This article is about the social sciences concepts. For biological life stages, see Biological life cycle. For other uses, see Generation (disambiguation).

Generation is the act of producing an offspring. In kinship terminology, it is a structural term designating the parent-child relationship. It is also known as biogenesis, reproduction, or procreation in the biological sciences. The term is also often used synonymously with cohort in social science; under this formulation the term means "people within a delineated population who experience the same significant events within a given period of time".[1] Generation in this sense of birth cohort, also known as a "social generation", is widely used in popular culture, and has been the basis for sociological analysis. Serious analysis of generations began in the nineteenth century, emerging from an increasing awareness of the possibility of permanent social change and the idea of youthful rebellion against the established social order. Some analysts believe that a generation is one of the fundamental social categories in a society, while others view its importance as being overshadowed by other factors such as class, gender, race, education, and so on.


The word generate comes from the Latin generāre, meaning "to beget".[2] The word generation as a cohort in social science signifies the entire body of individuals born and living at about the same time, most of whom are approximately the same age and have similar ideas, problems, and attitudes (e.g., Beat Generation and Lost Generation).[3]

Familial generation

Five generations of one family—a child with her mother, grandmother, her great-grandmother and great-great-grandmother.

A familial generation is a group of living beings constituting a single step in the line of descent from an ancestor.[4] In developed nations the average familial generation length is in the high 20s and has even reached 30 years in some nations.[5] Factors such as greater industrialisation and demand for cheap female labour, urbanisation, delayed first pregnancy and a greater uncertainty in relationship stability have all contributed to the increase of the generation length from the late 18th century to the present. These changes can be attributed to both social factors, such as GDP and state policy, and related individual-level variables, particularly a woman's educational attainment.[6] Conversely, generation length has changed little and remains in the low 20s in less developed nations.[5][7]

An intergenerational rift in the nuclear family, between the parents and two or more of their children, is one of several possible dynamics of a dysfunctional family. Coalitions in families are subsystems within families with more rigid boundaries and are thought to be a sign of family dysfunction.[8]

Social generation

Social generations are cohorts of people who were born in the same date range and share similar cultural experiences.[9] The idea of a social generation, in the sense that it is used today, gained currency in the 19th century. Prior to that the concept, "generation" had generally referred to family relationships, not broader social groupings. In 1863, French lexicographer Emile Littré had defined a generation as, "all men living more or less at the same time".[10]

Several trends promoted a new idea of generations, as the 19th century wore on, of a society divided into different categories of people based on age. These trends were all related to the processes of modernisation, industrialisation, or westernisation, which had been changing the face of Europe since the mid-18th century. One was a change in mentality about time and social change. The increasing prevalence of enlightenment ideas encouraged the idea that society and life were changeable, and that civilization could progress. This encouraged the equation of youth with social renewal and change. Political rhetoric in the 19th century often focused on the renewing power of youth influenced by movements such as Young Italy, Young Germany, Sturm und Drang, the German Youth Movement, and other romantic movements. By the end of the 19th century, European intellectuals were disposed toward thinking of the world in generational terms—in terms of youth rebellion and emancipation.[10]

Two important contributing factors to the change in mentality were the change in the economic structure of society. Because of the rapid social and economic change, young men particularly were less beholden to their fathers and family authority than they had been. Greater social and economic mobility allowed them to flout their authority to a much greater extent than had traditionally been possible. Additionally, the skills and wisdom of fathers were often less valuable than they had been due to technological and social change.[10] During this time, the period between childhood and adulthood, usually spent at university or in military service, was also increased for many people entering white-collar jobs. This category of people was very influential in spreading the ideas of youthful renewal.[10]

Another important factor was the breakdown of traditional social and regional identifications. The spread of nationalism and many of the factors that created it (a national press, linguistic homogenisation, public education, suppression of local particularities) encouraged a broader sense of belonging beyond local affiliations. People thought of themselves increasingly as part of a society, and this encouraged identification with groups beyond the local.[10]Auguste Comte was the first philosopher to make a serious attempt to systematically study generations. In Cours de philosophie positive Comte suggested that social change is determined by generational change and in particular conflict between successive generations.[11] As the members of a given generation age, their "instinct of social conservation" becomes stronger, which inevitably and necessarily brings them into conflict with the "normal attribute of youth"—innovation. Other important theorists of the 19th century were John Stuart Mill and Wilhelm Dilthey.

