Name That Generation

This is me, a generation or two back, when I was a uniformed patrol officer in a suburban Detroit police department.  When I stopped someone I suspected of drunk driving, it was standard practice to give them a field sobriety test, which consisted of a series of simple mental and physical acuity exercises.  Simple for someone sober, not so simple for the inebriated.  One of these exercises was asking the suspect to recite the English alphabet.

Many times a suspect would start speaking, “A, uh . . .B”, and then stop and look at me and ask, “Can I sing it?”  When I answered affirmatively, the suspect started singing their ABCs to the familiar tune of “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star.”  You know what I mean.  It’s in your head as you read this.

Baby boomers (like me) learned their ABCs this way.  Sung in sequence.  We learned our Social Security number in order, too. Nine numbers.  So today, when the person at the bank or on the phone asks for the last four digits of your SS number as an identifier, you recite the whole thing, silently or under your breath, before you loudly speak the last four.  Sequences are meant to be recited . . .  sequentially.  We can count backwards from 10 (another part of a field sobriety test), because we learned that as a countdown sequence.  But we can’t say the alphabet backwards without a huge struggle, because you are asking us to remove those familiar letters from their known sequence.

So what does this have to do with generations?

When someone talks or writes about “Gen Y”,  I really have no clue which demographic group they are referring to until I put the letter back into proper sequence.  I have to stop and think about the fact that Y comes after X, and therefore Generation Y is the one born later than Generation X, which by itself is a highly random designation. This is a lot of mental work  for people who have to sing the ABCs all the way through. :)

I was born during the “Post World War II Baby Boom”, the generation commonly referred to as Baby Boomers, often shortened to Boomers. No letters.  No sequences.  Just one highly descriptive name.  I don’t know who decided to start naming subsequent generations by letters, but I would like it to stop. Let’s use  “Millennials”, instead of Gen Y, as some already do.  I don’t care what you call Generation X, as long as it’s something else. They were first referred to as Baby Busters, but maybe that has negative connotations.

What do YOU think?

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12 thoughts on “Name That Generation”

  1. Oh I love the picture! And I love the stories. I have no idea who goes where, what age in which category. I cannot tell age to save my life. I would fail miserably as a liquor or grocery store clerk. But it’s probably a good thing when I am interviewing. :) I generally ignore those kinds of generalizations anyway.

  2. I don’t like any names that behaviorally stereotype the demographic, like “entitlement”. That’s why I like using Millennials – it speaks to the birth timing, not the supposed behavior. “Boomers” identifies the cultural phenomenon, not the conduct.

  3. Thanks for commenting, Dee. I don’t have a problem with understanding age from a demographic standpoint because I think there is a proper use for this in HR. For example, HR needs to know that “boomers” are reaching retirement ages and what this means for our business. But I don’t think we should assign behaviors to an entire age group – you’re correct that it’s better if we are “age-blind”.

  4. Interesting blog, Joan, but it’s missing an important part of the equation: Generation Jones (between the Boomers and Generation X). Google Generation Jones, and you’ll see it’s gotten a ton of media attention, and many top commentators from many top publications and networks (Washington Post, Time magazine, NBC, Newsweek, ABC, etc.) now specifically use this term. In fact, the Associated Press’ annual Trend Report chose the Rise of Generation Jones as the #1 trend of 2009. Here’s a page with a good overview of recent media interest in GenJones: http://generationjones.com/2009latest.html

    It is important to distinguish between the post-WWII demographic boom in births vs. the cultural generations born during that era. Generations are a function of the common formative experiences of its members, not the fertility rates of its parents. And most analysts now see generations as getting shorter (usually 10-15 years now), partly because of the acceleration of culture. Many experts now believe it breaks down more or less this way:

    DEMOGRAPHIC boom in babies: 1946-1964
    Baby Boom GENERATION: 1942-1953
    Generation Jones: 1954-1965
    Generation X: 1966-1978
    Generation Y: 1979-1993

  5. One of the nicest things about starting this blog back in November 2009 is seeing smart and savvy people weigh in.

    I now have some research to do about Generation Jones, which is where I seem to belong. I still want someone to rename X and Y though – something not perjorative would be nice.

    How about using your considerable smarts to work on that? Thanks!

  6. I think the area of generation analysis in the workplace has been overdone as of late, and I’ve seen more and more stories lately on “the plight” of Generation X as they wait for stubborn Boomers to retire so they can finally move into high positions in the workplace.

    But all of this analysis has focused mostly on the white-collar workplace. What I haven’t seen in the discussion is a conversation about the generational differences in regards to blue-collar work. It’s easy to say that it’s more difficult to find a cushy manual labor job today than it was 10, 15, 20, or 30 years ago. But that doesn’t mean that there are fewer children of the internet age who are looking for work using their hands, and it doesn’t mean that the blue-collar work market is drying up, although it certainly isn’t the fount of employment that it once was. So it seems that the more interesting (and less talked about) question is to ask: what is the future of blue-collar work from a generational standpoint? Sure, the white-collar worker of Gen Y is very different from the white-collar worker of Gen X, but what is the nature/character of the difference between blue-collar workers of Gen X and Gen Y?

  7. I worked as a teller, way back when, and I used to get a kick out of people that would recite their entire SSN when I would ask for the last four as verification.

    On then generational naming topic, it doesnt bother me so much. I was born on the tail in end of X or the beginning of Y or the cusp of the Millennials; it depends on who you ask. Generational naming is a way to try to classify people, maybe an attempt stereotype them. I know many generation Y people that cant do more than one thing at once and are so technologically inept its not funny. I also know some boomers that run circles around me online and in person.

  8. I like the idea of a blue-collar study, and I am going to look into that more. But I still want everyone to quit calling it X and Y. I am getting SO confused.

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