Different generations tend to have a set of similar characteristics, preferences, and values over their lifetimes that also is distinct from other generations. These are important to keep in mind for researchers and/or companies when they are designing or testing products and services, particularly when they identify a specific generation as their target market. At a high level, generations display similar methods of communication, shopping, and motivation preferences because they experienced similar trends at approximately the same life stage and through similar channels. While there are always unique individual differences, categorizing consumers by generations is a way to identify general tendencies and ensure you are implementing marketing strategies that will resonate with most of your consumer base.
The definition of a generation is a group of people born around the same time and raised around the same place. If you are conducting international studies, the geographical differences in generations produces yet another layer of insights. The big events that affect a generation can be dramatically different across the globe or at least regionalized or national in scope, and trends can hit at different times.
Let’s go ahead and “define” the generations with their various titles (no definitive on those either!) and highlight some of the shared characteristics that have been, for the most part, researched and universally accepted to be common among them. These are in relation to the U.S. population.
Gen Z, iGen, Centennials, Boomlets: Born 2001 and later
This is the largest and most ethnically diverse generation in the US. They display a lack of patriotism and are less likely to accept pro-America brands. They don’t know a time without the internet and favor streaming content through Youtube, consuming it mostly on their phones and computers.
Millennials, Generation Y, Generation Next, Echo Boomers, Chief Friendship Officers, The 9/11 Generation: Born 1981 to 2000
The defining moment for this generation is September 11, 2001. They are the largest generation in the U.S. workforce and the fastest-growing generation of customers in the marketplace. Work for millennials is much like how it is for Gen X-ers, a way to live. Families are merged with others and/or often led by single parent or grandparents. They are ambitious with big dreams, but tend to be unfocused and need guidance. Having never known a world without computers, they are undeniably obsessed with technology and glued to gadgets.
Generation X, Sandwich Generation, Latch-key Kids, Daycare Generation: Born 1965 to 1980
This generation lived through the Watergate scandal, the energy crisis, the moon landing, corporate downsizing, and the end of the Cold War. They enjoy working, but in a more casual atmosphere with a desire for more meaningful jobs with better life balance than their workaholic parents. This generation grew up in single-parent households as divorce rates rose and women were expected to work outside of the home. Core values of Gen X-ers are balance, diversity, entrepreneurial, fun, education, informality, and self-reliance.
Baby Boomers, Me Generation: Born 1946 to 1964
They lived through the Civil Rights Movement, the Vietnam War, Cold War, and witnessed the start of the space age. Almost exactly 9 months after the end of World War II, more babies were born in 1946 than ever before. Seen as greedy, ambitious, and materialistic since they were taught the American dream as children and actually pursued it. Baby boomers like to work, are considered workaholics and invented the 50-hour work week. They grew up making phone calls and writing letters, but have become fluent in technology adopting the use of cell phones and tablets. Unlike Millennials, they use these technologies for productivity rather than for social connectivity.
Traditionalists, Silent Generation, Veterans, Forgotten Generations, Mature, Radio Babies: Born 1945 and before
This generation lived through World War II, the Korean War, the end of the Women’s Rights Movement, the red scare, and the Radio Age. Their parents had just survived the Great Depression, leaving a lasting impact on this generation. This generation was raised in the traditional nuclear family. Work was a job, not meant to be fun, and kept very separate from family life. Main beliefs consist of following the rules, conformity, dedication and sacrifice. They had an unquestioning trust in authority and government. Giving back was important, as was loyalty and patriotism.
Generations are akin to stereotypes; there is truth behind them, but exceptions to each. While each generation may not have a finite definition, each has shared defining moments that have shaped the way they act and interact with the world around them. Researchers, companies, government, and all of society, should be privy to this topic. As a member of Generation X, I do see many relevant truths between myself and my generation. I too was a child of divorce and living in a single-parent home. I was taught education was of utmost importance (college degree was expected and knowledge was power). Although, when it comes to other attitudes and behaviors, I tend to straddle many generations.