According to Michael Dimock, President, Pew Research Center, generations provide the opportunity to look at Americans both by their place in the life cycle, whether a young adult, a middle-aged parent or a retiree, and by their membership in a cohort of individuals who were born at a similar time.
Generational cohorts give researchers a tool to analyze changes in views over time, says the report. While younger and older adults may differ in their views at a given moment, generational cohorts allow researchers to examine how today’s older adults felt about a given issue when they themselves were young, as well as to describe how the trajectory of views might differ across generations.
Pew Research Center has been studying the Millennial generation for more than a decade. But as we enter 2018, it’s become clear, says Dimock, that it’s time to determine a cutoff point between Millennials and the next generation. Turning 37 this year, the oldest Millennials are well into adulthood, and they first entered adulthood before today’s youngest adults were born.
In order to keep the Millennial generation analytically meaningful, and to begin looking at what might be unique about the next cohort, says Dimock, for future work Pew Research Center will use 1996 as the last birth year for Millennials, and anyone born from 1997 onward will be part of a new generation. Since the oldest among this rising generation are just turning 21 this year, and most are still in their teens, we’ll call them “post-Millennials” until a common nomenclature takes hold.
Generational cutoff points are not an exact science. They should be viewed primarily as tools, but their boundaries are not arbitrary. Our working definition of Millennials will be equivalent in age span to their preceding generation, Generation X (born between 1965 and 1980). By this definition, both are shorter than the span of the Baby Boomers (19 years), the only generation officially designated by the U.S. Census Bureau, based on the famous surge in post-WWII births in 1946 and a significant decline in birthrates after 1964.
Generations Defined Generation Age in 2018
Age (in 2018)
Source: PEW Research Center, March 2018
Unlike the Boomers, there are no comparably definitive thresholds by which later generational boundaries are defined. But for analytical purposes, says Dimock, we believe 1996 is a meaningful cutoff between Millennials and post-Millennials for a number of reasons, including key political, economic and social factors that define the Millennial generation’s formative years.
Most Millennials were between the ages of 5 and 20 when the 9/11 terrorist attacks shook the nation, and many were old enough to comprehend the historical significance of that moment, while most post-Millennials have little or no memory of the event.
Most Millennials came of age and entered the workforce facing the height of an economic recession. Many of Millennials’ life choices, future earnings and entrance to adulthood have been shaped by this recession in a way that may not be the case for their younger counterparts, says the report.
Technology, in the rapid evolution of how people communicate and interact, is another generation-shaping consideration. Baby Boomers grew up as television expanded dramatically, changing their lifestyles and connection to the world in fundamental ways. Generation X grew up as the computer revolution was taking hold, and Millennials came of age during the internet explosion.
In this progression, what is unique for post-Millennials is that all of the above have been part of their lives from the start. The iPhone launched in 2007, when the oldest post-Millennials were 10. By the time they were in their teens, the primary means by which young Americans connected with the web was through mobile devices, WiFi and high-bandwidth cellular service. Social media, constant connectivity and on-demand entertainment and communication are innovations Millennials adapted to as they came of age.
The implications of growing up in an “always on” technological environment are only now coming into focus. Recent research has shown dramatic shifts in youth behaviors, attitudes and lifestyles, both positive and concerning, for those who came of age in this era.
For additional focus on Generational Cohorts, please visit PewReseach here.