Millennials, Baby Boomers, and Founders, Oh My!
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 to 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 50-71, 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 Recession
- Heavy student loan debt
- Mobile technology
- A permissive upbringing
Millennials at a Glance
Born between: ~1987-1995
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 generations 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 forebears, 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 recession, 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. The Founders Generation is arriving on scene. Contrary to popular belief, these children and teens, 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 barely graduating high school, the emerging “Founders” are still called by many different names, and not entirely understood.
Founders at a Glance
Born between: ~1998-2016
Other names: Generation Z, Post-Millennials, iGen, Centennials
Characteristics: innovative, tech-savvy, passionate
Values: inclusiveness, forward-thinking
Primary concerns: college, entering the workforce, social issues
These children and teens 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.
The Founders are earning their name because they are so 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, the latest example being the #NeverAgain movement in response to mass shootings at schools.
The Founders 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 Founders
Very little hard data exists for reaching Generation Z, but if you want them to hear your message, consider the following:
- Get their attention through interesting and innovative campaigns.
- Avoid traditional advertising; they don’t read magazines or watch T.V.
- Keep updated with the latest social media channels and mediums; these teenagers are driving the latest trends.
Breaking down America’s largest three generations means making huge generalizations. These generations’ size and diversity means that marketers, business owners and others need to narrow their focus in order to ensure their message reaches the right people. Don’t forget, these generations are going to change as they age, so stay tuned!