Sociologist Karl Mannheim was a seminal figure in the study of generations. He elaborated a theory of generations in his 1923 essay The Problem of Generations.[1] He suggested that there had been a division into two primary schools of study of generations until that time. Firstly, positivists such as Comte measured social change in designated life spans. Mannheim argued that this reduced history to "a chronological table". The other school, the "romantic-historical" was represented by Dilthey and Martin Heidegger. This school focused on the individual qualitative experience at the expense of social context. Mannheim emphasised that the rapidity of social change in youth was crucial to the formation of generations, and that not every generation would come to see itself as distinct. In periods of rapid social change a generation would be much more likely to develop a cohesive character. He also believed that a number of distinct sub-generations could exist.[1]

According to Gilleard and Higgs, Mannheim identified three commonalities that a generation shares:[12]

Authors William Strauss and Neil Howe developed the Strauss-Howe generational theory outlining what they saw as a pattern of generations repeating throughout American history. This theory became quite influential with the public and reignited an interest in the sociology of generations. This led to the creation of an industry of consulting, publishing, and marketing in the field.[13]

According to an article by Frank Giancola, cohort generations are "triumphant in popular culture but have been confined by experts to the shadow world of unproven hypothesis". He and others argued that the concept may be overused and that differences have been overstated in many cases.[14]

Generational theory

The concept of a generation has a long history and can be found in ancient literature.[15] However, there are also psychological and sociological dimensions in the sense of belonging and identity that can define a generation.

The concept of a generation is also used to locate particular birth cohorts in specific historical and cultural circumstances, such as the "Baby boomers".[15]

While all generations have similarities, there are differences among them as well. A 2010 Pew Research Center report called "Millennials: Confident. Connected. Open to Change" noted the challenge of studying generations: "Generational analysis has a long and distinguished place in social science, and we cast our lot with those scholars who believe it is not only possible, but often highly illuminating, to search for the unique and distinctive characteristics of any given age group of Americans. But we also know this is not an exact science. We are mindful that there are as many differences in attitudes, values, behaviors, and lifestyles within a generation as there are between generations. But we believe this reality does not diminish the value of generational analysis; it merely adds to its richness and complexity."[16] Another element of generational theory is recognizing how youth experience their generation, and how that changes based on where they reside in the world. "Analyzing young people's experiences in place contributes to a deeper understanding of the processes of individualization, inequality, and of generation." [17] Being able to take a closer looks at youth cultures and subcultures in different times and places adds an extra element to understanding the everyday lives of youth. This allows a better understanding of youth and the way generation and place play in their development.[18]

It is not where the birth cohort boundaries are drawn that is important, but how individuals and societies interpret the boundaries and how divisions may shape processes and outcomes. However, the practice of categorizing age cohorts is useful to researchers for the purpose of constructing boundaries in their work.[19]

Generational tension

Norman Ryder (1965) sheds light on the sociology of the discord between generations by suggesting that society "persists despite the mortality of its individual members, through processes of demographic metabolism and particularly the annual infusion of birth cohorts". He argues that generations may sometimes be a "threat to stability" but at the same time they represent "the opportunity for social transformation".[20] Ryder attempts to understand the dynamics at play between generations.

Amanda Grenier (2007) offers yet another source of explanation for why generational tensions exist. Grenier asserts that generations develop their own linguistic models that contribute to misunderstanding between age cohorts, "Different ways of speaking exercised by older and younger people exist, and may be partially explained by social historical reference points, culturally determined experiences, and individual interpretations".[21]

Karl Mannheim (1952) believed that people are shaped through lived experiences as a result of social change. Howe and Strauss also have written on the similarities of people within a generation being attributed to social change. Based on the way these lived experiences shape a generation in regard to values, the result is that the new generation will challenge the older generation's values, resulting in tension. This challenge between generations and the tension that arises is a defining point for understanding generations and what separates them.[22]

List of generations

Western world

This photograph depicts four generations of one family: a male infant, his mother, his maternal grandmother, and one of his maternal great-grandmothers.

For the purposes of this list, "Western world" can be taken to include the Americas, Europe, and Oceania. However, it should also be noted that many variations may exist within the regions, both geographically and culturally, which means that the list is broadly indicative, but necessarily very general. For details see the individual articles.

