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My Oddball Theory of When and How Generations Blend

Is this just my elaborate attempt to avoid being labeled a Millennial? Perhaps, but do hear me out first...

by
Dave Swindle

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September 18, 2013 - 6:00 pm
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Among my preoccupations for a number of years has been the theory of generational archetypes laid out in Neil Howe and William Strauss’s 1992 book Generations: The History of America’s Future, 1584 to 2069, 1997′s The Fourth Turning: An American Prophecy and 2000′s Millennials Rising: The Next Great Generation.

The central idea underlying generational theory is the belief that across American and British history since the colonial era there have been four repeating generations, each with a kind of “peer personality” shaped by shared experiences at similar times in life that united together those born in close proximity. A 5 year old experiencing World War II is shaped differently by the experience than a 15 year old, 30 year old, or 50 year-old. Howe and Strauss name the four generations — which shift every 15-20 years — with character types from literature, Wikipedia’s summary works to explain the basics:

The two different types of eras and two formative age locations associated with them (childhood and young adulthood) produce four generational archetypes that repeat sequentially, in rhythm with the cycle of Crises and Awakenings. In Generations, Strauss and Howe refer to these four archetypes as Idealist, Reactive, Civic, and Adaptive. In The Fourth Turning (1997) they update this terminology to Prophet, Nomad, Hero, and Artist. The generations in each archetype not only share a similar age-location in history, they also share some basic attitudes towards family, risk, culture and values, and civic engagement….

Prophet generations are born near the end of a Crisis, during a time of rejuvenated community life and consensus around a new societal order. Prophets grow up as the increasingly indulged children of this post-Crisis era, come of age as self-absorbed young crusaders of an Awakening, focus on morals and principles in midlife, and emerge as elders guiding another Crisis.

Due to their location in history, such generations tend to be remembered for their coming-of-age fervor and their values-oriented elder leadership. Their main societal contributions are in the area of vision, values, and religion. Their best-known historical leaders include John WinthropWilliam BerkeleySamuel AdamsBenjamin FranklinJames PolkAbraham LincolnHerbert Hoover, and Franklin Roosevelt. These people were principled moralists who waged idealistic wars and incited others to sacrifice. Few of them fought themselves in decisive wars, and they are remembered more for their inspiring words than for great actions. (Example among today’s living generations: Baby Boomers.)….

Nomad generations are born during an Awakening, a time of social ideals and spiritual agendas, when young adults are passionately attacking the established institutional order. Nomads grow up as under-protected children during this Awakening, come of age as alienated, post-Awakening adults, become pragmatic midlife leaders during a Crisis, and age into resilient post-Crisis elders.

Due to their location in history, such generations tend to be remembered for their adrift, alienated rising-adult years and their midlife years of pragmatic leadership. Their main societal contributions are in the area of liberty, survival and honor. Their best-known historical leaders include Nathaniel BaconWilliam StoughtonGeorge WashingtonJohn AdamsUlysses GrantGrover ClevelandHarry Truman, and Dwight Eisenhower. These were shrewd realists who preferred individualisticpragmatic solutions to problems. (Example among today’s living generations: Generation X.

Hero generations are born after an Awakeningduring an Unraveling, a time of individual pragmatism, self-reliance, and laissez faire. Heroes grow up as increasingly protected post-Awakening children, come of age as team-oriented young optimists during a Crisis, emerge as energetic, overly-confident midlifers, and age into politically powerful elders attacked by another Awakening.

Due to their location in history, such generations tend to be remembered for their collective military triumphs in young adulthood and their political achievements as elders. Their main societal contributions are in the area of community, affluence, andtechnology. Their best-known historical leaders include Cotton MatherThomas JeffersonJames MadisonJohn F. Kennedyand Ronald Reagan. These have been vigorous and rational institution builders. In midlife, all have been aggressive advocates of economic prosperity and public optimism, and all have maintained a reputation for civic energy and competence in old age. (Examples among today’s living generations: G.I. Generation and the Millennials.)

