Over My Shoulder: Changing Times, Changing Generations

by Ann Robson

“If this is the Sandwich Generation, then I must be the peanut butter.”

I wrote these words several years ago when we had aging parents needing care and an almost-teen needing attention. Somehow we managed to survive that life stage. “Sandwich Generation” was a popular term for a number of years.

I know there are still folks who are caught in the middle of two generations that need them. With six generations still living, several somebodies are navigating their own lives while helping those older and those younger. It’s hard to wrap your mind around six generations, let alone three or four. The Center for Generational Kinetics researches generations and has broken us down into named groups according to the years when we were born:

GI Generation/The Greatest Generation consists of those born between 1901 and 1926. They have a great many attributes. They saved the world and then built a nation. They are assertive and energetic, care about their communities, have a strong sense of personal civic duty, avoid debt and pay with cash.

The Mature/Silent: We were born between 1927 and 1945. Among our attributes are that we tend to conform to many of society’s rules. Women stayed home to raise children, but if they had to work outside the home the only acceptable jobs were as teachers, nurses or secretaries. In grade school the biggest worries were passing notes and chewing gum.

Baby Boomers:  Born between 1946 and 1964, some unflattering comments have been made about this group. They have been called the “me” generation, but there are two parts to this generation: the save-the-world group and the yuppies of the 70s and 80s. This is the generation that started to buy things now and use credit. At 77 million, this is our largest generation to date, and as Boomers have begun to age they have impacted healthcare and other aging issues. They are redefining retirement by continuing to be active either with second careers or hobbies and exercise.

Generation X: People born between 1965 and 1980 are the first ‘latchkey’ generation, where both parents often worked. They are entrepreneurial and individualistic. They want to save the neighborhood, not the world. This generation is likely to average seven career changes. It’s not normal for them to work for one company forever like previous generations did.

Generation Y/Millennials: These young people were born between 1981 and 2000 and are quite different from their predecessors. They respect authority and schedule everything. They are digitally literate and prefer that to actual books or newspapers. They get most of their information and socialization from the internet.

Generation Z: This youngest generation was born after 2001. They have never known a world without computers and cell phones.

This list is just at glance at our current generations with a few generalizations. Not all of us fit neatly into each category. I’m part of the “Mature/Silent” group. I am mature in years and perhaps of mind but not very silent.

Why would someone research these generations? Marketing is the major impetus but smart community planners should pay attention to the needs and hopes of each group so all of us can try to understand each other.

Ann Robson is the author of “Over My Shoulder: Tales of Life and Death and Everything In Between.” She can be reached at overmyshoulder@charter.net .