generation names

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generation names

Post by pokoma » Tue Feb 21, 2006 1:38 am

The Baby Boomer generation began in January 1946. What is the name for the previous generation? There used to be the term "War Babies" but I don't know if that applies.
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Post by Ken Greenwald » Tue Feb 21, 2006 2:32 am

Pam, The BABY BOOMERS were those born in the U.S. between about 1946 and 1965 as G.I.s returned home after WW II and decided to make babies in large numbers. Their parents were called the G.I. GENERATION, those born between about 1901 and 1924, but since Tom Brokaw’s book, they are increasingly being referred to as the GREATEST GENERATION, which Brokaw takes to be those born between about 1911 and 1924. Incidentally, my generation, those born between about 1925-1945 was known as the SILENT GENERATION and we were renowned, among other things, for our ‘student apathy,’ on campus, but we did have some good qualities also, which are too numerous to mention in this confined space. (<:)
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Post by Bobinwales » Tue Feb 21, 2006 1:36 pm

Ken, I think you will find that British soldiers came home after WWII as well. This resulted in a baby boom in the UK. My own father was de-mobilised in 1946. I was born in ’47, I am most certainly a Baby Boomer.
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generation names

Post by Erik_Kowal » Tue Feb 21, 2006 2:52 pm

One additional question that may reasonably be asked in connection with Pokoma's query is "What do we mean by a generation?"

Taking the designations of the generations as Ken has stated them, we arrive at the following results:

G.I. generation - 1901-1924: 23 years
Greatest generation - 1911-1924: 13 years
Silent generation - 1925-1945: 20 years
Baby boomers - 1946-1965: 19 years

We can generally assume that all things being equal, the average age at which individuals begin reproducing is likely to change only slowly over time.

Among other definitions, my copy of Chambers 20th C. Dictionary describes a generation as "the ordinary time interval between the births of successive generations -- usually reckoned at 30 or 33 years". In a historical perspective, this figure seems rather high to me -- I would have thought that 25 years or less would be a more reasonable assumption for this interval.

According to the description I found at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Generation , "William Strauss and Neil Howe, in their book Generations, list the generations of Anglo-America. Their definition of "generation" is given as: A cohort-group, which are all persons born in a limited span of consecutive years, whose length approximates the span of a phase of life given to be approximately 22 years, and whose boundaries are fixed by peer personality. Peer personality generational persona recognized and determined by common age location, common beliefs and behavior, and perceived membership in a common generation."

It seems inherently problematic to specify a phase of life which lasts 'approximately 22 years' and to simultaneously impose "boundaries [...] fixed by peer personality". There is absolutely no guarantee that these will coincide, and indeed all the evidence points to the impossibility of successfully yoking these two criteria together.

The same page also remarks that "A generation can also represent all the people born at about the same time, sometimes called a generational cohort in demographics. Historians hold differing opinions regarding to what extent dividing history into generations is a useful analytical tool or an improper over-generalization."

The brief list that Ken has provided shows that not only do the timespans assigned to the generations he mentions vary considerably, some of the designations overlap in time (in this case, the so-called 'Greatest generation' falls entirely within the period covered by the 'G.I. generation').

There is also a list of so-called 'American generations' to be found at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Generation_X (let's call this 'List 1'), plus another, different list at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Generations (let's call this 'List 2'). It is worth noting that the entries in these lists define a number of the generations differently. For instance, List 1 defines the 'G.I. generation' as spanning the years from 1900-1924, while the same generation is defined in List 2 as spanning the years from 1911-1924, along with an explanatory note stating that this generation "experienced WWII in adulthood". Meanwhile, List 1 defines the 'Baby boomer' generation as spanning the years from 1946-1964, while List 2 defines it as spanning 1943-1954 -- starting three years earlier and being about a decade shorter than what I take to be the conventionally accepted definition -- with the explanatory comment "Civil Rights Movement". Now, I would have regarded the period in which the 'Baby boomer' generation overlapped with the American civil rights movement as starting in 1954 with the case of Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka and ending somewhere after 1968 (the year of the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. and the passage of the Civil Rights Act) and possibly as late as 1975 (the year in which the Black Power movement officially came to an end), this being a period that also included the case from 1973, Roe v. Wade, in which the Supreme Court established the right to abortion at the Federal level.

From all this, it is very evident that the term 'generation' has at least two distinct connotations that are relevant to Pokoma's query: the first relates to the average age at which people start to reproduce, and the second is a sociological or historical construct that expands and shrinks in such a way that it fits eras or periods of transition that are either conventionally accepted or are perceived by historians or other individuals (influential or otherwise) to have existed, with no consensus about what the defining characteristics of these periods or the people who are growing up in them are or should be. Essentially, the term 'generation' seems to be a prime example of a Humpty-Dumpty word, in other words one that mostly means what the speaker chooses it to mean. Any generational labels such as those listed above therefore cannot be taken seriously unless they are clearly defined each time they are used, and perhaps agreed on.

The question of how particular generations should be defined plainly represents yet another fruitful arena for historians, people from different generations and social commentators of all shades of opinion to fight futile battles over...
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generation names

Post by pokoma » Wed Feb 22, 2006 5:58 pm

Ken, although I join you in the Silent Generation, I don't necessarily agree that "apathy" on campus is a negative. The '50s were a great time to grow up. And when many college campuses in the '60s were erupting in sitdowns and takeovers and draft card burnings (by early Boomers), my church-affiliated university dealt with such riotous activities as the tossing of water balloons out of highrise dorm windows when the elevators went on the fritz.

Erik, I agree trying to define a generation historically is like nailing Jell-O to the wall. I remember hearing that my slightly older relatives were included in the "Spock Generation" -- being raised under the permissive philosophy of child expert Dr. Benjamin Spock. And then there's the "Me Generation" of the 1960s and 1970s, when the daily battle cries were "Do your own thing" and "If it feels good, do it."

Which brings me to a follow-up thread: The generations after the Baby Boomers are the X Generation and, "logically," the Y Generation. However, I remember hearing that the "X" was originally meant to be the Roman numeral for 10, signifying the 10th generation since the American Revolution. (You Brits can stop reading now.) These children were expected to reverse the chaos caused by the Boomers and return to the Bicentennial patriotism of 1976. As it has turned out, "X" stands more for "unpredictictable" or "extreme." Comments?
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