Artist generations are born after an Unraveling, during a Crisis, a time when great dangers cut down social and political complexity in favor of public consensus, aggressive institutions, and an ethic of personal sacrifice. Artists grow up overprotected by adults preoccupied with the Crisis, come of age as the socialized and conformist young adults of a post-Crisis world, break out as process-oriented midlife leaders during an Awakening, and age into thoughtful post-Awakening elders.[44]

Due to their location in history, such generations tend to be remembered for their quiet years of rising adulthood and their midlife years of flexible, consensus-building leadership. Their main societal contributions are in the area of expertise and due process. Their best-known historical leaders include William ShirleyCadwallader ColdenJohn Quincy AdamsAndrew Jackson, andTheodore Roosevelt. These have been complex social technicians and advocates for fairness and inclusion. (Examples among today’s living generations: Silent and Homelanders.)

As these different imprinted generations age and interact they take the different experiences of their childhood — and the effects of the very different parenting styles of each era — and then set out to compensate for the excesses of the previous generations. And often this happens in conflicting ways, and not always consciously. Different religions and ideological movements, though having the same experiences, may argue about how to understand them and what to do in response. So comparable peer personalities will take on different forms and then engage in political combat and cultural warfare.

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All Comments   (33)
All Comments   (33)
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aauugh---where is a tutorial on how to make that link to comment thing work? when I click it, it doesn't really light up, or let me type, or anything. Tech-illiterate.

The short answer on distinctions would be: any woman who was at impressionable age when Reagan was president- junior high/high school,mostly-- is more likely to be Republican than Democrat. That's the only generation of women that is true of.

I was in both. I am Republican. Talking to women ten years older, or even a few years younger can be fairly awkward. If it ever gets to politics- and I'm in a capital city, so that's more often than not- they immediately jump to I am deluded, ill- informed, evil, etc etc etc. They really are concerned about me, if we were friends already, and they now have a reason to despise me with a clear conscience if we weren't already friends.

I'm in a book, for crying out loud, by a woman a few years younger, who had sessions at her therapist's office about how she didn't like my politics, religion, my husband's job, all of it- but that she liked me personally. This bothered her enough to spend, what ?hundreds? of dollars per psych hour, over several sessions. This is from a kids' playgroup, so it's not like I was visiting her house, or bringing my husband to mid-day playgroups, or inviting her to church, or even enquiring about the state of her soul. The person at the playgroup lecturing on her religious beliefs was a wiccan of some sort, spouses showing up- that would be the guys who were stay at home dads- and I missed most of the house parties. But that I would hold private beliefs, privately, different than her meant she felt free to write remarkably nasty things about me. She felt really comfortable doing this, b/c Anne Lamott had done the same, for another kind, conservative mom.

And, ten years older is the Baby Boom. There's one mother at church that I've had 30 conversations with over the past few years. 28 of those conversations are about her job. 1 was about her kids, and 1 was about my kids. She isn't interested in me- I stay home, I wash dishes, I read books. She's said this to my face.

As you can see, I have good reasons to be considerable cautious about striking up random conversations with people.

Also, demographically, the group after me- the seventies babies- there just aren't that many around. Carter's malaise and mis-handling of the national character can be seen in Mark Steyn's phrase " women vote with their fetuses"- they didn't really have that many kids in the seventies. Obama is coming in pretty close to Carter numbers, from what I'm reading.


