There have been a number of articles written over the years about the relative size of different generations, and their respective power dynamics and interest in change.
The Baby Boom Generation (born 1946-1964) is about 29% of the US population. They were more numerous than the generation before, and once they rose to positions of authority in the business and political spheres, seem to have little to no interest in ever letting go. They are known for a lot of protesting and fostering some large changes in society, and then as they grew older, resisting any further changes. Also called the “Me Generation” for the perception of conspicuous consumerism, the Boomers are also known for prioritizing “hard work” (read: long hours) over productivity. They displayed great loyalty to the corporations that dominated the country during their early work years, and have a mindset that one career could be at one company for decades.
Generation X (1961-1981, yeah, there’s overlap – generations aren’t really solid blocs) is about 18% of the US population, and came of age during the multiple recessions of the post-Reagan years. Being a smaller group, they’ve struggled to attain any lasting influence, not helped by being labeled “slackers” when they were in their 20s. Gen X were the first generation of “latch key kids.” Due to the multiple hits of the Reagan recession, welfare reform, cutting funding for education, and the Dot Com Bubble, Gen X is the first generation that has little chance of doing better financially than their parents. Gen X is known for prioritizing merit and “bang for the buck” in business and politics. Downsizing and “right sizing” and offshoring have made Gen X assume a more mercenary approach to corporate loyalty, constantly prepared to jump ship if need be or if a great opportunity comes along.
Millennials (1981-1994 or maybe 2000, depending on who you ask) are another big generation, approximately 27% of the US population. While the parents of Millennials were known as “helicopter parents” to a great degree, the children they raised are more idealistic and less bigoted than most previous generations, in general. While Boomers and Gen X created the internet, Millennials grew up with it as part of the background. They are generally more comfortable with uncertainty and change in economic situations (see the gig economy) than previous generations. They also see the massive dump that Boomers took on the economy over decades in power and are pretty unhappy about it. Millennials generally look for people making a meaningful contribution in business and politics, rather than more objective measures of success.
In the business world, we see a lot of examples where Boomers are running the show, and the Gen X employees are biding their time, waiting to take over if the Boomers will ever fucking retire. And now, as Gen X is middle-aged, Millennials are entering the market at a high rate, and their energy is making them the up-and-comers. Gen X has more debt than income, and now it increasingly looks like their bosses will be their own children.
Meanwhile, over in politics, we see something similar. Look at the US House of Representatives. It’s like a senior citizen center over there. Nancy Pelosi is 78, her lieutenant Steny Hoyer is 79. Neither seems interested in retiring. The Senate is just as bad. Mitch McConnell and Bernie Sanders are both 76, and Dianne Feinstein has been legally dead for three years. There are a few Gen X folks in there, like Paul Ryan and Ted Cruz, but overall – pretty damned old. The House averages 57 years old, and the Senate 61. Gen X seems to mostly have given up on politics, because we’re trying to dig out of debt before we start drawing Social Security.
Nancy Pelosi doesn’t seem to believe that there has been a demographic and enthusiasm shift within the Democratic Party. Young folks are energized. Look at the primary in New York, where a 28 year-old woman, an avowed Democratic Socialist, just beat someone who has been in office since she was in 3rd grade. Pelosi’s response: I’m sure it’s nothing. The rise of the various street protests and online activism, leading to the surprisingly good showing of Sanders in 2016 and the lack of enthusiasm from the Democratic faithful during the general election, should have been some kind of wakeup call. Ignoring the energy and passion of Millennials is not a wise move.
On behalf of the forgotten middle child of generational warfare, may I say to the Millennials – go get ’em.
Also published on Medium.