I love asking audiences about the technology they remember using when they started working. It takes everyone on a ‘walk down memory lane’ as Builders’ explain how they used ‘punch cards’, Baby Boomers tell stories of needing to retype entire essays on typewriters, Gen X talk about the Commodore 64, Gen Ys (the Millennials) reflect on when they got their first email address (in the days when we chose addresses like “coolclaire9945@hotmail”), and Gen Z tend to go straight to social media.
Generational theory is a helpful way of understanding the impact of social, technological and demographic influences on a group of people who grew up around the same time. Whilst it has its limitations, generational theory can help us understand the various perspectives people bring to their values and preferences around communication, socialisation, leadership, work-ethic and lifestyle preferences.
Our society today is currently made up of six generations, and whilst sociologists vary on the years and nomenclature they attribute to each group, here is a simple overview of the generation map:
• Builders (born pre 1945)
• Baby Boomers (born 1946-1964)
• Generation X (born 1965-1979)
• Generation Y – The Millennials (born 1980-1994)
• Generation Z (born 1995-2009)
• Generation Alpha (born 2010-2024)
The Builders (born pre 1945)
“If it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing properly.” Ross, b.1927
Born during the first four decades of the 20th century, the Builders generation has witnessed phenomenal change over their lifetime. As the name suggests, the Builders built and established much of the infrastructure and core institutions we know today. This generation experienced the Great Depression in the 1930s, and many served in World War II, which shaped their core values of home, family and the value of material possessions.
Although we tend to associate the younger generations as those keeping pace with technological advances, Builders came of age with the development of radio, television, military technology, sound systems, and materials technology.
The first plastic was developed in 1907, which revolutionised product design and invention, being a key influencer of this generation.
The Baby Boomers (born 1946-1964)
“As adults there was more freedom-seeking, pushing the edge of conservative boundaries, new music, hippie lifestyles, more liberal around sex, music, alcohol, lifestyle. There was more exposure to cross cultural influences because of the post-war migration.” Patricia*, b.1957
The post World War II baby boom, gave this generational group their distinctive label. With the return of servicemen and women at the end of World War II, and the focus returned to home and family, the number of births started to rapidly increase nine months later. The total fertility rate (TFR), which is the number of babies per woman, escalated globally, becoming a peak in global population.
This generation navigated the twin realities of security and opportunity, seeing the boom of the economy, of business, and significant advancements in the standard of living, whilst also being influenced by their parents’ traditional values in their formative years.
Sub-cultures burgeoned, from hippies to punk rock. In the 1980s as Boomers aged, many began to moderate their more radical approaches. Today, while making up approximately a quarter of our workforce, Baby Boomers are reaching retirement years, and looking for ways to maintain their quality of life in their later years.
Generation X (born 1965-1979)
“We are the offspring of parents who saw their parents go to World War II and through the Great Depression. Therefore, growing up we were taught to value and hold on to everything we owned. We were beginning to break through with innovation, creativity, positive thinking and the desire to dream again. ” Karen, b.1968
Generation X can be seen as the bridging generation, through their flexibility and experience of the world pre-internet, whilst also being immersed in the new technological age of the 1990’s. Their flexibility is also seen in their balance of full time work and family, with the emerging trend of double income parenting, whilst balancing raising children, and paying off mortgages.
The family structure changes were a marker for Gen X’s with a higher rate of separation, divorce, and remarriages. In Australia the mid-1970s saw a peak in divorce rates, rising from 1.0 in 1970 to 4.6 in 1976. By 1985 it was at 2.5 divorces per 1,000 people. A lack of permanence has informed the outlooks and attitudes of Gen Xs, many of whom are highly educated, sceptical of authority and wary of being ‘marketed to’.
Generation Y – “The Millennials” (born 1980-1994)
“I would say that a childhood without the Internet, followed by swift technology changes in our teenage years has been a strong factor shaping our generation.” Emily, b.1983
Generation Y were dubbed “The Millennials”, as they survived the threat of the millennium bug at the turn of the Millennium during their formative years.
Gen Y’s are our first generation of bona fide “digital natives,” with the advent of the World Wide Web in their primary school years, as well as using the very first social media platforms in their burgeoning stages, MySpace and MSN. With the start of new technologies, internet, mobile phones and smart phones, this created a whole new way of thinking, gathering information, learning, communicating and connecting socially on a global scale. This was revolutionary at this stage, yet to Gen Y’s this was normal.
Generation Y prioritise lifestyle and experiences, with many seeking to travel globally, stay in formal education longer and enjoy a disposable income prior to reaching other life markers of getting married, having children and purchasing a family home.
Generation Z – “The Post-Millennials” (born 1995-2009)
“Uncertain, privileged, instant gratification, informed, curious, materialistic, globalised, tech-savvy.” Alannah, b.1997
Gen Z’s are the largest, most technologically savvy, socially networked, globally connected generation in history, navigating the continual merge between the physical and digital worlds. Gen Z’s will be the most formally educated (with the number of students enrolled in higher education expected to double globally by 2025 to 260 million ), will work later in life, consume more, travel more, create more and work in more jobs in their lifetime than their predecessors. They will work jobs that haven’t even been created yet!
A “Global youth culture” has emerged in this generation, where social trends, online brands, and a global peer network have influenced and connected the youth generation on a global scale. Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat, as well as online marketplaces, viral YouTube videos, musicians and bloggers, have connected the generation, bringing unity to the culture as a whole.
Raised in a culture of post-modernism, where a philosophical underpinning is that truth is relative to one’s own personal experience and interpretation, Gen Z have been shaped by a worldview that promotes that there is no absolute truth and that every opinion and preference is as valid as the next.
Generation Alpha (born 2010-2024)
Gen Alpha are currently in early years of their schooling life, being taught in ever innovative and technologically advanced classrooms. From as early as kindergarten, school children are learning computer coding as part of their weekly curriculum.
Being raised largely by Gen Z’s, digital natives themselves, the technological immersion of Gen Alpha’s is deepening further, with devices being regularly accessed at an even younger age being a key influencer in their development.
Based on extracts from the book Hello Gen Z: Engaging the Generation of Post-Millennials.
Hello Gen Z
Australia’s foremost social researcher in generational engagement, Claire Madden, has masterfully synthesised a comprehensive and intriguing guide to the minds and motivations of Generation Z. Its pages reveal the critical importance of knowing how to engage this generation of hyper connected, agile and adaptive digital savants as employees, consumers and emerging leaders.
With a foreword by Bernard Salt, this book will help organisations, educators, leaders and parents understand what has shaped this extraordinary group of young people. Order a copy of the book here. Bulk order discounts are also available.
Claire is a social researcher, keynote speaker and media commentator interpreting social trends and implications of generational change. Author of ‘Hello Gen Z: Engaging the Generations of Post-Millennials’. Claire is the founder of HelloClarity, a keynote speaker translating research-based content into strategic applications for educators, managers and business leaders across Australia and internationally. www.clairemadden.com