasking as they listened to music while studying and text and converse every day all day.


Very adept and the first to order heavily online, Millennials are extremely brand loyal and have little or no patience for inefficient products or poor service. They love their Apples and they love their Lulus. Millennials most likely have multiple social media accounts, get their music now from Spotify rather than their once beloved CD players, regularly binge on Netflix, and only have a mobile device. Landlines are ancient history to them and all subsequent generations.


When you think of Millennials, think Oklahoma City bombing, the rise of the internet and cell phones, the O.J. Simpson trial and death of Princess Diana, Columbine shootings, terrorism, and wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. It’s important to note that although the 9/11 terrorist attacks occurred in 2011, most Millennials were old enough to comprehend the historical significance of the attacks while most Gen Z’ers have little or no memory of the event.


Millennials are now or will soon be (depending on who you ask) the largest living adult generation, overtaking Baby Boomers. But it’s not because so many are being born or giving birth, it’s due in part because immigration has been boosting their numbers, particularly a growing number of Hispanic and Asian immigrants. This has resulted in Millennials being more ethnically and racially diverse than older generations and are more culturally and racially tolerant. Just don’t disagree with them!





These are the children of Gen X and they are under a lot of pressure to succeed. They’ve almost always had a mobile phone either of their own or playing on their parents and like Millennials, have no idea what a land line or dial phone is. They truly care about the state of things, want to make a positive difference in the world, and long to be taken seriously.  And funny enough, many of the things Millennials consider preferences are things Gen Z expects. They see Millennials struggle with debt and their Gen X parent’s financial struggles and are a bit more fiscally conservative.


Gen Z is the real deal when talking digital-ites and gamers and are totally dependent on technology. Sirium/XM radio came to be during their years of growing up and they consider their mobile devices extensions of themselves and prefer Facetiming over even texting. They love their Instagram filters, Vine, Twitter, and Tik-Tok is the current rage with them and Millennials alike. They demand instant gratification, live by “next, next, next,” and care deeply about what’s trending. They have always been online and “connected” so it’s no surprise that they are independent and sometimes lack community-oriented social skills and the idea of being a team player. They prefer self-direction and small bits of information comparable to a tweet or a post and have an uncanny ability to process information at lightning speed. They are also very creative but have little concern for privacy, leading them to be “open books.”


Historically, they will always be tied to 9/11, smart phones, social media, the Great Recession, Hurricane Katrina, and Donald Trump will be the first president most Gen Z’ers know as they turn 18. They will also most likely have to solve escalating and divisive environmental, social, and economic problems.




All of this leads us to “snowflakes.” Although not a true generation like the ones mentioned above, snowflakes are generally thought to be those born after the Millennium and became adults in the 2010s. The name comes from the fact that no two snowflakes are alike and the fact that their parents raised them as unique and special. Today the word has taken on a more negative tone as snowflakes are often branded as entitled, whiney, overly-sensitive, self-obsessed, fragile, easily offended, and unable to deal with adversity or opposing opinions. The word has become so commonly used and popular that it was added to the Oxford English Dictionary in January 2018 and suffice it to say, being called a “snowflake” is anything complimentary or something to aspire to being.



I don’t know what all this means at this time or on this day; whatever day it might be. I also don’t know if it even matters right now when all that matters is staying home and staying safe. I guess it’s just something I found interesting and I hope you did too. If nothing else, it’s diverted some attention away from COVID-19, which is creating a generation all its own.





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