There are perhaps several definitions of what a generation means. However, we will restrict our concern with the definition that generation is a cohort of people who have lived in the same time or the same age and have been influenced by the same social and cultural factors of their times and these are the same factors that distinguishes one generation from the other. By this definition the Western world offers three very important generations which have shaped America’s past and that hold America’s future.
One of the most important generations in the history of America is the Baby Boomers generation. Baby Boomers were born anywhere between 1946 and 1964 that is just after the World War II. Analysis shows an enormous increase in the birth rate and there were approximately 78 million people born in this period, the highest in the history of America. Several soldiers and war veterans were returning to their families to start a new life and the Government was doing all it could to improve the conditions of the war veterans by giving them GI benefits and loans to start a new business and buy a home.
A new beginning and a new hope is what people were looking forward to after the dark period of the depression and the subsequent wars. Women of the family were already earning and wanted to continue earning even after the war so the social and economic conditions of the nation were improving. The Baby Boomers enjoyed the benefits of both parents working and an improvement in the social and economic conditions ensured that they get the best of education and all the benefits of a rising and an optimistic nation. The nation was marching ahead and so were the Baby Boomers (Riggs & Turner 2003).
This generation also witnessed several movements like the civil rights movement, women equality and liberation movements, assassination of John F Kennedy and Martin Luther king and the Vietnam Wars. As such they grew up demanding their rights, harboring ideals and dreams to bringing about a change. They were not conservative as their parents but recognized their new found freedom and were liberal in their approach. Multi-ethnicity, liberal thinking, openness to sex and divorce and drugs were all a part of this surging young people. They took to music as an expression to voice their thoughts for peace, the turbulence of the time and their hopes. Beatles, The Doors, the Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, Bob Dylan and the very famous Woodstock Festival- a 3 days of Peace and Music that recorded a huge turn-out re-iterated the strength of this generation (Lim & Weil 2003).
This generation was offered benefits in multitudes. Companies that were manufacturing war time materials took to manufacturing peacetime goods and several others had to bulk up their supply to meet the needs and demands of the growing population. Since, this generation could afford to pay there were several who were more than willing to offer goods like automobiles, television, electronics items, baby products, beauty products, medical products, luxury goods all of which started pouring in the country from all directions of the world. It was a time for excesses and self indulgence.
Medical Sciences made great headways as a result of technological advancement and a lot of life threatening diseases were eradicated. There were vaccines for yellow fever, small pox and polio was coming under control. With availability of advanced medical services and medicines life expectancy of people increased and they were less fraught with health disease and grew up healthy and able bodied. Baby Boomers turned out to be healthy, positive, hard working, optimistic, work-centric, strong willed and ambitious hence they hold powerful and influential posts to this day (Keister 2002).
Where Baby Boomers fought for their rights and identified themselves as harbingers of a cultural and a social change they obviously assumed an important social responsibility, and belongingness. But the Generation after that referred to as “Generation X” or “Generation Whatever” (Mitchell 2001), often felt distant. This generation comprising of 48-50 million people belonged to the period between 1966 and 1982 came back to empty homes with both parents working (workaholic Baby Boomers). They were the ‘Latch key’ (Hanson 2002) children who grew up to be self-reliant, independent, self-sufficient and were able to take care of themselves. They were essentially individualist who learnt to do things their own way for lack of any authority at home. Since divorce had become commonplace often Generation X would have to live with different dads, step mothers and accepted this as the new reality (Hanson 2002). They developed into individuals who lacked a sense of security, faced uncertainty, and were lonely and complacent.
Baby Boomers generation was successful at all fronts and such was expected of the generation that followed. With the pressure of succeeding and the tight competition from their predecessors they felt alienated. They had no social goals or youth icons they looked up to or they wanted to follow. This alienation was further aggravated by the music of the age which changed from rock n roll to punk. They fed on grunge-Nirvana, Pearl Jam and listened to Bon Jovi, Radiohead, etc and channels like MTV that played songs of alienation and negation of society so they questioned authority, grew skeptical, cynical and silently revolted by their uncaring attitude. Sexual liberty, multiple sexual partners, drugs dominated the circle. HIV/AIDS was the most rampant and worrisome health issue for the Generation X (Mitchell 2001).
The 1970s was also the time of severe energy and oil crisis while in the 1980s America faced another economic depression. A lot of people lost their jobs and with the squeezed income levels and spending power, uncertainty loomed large in the air. The Generation X saw this crisis back at home and hence became less loyal to their companies than their predecessors and didn’t mind switching jobs for their benefit. They were however committed to their work and did not live to work but worked to live. They knew how to mix work with pleasure. Unlike the Baby Boomers they did not take authority and respect for granted (Hanson 2002).
Although as a generation they are not very ambitious they do very well in the middle management level. Generation X is flexible and they adapt to the change. They are also very receptive of the technology since this generation was the first to be exposed to internet. They are very comfortable with technology and can handle computer, mobile phones, and Hi-tech machines with ease.
The ones that followed Generation X was Generation Y also called The Millennials and they almost equal the Baby Boomers in terms of their number which is approximately 70 million. The Generation Y as most concur belongs to the 1982s and 2000 (Freestone & Mitchell 2004). After the wars, the economic slowdown and fight for rights the Government introduced measures that would, if not completely immune people from danger but at least provide people with security. The world grew more and more aware of the perils of war and signed treaties to secure the rights of the Nations to prevent a war like situation. So, the Generation Y is a more emotionally secure generation that grew up on security, communication, technology as a constant and as a part of their everyday living. The rights that the other generations fought for were a part of the people now and the previous generations were careful not to repeat the mistakes made by them (Sheahan 2005).
Generation Y is better educated, has friends from different ethnicity and cultural background. In fact Generation Y is the product of inter-cultural and inter-race marriages hence they are more accepting of different cultures. They are also aware of the perils of unsafe sex, promiscuous behavior, over use of drugs and alcohol. They are socially responsible and also want to preserve and protect their environment (Freestone & Mitchell 2004). Technology has played a major role in their lives. This Generation is constantly plugged in because of the internet and the Blackberrys. Communication is now through emails, messages and phone calls and dependency on face to face communication is not mandatory (Sheahan 2005).
Where Baby Boomers grew up to balance their work and personal life while the Generation X flitted in and out of their jobs and at the same time tried accommodating pleasure with all of that, Generation Y is more at ease and more in control. They have been given the comfort to work from home, flexible working hours and other additional facilities to help them grow and keep them interested and engaged as Generation Y has a low attention span. They mostly rely on the internet for information and their peer group and are largely influenced by them. Other factors that influence them are the Television and Music. Since, they have lots of things to play with and distract themselves with, their attention span flits from one thing to the other. One thing that they really prize is their friend circle and they look for affirmations from them (Freestone & Mitchell 2004). The motivational factors to them may not be a huge pay check or a promotion but other factors like recognition, praises, mentoring, flexi hours and other meaningful cause related activity like some environmental cause or human rights cause.
The Baby Boomers, Generation X and the Generation Y form cohorts that allow people to know that these are generations that have faced similar trials and have shared experiences in the event of large social, economic and political changes. They are not tight capsules of generation strictly following the rules of their time but by and large they have similar traits that put them together in the face of man’s history. Even the time frame mentioned does not mean that people born a day after 1965 immediately fall into Generation X but it’s just a rough period in time that most of the people agree upon (Keister 2002). Hence, people must be put together only by what they share as a generation and where they feel they belong.