Other areas

Other terminology

The term generation is sometimes applied to a cultural movement, or more narrowly defined group than an entire demographic. Some examples include:

See also


  1. 1 2 3 Pilcher, Jane (September 1994). "Mannheim's Sociology of Generations: An undervalued legacy" (PDF). British Journal of Sociology. 45 (3): 481–495. doi:10.2307/591659. JSTOR 591659. Retrieved 10 October 2012.
  2. "Generate | Define Generate at". 15 June 1995. Retrieved 10 October 2010.
  3. " definition of the word "generation"".
  4. "Generation". Miriam-Webster.
  5. 1 2 Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) Social Policy Division SF2.3: Mean age of mothers at first childbirth. Retrieved 15 April 2011.
  6. Bedasso, Biniam Egu. Investing in education as a means and as an end: exploring the microfoundations of the MDGs. United Nations Economic Commission for Africa Research Report, March 2008. Retrieved 15 April 2011.
  7. Mathews TJ, Hamilton BE. Delayed childbearing: More women are having their first child later in life. NCHS data brief, no 21. Hyattsville, MD: National Center for Health Statistics. 2009. Retrieved 14 April 2011.
  8. Whiteman, Shawn D.; McHale, Susan M.; Soli, Anna."Theoretical Perspectives on Sibling Relationships", J Fam Theory Rev., 2012 Jun 1; Vol. 3, No. 2, pp. 124–139, PMCID: PMC3127252.
  9. Mannheim, k (1952). Essays on the Sociology of Knowledge. London: RKP.
  10. 1 2 3 4 5 Wohl, Robert (1979). The generation of 1914. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press. pp. 203–209. ISBN 978-0-674-34466-2.
  11. "Hans Jaeger. Generations in History: Reflections on a Controversy. Translation of "Generationen in der Geschichte: Überlegungen zu einer umstrittenen Konzeption," originally published in Geschichte und Gesellschaft 3 (1977), 429–452. p 275." (PDF). Retrieved 10 October 2010.
  12. Gilleard, C. & Higgs, P. (2002). "The third age: Class, cohort or generation?". Ageing and Society. 22 (3): 369–382. doi:10.1017/s0144686x0200870x.
  13. Hoover, Eric (11 October 2009). "The Millennial Muddle". The Chronicle of Higher Education. Retrieved 12 October 2012.
  14. Giancola, 2006. "Research and expert opinion do not fully support the generational premise. For example, two Duke University sociologists have found that the three assumptions behind the premise are not always supported by a body of research (Hughes & O'Rand, 2005)...According to an independent review of the literature, there were no major published academic articles on the generation gap in the United States in the 1990s (Smith, 2000), and a search by this author of academic journals in the past five years did not locate articles supporting generational concepts."
  15. 1 2 Biggs, Simon (2007). "Thinking about generations: Conceptual positions and policy implications.". Journal of Social Issues. 63 (4): 695–711. doi:10.1111/j.1540-4560.2007.00531.x.
  16. Taylor, P. & Keeter, S. (Eds.) (24 February 2010). "The Millennials. Confident, Connected. Open to Change.". p. 5.
  17. Dan Woodman, Johanna Wyn (2015). Youth and Generation. Los Angeles, London, New Delhi.Singapore, Washington DC: SAGE. p. 164. ISBN 978-1-4462-5904-7.
  18. Woodman, Dan; Wyn, Johanna (2015). Youth and Generation Rethinking Change and Inequity in the Lives of Young People. London: Sage Publications Ltd. p. 122. ISBN 978-1-4462-5904-7.
  19. Grenier, Amanda (2007). "Crossing age and generational boundaries: Exploring intergenerational research encounters". Journal of Social Issues. 63 (4): 713–727. doi:10.1111/j.1540-4560.2007.00532.x.
  20. Ryder, Norman (1965). "The cohort as a concept in the study of social change". American Sociological Review. 30 (6): 843–861. doi:10.2307/2090964. JSTOR 2090964.
  21. Grenier, Amanda (2007). "Crossing age and generational boundaries: Exploring intergenerational research encounters". Journal of Social Issues. 63 (4): 718. doi:10.1111/j.1540-4560.2007.00532.x.
  22. Mannheim, Karl. (1952) 'The problem of generations', in K. Mannheim, Essays on the Sociology of Knowledge, London: RKP
  23. Wohl, Robert (1979). The generation of 1914. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press. ISBN 978-0-674-34466-2.
