Monday, 15 December 2014

Are you a Baby Boomer, Generation X or Millennial?

This is a little story about generations, at least those 5 that are still alive and shaped the 20th century - and thus also today. 

First there was the Greatest Generation. The ones who survived it all, fought it all and built it all. 'The Right Stuff' so to speak. The generation half the movies are about, be them about WW2 troopers, great entrepreneurs or strict, conservative fathers. Admired and maligned, we could call them the backbone of the 20th century, the generation we all still have a - real or emotional - link with. "Let's roll up the sleeves".

They were followed by the - smaller - Silent Generation. Born between 1920 and 1940, they grew up in the aftermath of WWI, during the Great Depression and the unrest of the 1930s. The name comes from the perceived collective focus on security and careers rather than activism. "Let me just do my job".
And then... the great, big, unprecedented Baby Boom 

It's the time of the large families: between 1945 and 1960 the birth rate skyrocketed, in the USA as in Canada, in the UK as in Australia, Germany as in France and anywhere in between.

Resulting in the largest generation in history: the Baby Boomers.

WWII was over, the western world was in the grip of enthusiasm, relief, hope,  belief in the future... destruction was followed by construction and thus intense economic activity... central heating arrived, pastel coloured candles... whatever the reason, anyone anywhere who could or wanted to have children, jumped to the occasion. 

Its babies grew up in stability (often even too much to their taste) and saw the world around them evolve from poverty to abundance. There was time for reflection, self-improvement, questioning... we could also call them the Hippie Generation. What was wrong with those previous generations, all that materialism and all those wars. 'Make love, no war'!

Obviously, those previous generations had a reason for embracing 'normality', cheer the arrival of the washing machine, and be so content for just having a TV. Being so large in numbers though, the Baby Boomers were able to create the first separate 'youth culture' and become a serious pressure group questioning all holy cows.

Next... the birth rate plummeted

And plummeted very much. All the way from - roughly - 1960 to 1980. Firstly because one can only make so many children, secondly because it was up to the rather small Silent Generation to become parents and thirdly - well, the world was not that safe a place after all:

The Iron Curtain. A rather strange, new sort of war, the Cold War, resulted in a sense of tension and insecurity. A president got killed. More leaders got killed. Vietnam. An oil crisis followed by an economic crisis. It was a time of wealth and insecurity.

All this resulted in a small generation: Generation X.
A rather noncommittal name? Yes, they are Generation Question Mark. Punks and New Wavers, Anarchists and Yuppies: a mishmash. For unlike the Baby Boomers they had no offset, no benchmark. "I am myself". 

For many a Baby Boomer it was simple: the previous generations were the enemy. No such collective determination for the X'ers. Who were they? They didn't know. One thing we do know and it's quite surprising: of the 3 most recent generations they are the largest contributors when it comes to donations. They are the geeks and artists, the more anarchistic fashion designers, the intellectual musicians, dancers, writers, movie directors. Or Wall Street wolves. Once an X, always an X.
When a very large generation is followed by a very small one... 

... it can cause quite a disruption in the economy. At least according to the economic fore-caster Harry S. Dent, it's this succession that lays at the heart of the current financial crisis in western countries.

For the Baby Boomers have all gone through the main spending cycle. And the X'ers just can't fill up all the houses there are. As H. Dent puts it in his work 'The Demographic Cliff': "There are more dyers than buyers".

And up we go..

For here are the Millennials, also dubbed 'Echo Boomers' because they are the children of the Baby Boomers. 

Compared to birth rates of any other century they are of course a massively large generation - only surpassed by the Baby Boomers. The latter thought longer and harder than any previous generation about having children, so their 'echo' arrived later and also not in equally big numbers.
Born between 1980 and 2000, the Millennials have a bit of the opposite experience of their parents: being born in the greatest wealth, and slowly having to learn to make do with less. 

They have to reformulate the world (once again) and polish or rethink all systems and plans ('What to do with pension plans if the average life expectancy has gone up from 72 to 82').  

They are the techies, the online wizzards, the big online entrepreneurs: the pause button for all things cultural, the fast forward button for all things technological - the reversal of the points of interest of the Xers. 

The eldest being only 34 right now, this generation did not arrive at the peak of their spending yet. What with (again according to Harry S. Dent) the peak of spending being pinpointed at age 46, it can still take another 12 years before the economy would bounce back to the astonishing levels of 1990-2006. In the mean time it all comes down to mass immigration.
Maybe, just maybe, the main and massive task of the Millennials will be to find an alternative to Growth being our holy cow. If anyone can, it's them.  


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