As an avid reader of local and national daily newspapers, hardly a day goes by without mention of the so-called “Baby Boomers” and “Millennial Generation.”
Huge numbers of Boomers, 50-68-year-olds, are reaching retirement age, casting widespread concern over the future of Social Security benefits.
Millennials, 22-33-year-olds, the largest generational group alive, are the target audience of manufacturers, marketers and retailers. Their spending habits are driving the economy.
So, where does that leave the rest of us, especially the elder generation?
Well, we, too, are labeled, depending on when we were born.
From what I’ve read in the Journal Sentinel, USA Today and Chicago Tribune, this is how people are categorized by age:
89 and older – the Greatest or GI Generation – born prior to 1925, served in World War II, lived through the Cold War, saw the building of the interstate highway system and moved to the suburbs. Characteristics: fought valiantly, saved their money, emphasized family values.
69-88 – the Silent Generation – born 1926-45, grew up in an age of sacrifice and conformity resulting from the Great Depression and World War II. Characteristics: known as hard workers, made personal sacrifices for the common good, valued personal responsibility, traditionalists.
50-68 – Baby Boomers – born 1946-64, raised in post-World War II prosperity and Cold War nuclear threat; older “boomers” were affected by the Vietnam War. Characteristics: values-oriented, idealistic, competitive, embraced racial and gender equality, concerned with environment.
34-49 – Generation X – born 1965-80, came of age as the economy stagnated, inflation and oil prices soared, the first generation with the contraceptive pill readily available, born in an era of widespread divorce and consumer electronics. Characteristics: ambitious, pragmatic, independent, self-reliant, individualistic, value work-life balance, protective of their children.
22-33 – Geneneration Y/ the Millennial Generation – born 1981-1992, an era when an economic slump ended, markets boomed and communism collapsed. As trend-setting consumers, they’re also known as the First Internet Generation. Characteristics: optimistic, civically engaged, self-confident, team-oriented, close parental relationships, technology-focused.
13-21 – Generation Z – born 1993-2002, growing up in post-9/11, with lives shaped by two recessions and two wars. Characteristics: aware of expensive college education, concerned with saving money, view job market as not very promising.
12 and younger – the unnamed generation still being discovered.
Also among these categories is an emerging group – the Sandwich Generation, mainly free-spirited, independent, active Baby Boomers taking care of ailing parents while still taking care of their children. Children are called Boomerang, having left home to work or attend college then return for various reasons.
Generally, Baby Boomers and Millennials (Generation Y) are the leading newsmakers.
Boomers, as a USA Today editorial noted, viewed “the prosperity their parents built was never good enough…. In later years, they embraced the materialism they ridiculed as youths and failed to save adequately for the retirement that they now face.”
Despite their shortcomings, Baby Boomers are also credited with developing an artistic creativity that spanned music, film and fine arts; and launched the Internet Age with such companies as Microsoft and Apple. Still, Boomers often get a bad rap as the Worst Generation for sexual/drugs promiscuity.
Significantly, Millennials, more than 100 million strong, represent the largest living generation.
Advertising Age magazine says Millennials place high value on social responsibility. They embrace technology and tattoos, and helped elect Barack Obama to the presidency twice.
Millennials are less passionate about sports, teams and games than older generations. They’re less infatuated with cars as their parents were, but prefer a hybrid vehicle over one powered by a standard engine.
Embracing online buying, they have less need to drive to a mall.
But along with economic and social preferences, each generation also is defined by religious characteristics.
For example, the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life reports that Millennials are as likely to pray and believe in God as their elders were when they were young: 18 percent attend worship services nearly every week or more often; 40 percent say religion is very important in their lives; 41 percent pray daily.
Studies also indicate that although young adults are less church-connected than prior generations when they were in their 20s, they’re just as spiritual as parents and grandparents were at those ages. As people age, they are more likely to view religion as very important in their lives.
So, where do we go from here?
I presume many Catholic Herald readers, including myself, represent the Silent Generation, born 1926-45, ages 69 to 88.
Historically, every generation:
- -Has lived or is living through times of war and unrest, acts of terrorism, all forms of violence, nationally and globally.
- -Has experienced failures and achievements.
- -Is challenged to do better and be better than the last.
Surely, all generations will never experience a perfect world … but we can hope and pray for a peaceful world.
Perhaps a future age group can make it happen … as a Peace Generation.
(Out and About is a regular feature of Mature Lifestyles that looks at issues affecting the older adult community. Horn, a retired Catholic Herald reporter, is a member of St. Roman Church, Milwaukee.)