42 weeks ago
42 weeks ago Link To Comment
I thought you were a Gen Xer anyway.
42 weeks ago
42 weeks ago Link To Comment
I was born in 1951. I adored the fifties and very early sixties. I loved the CARS, the music and the thrill in the air....I remember the day Sputnik was to go over and everyone was outside to try and see it. Life for me was good. I used to go to the state university to babysit my little cousins at age 16 so my aunt could work on her Master's. Hello, Heaven! Only 21 year olds could live off campus, and here was Miss Sweet Sixteen surrounded by 21 year old men! This was when men wore "slacks" to class and most girls wore skirts. So, when I, as an 18 year old freshman showed up for university two days after high school graduation.....imagine my dismay when the student union is populated NOT by these clean cut young men I had "admired" so much...all I see are people with long hair and ponchos and Afros (the hugest of all belonged to a white guy) and 'angry' types. I was pissed. Who the heck stole my world? I have alwàys despised the self indulgence of the hippies. I knew they were silly and self indulgent from Day One.
42 weeks ago
42 weeks ago Link To Comment
I have spent my entire life trapped between the first wave Baby Boomers and their infatuations with themselves and their childhoods on the one end, and their ungrateful children on the other end. I was born in 1962 and I don't give a damn if the Baby-Boom generation has a cutoff end of 1964. Ridiculous. My parents didn't fight in World War II, they were born in 1937 and 1940 respectively. My grandparents were born in 1895 and 1898 respectively. I grew up with Edwardian attitudes. The people born in the early '60s know all to well stagflation, economic slowdown, and oil crises. They became adults when Reagan came to office. I am too young to remember when Kennedy was shot, which is the be-all and end-all of Baby Boomer "traumas." It is ridiculous to lump the people who can recall Howdy Doody with the people who grew up with Punk Rock. I am also amused how the Baby Boomers claim rock and roll all to themselves (typical of them to take credit for everything). After all, Elvis Presley was born in 1935 and John Lennon was born in 1940. Mine was the first age group to have Baby Boomers as grade school teachers, so how the heck can we be included in the same generation? That makes no freakin' sense. I was born in '62 but I ain't no effin' Boomer.
42 weeks ago
42 weeks ago Link To Comment
Me, too - I was born at the tail-end of 1960, and all my life I've been stuck with the mess the Boomers made (and continue to make) and I expect to still be cleaning up after them when they finally die off. I've read in numerous places that 1960-64 want their own designation, because yeah, we ain't no Boomers! (Maybe there's a backlash generation? I called us the shell-shocked generation when I was in college.)

I do love my Silent Generation parents - responsible, decent, do the right thing but don't make a fuss about it people.
42 weeks ago
42 weeks ago Link To Comment
'63 vintage here....
I sympathise with the above 2 posters. I was kindergarten age when all this "peace and love" junk was going on, among other things. I assume I was diapered in a crib when JFK passed... if I'm asked if I remember where I was when that happened.

For those similarly out of sync with the assigned generation, google "Generation Jones". Wiki has a reasonably good breakdown of 1957-1966 group. I can't say if it's aptly named, but at least it's reasonably aptly described. I consider it the generation that got to the party late and all the beer is gone, the house is a mess and guess who gets to deal with it? Whatever the boomers were about, whatever was written about them, was all done and gone by the time I came of age.

Yes, the resident in cheef is included, but the dichotomy between his view and those I personally know in this group is extreme.
42 weeks ago
42 weeks ago Link To Comment
Very thoughtful points. Many thanks.
42 weeks ago
42 weeks ago Link To Comment
I've mentioned this to you before, Dave, ages ago, so you probably wouldn't remember, but I still feel like 1980 is a completely "lost" year, in generational terms. Gen X ending at 1979, Millenial/Gen Y starting at 1981.

