You’ve seen the generation names and stereotypes, you’ve heard the debates over which is the best generation, and of course, the insults about which is the worst.
It can be confusing to define your generation and even more bewildering to explain what it means to be in one.
How long is a generation?
Generations are typically broken into 20-30 year periods in which children are born, grow up, become adults, and produce the next generation. These have also become important categories in social science to define groups living through certain historical events or cultural eras.
However, determining how long a generation is isn’t an exact science.
Social scientists consistently edit these date ranges and cutoff points as time goes on, so you may find yourself bumped back and forth between Gen Z and Millennials from time to time.
The names of these generations are usually based on cultural moments and sociological patterns, or a lack thereof.
For example, Millennials are defined by the turn of a new millennium, while Gen X is associated with having no major defining moment.
What generation am I?
Your generation is based on your birth year rather than the year you’re living in.
So while we currently associate Gen Z as being the tween generation, eventually this group will be who young people blame for all their problems — just like we do with Boomers now!
This means that generations are often associated with major historical moments that actually happened years after their date range because most of what shapes and influences us happens in our teens and twenties.
Here are each of the generation names and birth years plus some characteristics about these monumental eras.
Full List of Generation Names and Years
Lost Generation: People born between 1883-1900
This generation is the first cohort to be defined. The name is credited to Gertrude Stein who told Ernest Hemingway, “All of you young people who served in the war… You are all a lost generation.”
Recovering from the shell shock of World War I, this generation wandered rather aimlessly until the Roaring Twenties.
The term has become most associated with early modernist literature, particularly that of Hemingway and his generation of artists roaming their way around Paris in their 20s and 30s.
Famous members of the Lost Generation: Some of the most well known names of this generation include Amelia Earhart, Harry Truman, Al Capone, and F. Scott Fitzgerald.
Greatest Generation: People born between 1901-1927
This generation of fighters went through a lot. Hence, they’re sometimes called the G.I. generation.
Members of the Greatest Generation were raised in the Great Depression, fought in World War II, then finished it all off by creating some of the greatest economic prosperity ever seen in the U.S.
The name comes from the latter of those achievements, as the generation who made the Roaring Twenties what it was have rightfully been awarded the title of the greatest generation of all time.
Famous members of the Greatest Generation: Iconic members of this generation include Marilyn Monroe, John F. Kennedy, Rosa Parks, and Queen Elizabeth II.
Silent Generation: People born between 1928-1945
The Greatest Generation was a tough act to follow so the Silent Generation didn’t even try to compete.
With many potential fathers fighting in World War II, making babies wasn’t a huge priority in this era. Low birthrates meant there weren’t all that many people in the Silent Generation.
This generation was raised to be seen and not heard, they grew up to reluctantly fight in the Korean and Vietnam wars, they received a better education than their predecessors, and enjoyed more job security.
Famous members of the Silent Generation: Our very own President Joe Biden was born during this era, along with John Lennon, Elvis Presley, and Martin Luther King Jr.
Baby Boomers: People born between 1946-1964
With men home from war, birthrates soared in this era to produce the generation also known as the Me Generation.
However, this is mainly because this generation simply didn’t have a choice but to work to self-fund their lives. Social security and medicare couldn’t handle the burden because there were so many of them!
This generation was also part of the counterculture movement that opposed the Vietnam War and launched the hippie era.
Famous Baby Boomers: Madonna, Elton John, and Oprah Winfrey are some of the many famous Boomers.
Gen X: People born between 1965-1980
Gen X is the baby bust generation, the forgotten generation, or the MTV generation. They’re considered to have had no major defining cultural moments.
That’s where the term Gen X comes from, since it illustrates the lack of characteristics this generation would be defined by.
However, this isn’t exactly a fair representation of the generation who saw the end of the Cold War, lived through the crack and AIDs epidemics, and became some of the earliest users of the internet whilst still knowing their way around a newspaper.
Gen Xers also birthed grunge and hip hop, resisted the establishment, and are still recovering from the debt they inherited from Boomers.
This generation is sometimes separated into a micro-generation named Xennials who are on the cusp of Gen X and Millenials.
They share the characteristics of both of these generations and are usually defined as having an analog childhood but a digital adulthood.
Famous Gen Xers: Gen X claims representation from Kurt Cobain, Kobe Bryant, Sinead O’Connor, Tupac Shakur, Patton Oswalt, Winona Ryder and Ethan Hawke.
Millennials: People born between 1981-1996
Millennials have lived through two major recessions, numerous mass shootings, wars in the Middle East, and the rise of terrorism.
They also suffer from mental illness in extraordinarily high numbers, so forgive them for putting themselves first.
As the first generation thought to be economically worse off than their parents (though some would beg to differ), Millennials choose to spend their money on avocado toast to post on their Instagram feeds since they may never own a home to eat it in.
Speaking of, Millennials also proliferated social media and the age of technology, creating some of the biggest cultural definers for years to come.
Famous Millennials: Serena Williams, Mark Zuckerberg, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and Ivanka Trump can be counted among the most well known Millennials.
Generation Z: People born between 1996-2015
Gen Z, or Zoomers, is the first generation to be truly raised online. Most of them grew up playing on their parents’ iPads and received their first phone before they were teenagers.
They watched their Gen X parents struggle with debt, so they tend to search for value in their purchases but will prioritize technology above other costs.
Gen Z, because of their excessive social media use, is likely to be engaged in social and political activism from a young age.
Gen Z is also set to become America’s largest generation by 2034, so there’s a lot of diversity within this category.
Hence, some older Gen Z members might consider themselves post-Millenials.
Famous members of Gen Z: Some famous Gen Z faces include Greta Thunberg, Yara Shahidi, Zendaya, Billie Eilish, and every TikTok influencer you can name.
Generation Alpha: People born after 2015
Generation Alpha has yet to be rigidly defined, mainly because most of this generation doesn’t actually exist yet.
We can probably expect this generation to last into the 2020s or 2030s, making them the first generation to exist entirely in the 21st century.
As of 2015, there were some two-and-a-half million people born every week around the globe, so Gen Alpha is expected to reach two billion in size by 2025.
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Alice Kelly is a writer living in Brooklyn, New York. Catch her covering all things social justice, news, and entertainment. Keep up with her on Twitter for more.