Millennials, Baby Boomers, and Gen Z, Oh My!
June 16, 2020
This post was originally published on May 17th, 2018. Updated for June 16th, 2020.
The differences between the nation’s most influential generations (and why it matters).
Generation who, now? The breakdown of our nation’s generations can be confusing, and sometimes arbitrary. Understanding the differences between Baby Boomers, Millennials, and Gen Z, however, is still important. Whether you’re a nonprofit seeking volunteers, or a business looking for the perfect target market, having a solid grasp on what makes each generation unique can give you an edge. Here’s a breakdown of the most influential generations in the U.S.
What is a Generation?
A “generation” is defined as a cohort of people born and raised around the same time and in the same place. Even with differences like gender and socioeconomic status, members of a generation exhibit similar values and characteristics throughout their lives. Understanding them is the perfect launching point for targeting a narrower audience.
The Baby Boomers
The generation that powered many social movements in the 1960s and 1970s, the “flower power” Baby Boomers were the nation’s largest-ever generation until the Millennials. The Baby Boomers earned their popular name because they were all born during the post-WWII boom in birth rates (over 74.5 million babies born). Boomers’ early lives took place during an optimistic and prosperous time in the U.S., when suburbs first emerged on the outskirts of cities, offering larger houses and yards for raising children. Raised to be loyal and hard-working, Baby Boomers carry many traditional values, but also a great deal of innovation, into their retirement years.
Baby Boomers at a Glance
Born between: ~1946-1964
Other names: Flower Children
Characteristics: traditional, hard-working
Values: interpersonal relationships, family, stability
Primary concerns: retirement, elderly care, long-term success for their children
Being raised in a relatively tech-free environment, Boomers value interpersonal skills and often lament the use of social media as a substitute for face-to-face connection. They are generally proud Americans, and very hard-working, who have spent most of their lives working for the same employer, buying a house, and raising a family. After a rocky youth, defined by events like the Vietnam War and the Civil Rights Movement, stability has been the name of the game for this generation.
Today, Baby Boomers, aged 56-74, are reaching their retirement years, but they are by no means slowing down. Many are sandwiched between caring for their elderly parents and supporting their adult children, who are still burdened with student debt and expensive housing. Many have also embraced technology, and are avid smartphone users.
How to Reach Baby Boomers
They may not match the newest generations, but Baby Boomers are surprisingly well-connected online. They do, however, still have a busier offline life. To reach Boomers with your message, keep these tips in mind:
- Reach out to clubs, churches, and other local groups.
- Appeal to their sense of family, and newfound freedom in retirement.
- Target carefully on social media, making sure to focus on platforms where this generation is most active.
The Millennials, so-called because they came of age during the new millennium, are the nation’s largest generation to-date (83 million strong), and they are very different from their Baby Boomer parents, completely upending the nation’s workforce structure. Their collective actions and values are strongly influenced by:
- 9/11 and its aftermath
- The latest Recessions
- Heavy student loan debt
- Mobile technology
- A permissive upbringing
Millennials at a Glance
Born between: ~1984-1995
Other names: Generation Y
Characteristics: confident, wary, tech-savvy, depressed
Values: diversity, technology, independence
Primary concerns: mental health, finances, work-life balance
Millennials are perhaps the most-studied and most-maligned generation to-date. Raised in less-traditional households by parents who often avoided discipline, they are regarded as being confident, sensitive, and entitled. Millennials are also the highest-educated generation and extremely tech-savvy. In fact, most of their lives, from banking to socializing, are dependent on their mobile devices. This, combined with a much less stable economy, has resulted in a very connected and inclusive generation that also suffers high rates of anxiety and depression.
Today, Millennials are changing both the workplace and the economy. They lack the workhorse mentality of their forebearers, and they are wary of, rather than loyal to, authority figures (like their employer). In fact, a very large percentage of Millennials freelance, at least part-time, and work from a home office. Burdened by student loan debt, and extremely wary of the economy after the latest recessions, Millennials are waiting much longer than their parents to buy a home and raise children. They also tend to value experiences, rather than possessions.
How to Reach Millennials
If you want to reach Millennials, avoid the mistake of treating them like their parents. Baby Boomers and Millennials really could not be more different.
- Appeal to their need for experiences, rather than “stuff.”
- Focus advertising efforts on social media and other online channels.
- Millennials are a very large and diverse generation; narrow your audience within this generation for best results.
- Strongly consider influencer marketing.
- Remember, Millennials like to know the “why” behind what they buy, and where they volunteer their time.
Move aside, Millennials. Generation Z is arriving on scene. Contrary to popular belief, these teens and young adults, born after the mid-1990s, are NOT Millennials (though some call them “Millennials on steroids”). They are significantly younger and are developing a different set of behaviors and values. With the eldest of this generation just out of college, this emerging generation is still called by many different names, and not entirely understood.
Gen Z at a Glance
Born between: ~1995-2012
Other names: Post-Millennials, iGen, Centennials, Zoomers, the Founders
Characteristics: innovative, tech-savvy, passionate
Values: inclusiveness, forward-thinking
Primary concerns: college, entering the workforce, social issues
Those considered part of Gen Z are true “digital natives,” who don’t remember a time before social media or mobile phones. As a result, they spend an average of 10 hours a day on their phone or tablet and watch TV less than half as much as their Boomer grandparents.
Generation Z is sometimes called “The Founders” because they are innovative and passionate. Several notable members have already launched successful websites, apps and businesses to address topics they care about. Their prowess at social media has also given this generation a large platform to organize social movements, examples being the #NeverAgain movement in response to mass shootings at schools and the #MeToo movement, in response to sexual harassment.
Members of Gen Z are coming of age in a workplace that has been completely transformed by Millennials, and they seem unlikely to revert back to the traditional roles and values held by Baby Boomers. How and when they settle down and raise families remains to be seen.
How to Reach Generation Z
If you want them to hear your message, consider the following:
- Get their attention through interesting and innovative campaigns.
- Be honest in your advertising. Gen Z knows a sales ad when they see it, don’t try to trick them.
- Avoid traditional advertising; they don’t read magazines or watch T.V.
- Gen Z loves YouTube, that’s a far better way to reach them.
- Keep updated with the latest social media channels and mediums; these teenagers are driving the latest trends.
- TikTok is incredibly popular among Generation Z. In fact, more than 40% of TikTok users are aged 16-24 and 90% of those users go on the app more than once a day.
Breaking down America’s three largest generations means making huge generalizations. These generations’ size and diversity mean that marketers, business owners, and others need to narrow their focus in order to ensure their message reaches the right people. Don’t forget, Baby Boomers, Millenials, and Gen Z are going to change as they age, so keep yourself updated!
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