This post was originally published on May 17th, 2018. Updated for April 12th, 2022.
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. It’s still important to know the difference between Baby Boomers, Millennials and Gen Z. You can be 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 a cohort of people born and raised around the same time and in the same place. Members of a generation will have differences like gender and annual income. They’ll still exhibit similar values and characteristics throughout their lives. Understanding them is the perfect launching point for targeting a narrower audience.
The Baby Boomers
The “flower power” Baby Boomers were the generation that powered many social movements in the 1960s and 1970s. They 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. It was when suburbs first emerged on the outskirts of cities. ‘The Burbs’ offered larger houses and yards for raising children. Baby Boomers were raised to be loyal and hard-working. They 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
Boomers grew up in a relatively tech-free environment. They 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. Many Boomers have spent most of their lives working for the same employer, buying a house, and raising a family. Young adult was defined by events like the Vietnam War and the Civil Rights Movement. Those experiences led this generation to value stability.
Today, the Baby Boomer generation is reaching their retirement years, but they are by no means slowing down. Many find themselves caring for their elderly parents and supporting their adult children. Many of those children are still burdened with student debt and expensive housing. Boomers have also embraced technology, and are avid smartphone users.
How to Reach Baby Boomers
Baby Boomers aren’t the most tech-savvy generation but tend to be well-connected online. Many still have busier lives offline as opposed to online. 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.
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The Millennials got their name because they came of age during the new millennium. They are the nation’s largest generation to-date (83 million strong). Millennials are very different from their Baby Boomer parents. They’ve completely upended 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 might be the most-studied and most-maligned generation to-date. They grew up in less-traditional households and had parents who often avoided discipline. Millennials are considered confident, sensitive, and entitled. Millennials are also the highest-educated generation and are extremely tech-savvy. In fact, most of their lives are dependent on their mobile devices. These qualities combined with a much less stable economy have made Millennials connected and inclusive. They 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 parents. They are also wary of authority figures (like their employer). In fact, many Millennials freelance, at least part-time, and work from a home office. Millennials are also waiting much longer than their parents to buy a home and raise children. This stems from a mountain of student loan debt and ongoing concerns about the economy. 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 the 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
Members 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 Boomers.
Generation Z is sometimes called “The Founders” because they are innovative and passionate. Several notable members have already launched successful websites, apps and businesses. Their grasp of social media has led to the rise of social movements organized online. One example is the #NeverAgain movement in response to mass shootings at schools. Another is the #MeToo movement, in response to sexual harassment.
Members of Gen Z are coming of age in a workplace that’s been transformed by Millennials. 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 18-29 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. The size and diversity of these generations should lead marketers and business owners to narrow their focus. Make sure your 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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