Boomers were the children of the post-World War II High, when parents were giving their kids more and more freedom. These were the feed-on-demand Dr. Spock babies; the indulged Beaver Cleavers of the 1950s suburbs; the screaming, long-haired radicals on college campuses; and the inner city rioters of the 1960s. By the late 1970s, they emerged as “yuppies,” upwardly mobile young professionals who were passionately serious about their careers.
Boomers have been a generation of trends from first-wave to last. First-wave Boomers had structured childhoods, married earlier, and did better economically. Today, they’re mostly retired. Last wave boomers had wilder childhoods, married later, have struggled economically, and now are delaying retirement.
Boomers have a sense of self-sufficient liberation from the need for other people or institutions to help them. They are the generation Robert Putnam described in Bowling Alone—they strike out alone to follow their passions, rather than following the group. And they placed a whole new value on choosing a meaningful career, not just one that will put bread on the table.
Boomers maintain a certain moral seriousness about everything they do. In the 1960's, when people discussed “values,” they were usually talking about college kids. Now they’re discussing people in their 50's. Back then, it was the counter culture; today, it’s the culture wars.
Birth Years: 1943-1960
Approximate US population: 66,070,955
Percent of 2012 US population (census estimate): 21.4%
The philosophy was: Give them a latchkey guide, a self-care guide, and a Judy Blume book so they can understand life’s dangers early. Meanwhile, all kinds of institutions that protect kids longer seemed to work in the ‘60s and ‘70s. Schools were breaking down and the divorce rate soared.
People didn’t want to have kids anymore. Fertility rates plummeted, hitting an all-time low in 1976. A climate of unfriendliness towards kids started permeating popular culture: The child-devil horror movie, for example, became a best-selling genre. Xers learned young that they couldn’t trust older people and institutions to look out for their best interests and they needed to trust their own instincts.
While Boomers focus on their inner lives, Gen Xers focus on bottom-line outcomes. For 30 years, the UCLA college freshman survey has been asking students what values they considered important. Through the early ‘70s (when Boomers were in college) most said “developing a meaningful philosophy in life,” and fewer said “being very well off financially." When Xers entered college in the late 1970s, those priorities were reversed.
In the workplace, Xers pioneered a new free-agent model. They tend not to trust institutions to protect their long-term interests and instead are determined to decide for themselves.
Xers have high rates of job mobility, opt out of paternalistic benefits packages, embrace choice, and prefer total-rewards incentive plans. They are also deeply entrepreneurial. Three out of five say they want to be their own boss, and the vast majority of startups today are founded by Xers.
Birth Years: 1961-1981
Approximate US population: 87,905,343
Percent of 2012 US population (census estimate): 28%
Xers are poised to take over from Boomers in top leadership positions over the next decade. Their market-oriented style will remain an important force in America's workplaces in the years to come.
Boomers came of age during the Conscious Revolution - an era of idealism and protest of the late 1960s and '70s. Xers were the young children of this period, when adults were off finding themselves and no one was paying much attention to kids.
The first millennials were born in the early 1980s, following the end of the Conscious Revolution. Social and family experimentation were ebbing amid a growing sense that kids needed more structure and protection. Gradually, attitudes towards having and raising children became much more positive:
Child abuse and safety became hot topics through the 1980s, as rates of divorce, abortion, and violence against children fell steadily.
Various child protection mechanisms-such as safety seats, V-chips, nanny cams, and AMBER alerts - took off amid an exploding child-safety industry. As millennials aged, the protections aged with them: metal detectors in high schools, carding at the movies, and safety key cards in colleges.
Meanwhile, the "Goals 2000" movement - targeting first-wave Millennials born in 1982 - demanded improved student bahavior and achievement from the high school Class of 2000. Educators spoke of standards, cooperative learning, and No Child Left Behind.
By the mid 1900s, politicians were defining adult issues in terms of their effects on kids and teens. Boomers fired up "culture wars" focusing on "family values" that put Millennial kids at the center of the national debate.
Birth Years: 1982-2004
Approximate US population: 98,452,970
Percent of 2012 US population (census estimate): 31.4%
Millennials have been reversing many of the youth trends pioneered by Boomers and Xers. For example, by almost every measure, we've seen a dramatic decline in personal risk-taking by youth.
SInce Millennials began entering their teen years in the mid-1990s, serious violent crime among teens has fallen by 75 percent - probably the swiftest and most dramatic in the youth violence in American history.
Over the same period, rates of teen pregnancy and abortion have been falling, declining by 50 percent overall. Teen alcohol and smoking rates in grades 8, 10, and 12 have also hit historic lows.
In addition, this drop in youth risk-taking shows up in everyday behavior. Many CDC youth-risk indicators have tumbled, from carrying a weapon at school to drinking and driving to buckling up your seatbelt.
These declines are just one part of the Millennial transformaiton. Next, we'll look at the 7 core traits Millennialshave developed thanks to their location in history. These traits are the key to this generation's behavior and priorities in the workplace.