What Makes You a Millennial, Gen X-er, or Baby Boomer?

A breakdown of characteristics according to pop culture, disapproving elders, and sociology.


Year of birth: 1982 to 2004

Where the name came from: If not for Neil Howe’s 1991 book Generations, millennials would have had to make do with the label Generation Y, a rather uncreative label patterned after its predecessors.

What they say: Millennials have been described as many things, but perhaps the most scathing is a two-letter word: “me.” Blame it on the conversational Time article “The Me Me Me Generation” or older colleagues’ unflattering assessment of twenty-somethings as entitled employees. Millennials have not racked up the greatest reputation. But for all the snide remarks there are equivalent star qualities.

In the 1980s, academic achievement was high among younger millennials in America. This brought society to keep close tabs on a generation that seemed poised for success. Politicians, educators, and parents did a lot of cheerleading—a kind of “you are meant to be great” pep talk in the form of programs. Millennials grew up confident about their ability to make it big in the world.


While some might say this brought on a pompous sense of entitlement, others may argue that this gave millennials an edge. They have the confidence to negotiate a salary package. Their six-degree connection to people via Facebook and LinkedIn helps them get creative with job leads because they won’t just settle. And even with a track record of shifting, quitting, or not having held traditional jobs, millennials are prone to innovation—and in this regard, they are clearly persistent.

Positive qualities: Joel Stein, writer of “Millennials: The Me Me Me Generation” has nice things to say about today’s youth: Millennials care about their finances, work to “challenge convention,” turn to their parents for advice, and are less prone to rebellion. In his research, Neil Howe has found that even as adults, millennials value achievement and education in spite of a less ideal job situation.

Famous millennials: Mark Zuckerberg, who founded Facebook in his sophomore year at Harvard; Lena Dunham, creator of Girls, an HBO series about floundering twentysomethings in New York; actress Jennifer Lawrence, who won her first Oscar at age 22



Year of birth: 1965 to 1984 (Some sources claim between 1965 and 1980; generation researcher Neil Howe says Gen X-ers were born between 1961 and 1981.)

Where the name came from: Douglas Coupland, author of Generation X: Tales for an Accelerated Future, used the letter X to refer to a generation that resists solid characterization.

What they say: Some writers lament the lack of attention given to Generation X, the cohort that is not as talked about as the baby boomer and millennial groups. Have they been forgotten or wrongly classified as “slackers”? (Notice the trend of giving youth a bad name as the previous generation grows old.)

In 1990, Time came out with a cover that has this as a blurb: “Laid back, late blooming or just lost?” In America, job prospects were not so good. Video games and the concept of “chilling” became a fad, a source of amusement in confusing times.

As adults, Generation X-ers value family as much as the jobs they have managed to secure. It’s important for them to veer from the trend of divorce (although they may not always succeed) that started in their youth, and that had risen steadily as they grew older.

They have also carried with them the concept of fun. They take on jobs to have a good life and retirement, and they are family-oriented, striving to provide their children the opportunities they didn’t have in their youth.

Positive qualities: In the workplace, they are known for leadership qualities—more than half of top 500 companies in the United States are led by Gen X-ers.


Famous Gen X-ers: Angelina Jolie, a wild child turned philanthropist who is now a mother to six children; Sarah Jessica Parker, who is also a fashion symbol to young Gen X-ers owing to the popularity of Sex and the City in the 1990s; Sergey Brin and Larry Page, founders of Google


Age: 1946 to 1964 (Neil Howe claims they were born between 1943 and 1960.)

Where the name came from: A 1977 story by the Washington Post used the term “boom” to refer to the increase in population after World War II.

What they say: Older baby boomers were likely to follow their parents’ life trajectory of following rules and marrying early, according to Neil Howe. But unlike millennials, boomers born later were more rebellious, creating a counter-culture that challenged their parents’ ways. This section of the boomers adored the likes of William S. Burroughs, who penned the controversial novel Naked Lunch. They also challenged work norms. Unlike their elders, they wanted more individualism in their career.


Diane J. Macunovich writes that the term “yuppie” emerged during this time to describe boomers with an upgraded lifestyle. Advertising was on the rise, attracting baby boomers with spending power. But not all of them could afford what the glitzy ads featured. Income inequality was a reality during their working years.

Positive qualities: This generation marked the beginning of financial stability among women, a long way from the beginnings of empowerment that fictionist Alice Munro captured well in the simple phrase “when they all started sitting on the floor instead of on sofas.”

Famous Baby Boomers: Former U.S. President Barack Obama; Oprah Winfrey, who in 2013 was worth $2.8 billion; Madonna, whose performances and antics challenged sexual norms

Other sources: Atlantic and Time

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