I'm not saying that people born in 1980 can't do great things, but all the other 1980 births I know personally, including myself, are creatively sterile, and absolutely uninspired creatively or in business. None of them have managed to make a lasting mark in any way. And it's a sad state of affairs.
42 weeks ago
42 weeks ago Link To Comment
Yes, I agree Hikaru. Though I'm not sure it's just 1980. I think it's the general Millennial-leaning Gen X-er cohort, especially the later part of 1978-1981/82 or so. (Which is bad of me to say, and somewhat self-serving of course as one born in 1984. But I think those of us born as balances of Gen-X/Millennial tend to be weirder. Which translates more into innovation, but not necessarily niceness or stability. I am an oddball in many regards, but as it seems to manifest in me is Millennial optimism and team-builder ethos but I have a Gen-X meanness and a Gen-X cynical style.
42 weeks ago
42 weeks ago Link To Comment
Oh, and I didn't realize you were that young. I thought you were more like my age or older.
42 weeks ago
42 weeks ago Link To Comment
I was born in 79 and I can see a mix, too. I don't really have that entrepreneurial spirit Xers are known to have, yet I still have that all-too true cynical (I like "realist") stereotype.
42 weeks ago
42 weeks ago Link To Comment
If you try to "blend" me in with the generation closest to me I'll bite you. Watching the boomers wreck: A. The company where I worked. B. The city where I live. C. My neighborhood, leads me to believe they couldn't collectively organize a CJ. It's not so much the arrogance and sense of entitlement but the sheer incompetence. And them's their good points
42 weeks ago
42 weeks ago Link To Comment
Wow, I just noticed the time stamp, Sept. 18, on this article. How did it wind up on the front page after this long?
42 weeks ago
42 weeks ago Link To Comment
It was just 2 weeks ago! :)

When Lifestyle pieces aren't timely then sometimes it'll take a few weeks for them to migrate onto the main page -- usually when there aren't more newsy pieces.
42 weeks ago
42 weeks ago Link To Comment
Boy, am I screwed up. I was born in 1949 which makes me Silent-leaning boomer whatever that means but I see just too many variables to make a judgement call. I was born late in my parents life, Father 1907 Mother 1910, so both of them were lost-leaning GI. My sister is 13 years older than I, born 1936 which makes her Boomer-leaning silent. So, I was influenced by them but I also grew up around mostly older people, including my sister and parents of course but also many of my parents friends. Two of which were WWII Marine Corps Vets. I'm also from a fairly small town in Kentucky and have those values installed in me too. I joined the Marine Corps at 17 of my own free will actually just before I graduated but on a delay program so that I finished High School.

So, where does all that fit me on your charts?
42 weeks ago
42 weeks ago Link To Comment
In my experience Silent-leaning Boomers like yourself, especially the later cohort of '47-'49 are great. You have more of a hard edge than later boomers, particularly because of your older influences. Genuine boomer boomers tend to be more emotional and squishier whether they're liberals or conservatives. At least those are the stereotypes that come to mind.
42 weeks ago
42 weeks ago Link To Comment
Born in 76, I definitely am a Gen X-leaning person even though I'm closer to millennial. I think you can tell that from our conversations. I have zero hope for the future (we have discussed this at length) I definitely agree that those of us born on the edge of a generation generally get left out. I have a lot of the 90's millennial heroes or childhood memories but more of the Gen X demeanor and outlook and philosophy...so perhaps your 5 year chunk is off by one year. :)
45 weeks ago
45 weeks ago Link To Comment
Megan you are definitely an archetypal Gen-Xer with just a few dashes of Millennial. :)
45 weeks ago
45 weeks ago Link To Comment
It's a good approach, Dave. But all these generational theories, I think, apply mostly to middle class people. It's telling that politicians appeal to the middle class generationally, but to the lower class as members of specific tribes.
45 weeks ago
45 weeks ago Link To Comment
I don't think politicians generally think generationally when campaigning. But I think the generational archetypes go across all economic statuses. Rich Gen-Xers seem to be comparable to poor Gen-Xers in having a similar common temperament.
45 weeks ago
45 weeks ago Link To Comment
and when did Gen Y become Millennial? This is a new title is it not?
45 weeks ago
45 weeks ago Link To Comment
They've both been competing for years. I was initially leaning more toward Gen Y but now Millennial seems to be better. I guess "Millennial" is more popular among Millennials. Maybe Gen-Y is better for Gen-X leaning Millennials and those of us born early 80s are Gen-XY since we're blends? Millennials born in first half of '90s being the authentic Millennials.
45 weeks ago
45 weeks ago Link To Comment
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