One of my areas of interest is learning about the differences in the generations of workers in the United States. School settings are particularly fascinating to me because there can be three or four generations of people working together. From an administrator’s perspective, it is important to know how people receive and give information and how to best communicate with our community of teachers. I also want to know the characteristics that are generally socially inherent within the groups.
My parents’ generation was referred to as the Silent Generation. They were born during the Great Depression and WWII. They are also called the “Lucky Few” because they became the first generation smaller than the one before. They experienced the most stable intact parental families in US history. The home environment was predominately paternalistic and children were raised to respect authority. One of the messages they heard from parents, religious affiliations and educational institutions was “because it is the right thing to do.”
Each generation compares themselves to the next generation. And surprisingly they think the new generation is the “me” generation. Even Boomers like myself were once the “me” generation. Those of us in our 50s through 70s today, born 1946 to 64, were the first group to be raised in a permissive paradigm of parenting. We tend to be rebellious (at least during our college days) and had no parental reservations about screen time! We may not have had computers but we sure had TV. My husband’s first words were, “New, Blue Cheer” ---an advertisement for laundry detergent! We were the first generation really studied and marketed to. We surpassed previous generations with an increase in the number of people who attended college. Baby boomers are the generation with more workaholics and this may be attributed to one of the messages we heard in our formative years--- “good things come to those who work hard.”
Generation X, born 1965-80, are in their 30s and 40s today. This group came of age with two-income families and more women in the workforce. They are the first “latch key kids.” And they were the first generation to grow up with computers. They are generally independent, and they enjoy freedom and responsibility in their work. One of the messages Gen X heard while growing up was “good things come to those who figure it out.”
Once thought to be the Peter Pan generation, the Millennials, born in the ‘80s and mid ‘90s, are holding manager level positions and rising rapidly. What I admire about Millennials is that many seek purposeful work. Many are supporters of gay rights and are environmentally conscious. Raised in diverse family combinations and in a permissive parenting mode, Millennials had more opportunities growing up. Many participated in sports and other team groups. They had parents and coaches helping them develop their best selves. One of the messages Millennials heard was “good things come to everyone.”
Now we have Generation Z or Homeland Generation, born sometime in the early 2000s. One aspect of this generation is the wide use of and comfort with the Internet from a very young age. Their parents could be Gen X or Millennials. Some think that they will be the first generation not to believe in the American Dream. Their childhood years included the September 11th terrorist attacks and the economic recession of 2008. They have seen parents and older siblings struggle in the workforce. They have concerns about student debt, a shrinking middle class and increased stress in families. They are loyal and cautious. Is their message “be alert and help change the world?”
What about the next generation – perhaps named Generation Alpha? At this point, social analysts are still busy profiling Gen Z members. The children born after 2010 have already seen aggressive turmoil in various parts of the world and at home during the 2016 Presidential election. They will see India and China be the center of gravity. They will definitely have mobile devices integrated into their lives and will be transferring thoughts within seconds. Perhaps they will hear “people with grit make it in the world.