  24. Hunt, Tristram (6 June 2004). "One last time they gather, the Greatest Generation". The Observer. London. Retrieved 24 August 2009.
  25. Strauss, William; Neil Howe (1991). Generations: The History of Americas Future, 1584 to 2069. New York, NY: Harper Perennial. p. 279. ISBN 0-688-11912-3.
  26. Brandon, Emily. "The Youngest Baby Boomers Turn 50". US News & World Report. Retrieved 11 November 2015.
  27. "Baby Boomers". Retrieved 11 November 2015.
  28. Fry, Richard. "This year, Millennials will overtake Baby Boomers". Pew Research Center. Retrieved 11 November 2015.
  29. Howe, Neil; Strauss, William (1991). Generations: The History of Americas Future, 1584 to 2069. New York: William Morrow. pp. 299–316. ISBN 0-688-11912-3.
  30. U.S. Census Bureau
  31. Owram, Doug (1997). Born at the Right Time. Toronto: Univ Of Toronto Press. p. xiv. ISBN 0-8020-8086-3.
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  34. . 10 October 2016 Missing or empty |title= (help)
  35. 1 2 "Pew Research Center, from Statistics Provided by US Dept. Health and Human Services". Millennials overtake Baby Boomers as America’s largest generation. Pew Research Center. 26 April 2016. Retrieved 16 September 2016.
  36. Founders Generation Time Magazine date retrieved 10 October 2016
  37. "The Independence Generation". Retrieved 29 January 2016.
  38. "South Africa's 'born-free' generation". BBC News. Retrieved 29 January 2016.
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  41. Lee, Coleen (15 January 2010). "Post 80s rebels with a cause". The Standard. Archived from the original on 29 June 2011. Retrieved 20 June 2010.
  42. Kwong wing-yuen (ed.), Zhan zai dan de yi bian, Xianggang bashihou, Hong Kong, UP Publications Limited, 2010, pp. 16–32.
  43. "Fiasco of 386 Generation". The Korea Times. Retrieved 10 October 2010.
  44. 1 2 "Shinsedae: Conservative Attitudes of a 'New Generation' in South Korea and the Impact on the Korean Presidential Election". Retrieved 10 October 2010.
  45. "[Social cohesion (9)] Ideological differences divide generations". The Korea Herald. 26 August 2009. Archived from the original on 5 February 2010.
  46. Korea Journal Retrieved 10 October 2010. Missing or empty |title= (help)
  47. "Generational Differences Between India and the U.S". 28 February 2009. Retrieved 10 October 2010.
  48. Nocon, Paula C. (24 September 2002). "Martial Law Babies". The Philippine Star (in English and Tagalog). Retrieved 17 February 2015. Strictly speaking, Martial Law Babies are those brats born between 1972, the year Ferdinand Marcos declared Batas Militar on September 21, to 1981, the year he pretended to lift it. But pretenses aside, the spirit of repression, some say, began in 1966, (sic) when Marcos began carrying out his Napoleonic delusions, and ended in 1986, when a flat-shoed Cory Aquino stepped inside Malacanang and discovered thousands of high heels...Symbolically, the twenty-year (sic) Marcos regime has as its inner core the 10 years of Martial Law.
  49. Burgos, Arlene (25 February 2014). "What are you: Martial Law Baby or EDSA Baby?" (in English and Tagalog). Retrieved 17 February 2015. Read on and find out: Were you a Martial Law baby? Were you someone born between the time Ferdinand Marcos became president and when Martial Law was formally lifted in 1981? Or were you born after the downfall of the Marcos regime in 1986 -- an EDSA baby?
  50. "The Beat Generation". Retrieved 29 January 2016.
  51. Jensen, J.B. (2007). Future consumer tendencies and shopping behaviour: The development up until 2015-17. Research paper No. 1. Denmark: Marianne Levinsen & Jesper Bo Jensen. pp. 13–17.Seigle, Greg (6 April 2000). "Some Call It 'Jones'". The Washington Post. Retrieved 18 February 2007.
  52. "Press Release: Generation Jones is driving NZ Voter Volatility". Scoop Independent News (NZ). 13 September 2005. Retrieved 18 February 2007.
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  54. Itano, Nicole (14 May 2009). "In Greece, education isn't the answer". Global Post. Retrieved 28 January 2013.
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  57. "MTV: Rewinding 20 years of music revolution". CNN. 1 August 2001.

Further reading

External links

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