How to Define the Generations: The Ultimate Guide for Marketers

Based on extensive research encompassing dozens of the world's most authoritative demographic experts, The Financial Brand has established a clear and definitive answer to the thorny question: "How do you define the generations?" This detailed analysis includes birth year charts, generation names, details on population size, socio-cultural characteristics, and financial benchmarks that empower marketers with the necessary information to make strategic decisions.
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Generational segmentation is the backbone of demographic marketing — but how is each generation defined? What are the different generation names? Exactly who is considered a Boomer and who is Gen X? What are the birth years that separate Millennials from Gen Z?

Unfortunately, no governmental body oversees generational segmentation and defines each cohort or their generation names. That leaves the question open to sociologists and demographers, who incorporate a wide range of factors to cluster people into one generation or another.

However, there is one parameter experts universally use: birth year. It is the single most important factor determining which generation a person belongs to.

That doesn’t mean experts have reached a consensus for the birth years behind each generation name. It seems everyone — experts and laypeople alike — brings their own opinions and perspective to bear. Some people simply lump all “young people” into either Millennials or Gen Z, or think of everyone who remembers World War II as the Silent Generation.

Indeed, our review finds little regard for the nuances between generations. Lacking this common definition and shared understanding of each generation, many CMOs struggle to craft effective marketing strategies.

Breakdown of Generations by Birth Years

The Financial Brand set out to eliminate subjectivity and put an end to this debate with a definitive, accurate answer. Our research team investigated over 30 highly respected sources including the U.S. Census Bureau, the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Harvard University, the Pew Research Center, and major media outlets to establish a consensus of generation names and years. We researched many more authoritative sources to ascertain key financial and demographic information.

Here’s what our research determined, shown both as a table and a chart:

definitive chart of generations and the years their generations begin and end

However, the list and chart make the age ranges look tidier than they are. Take the Silent Generation, for example. Of the 16 sources we found that calculated an age range, two posit that members of the Silent Generation were born “before 1945” and the age distribution spreads from 1900 to 1946 — almost half a century for one generation! Or consider Gen X. We found 26 sources that calculated eight different age ranges (and 14 out of that 26 agreed on 1965-1980). Generation Alpha is so young that few demographers and sociologists have a clearly defined generational boundary for it yet.

To make the range — and lack of agreement — among authoritative sources easier to visualize, we created charts displaying the range of birth years. These are shown below in the corresponding generation sections.

Though the date ranges are definitive, they erase the nuances between generations. Those nuances are vital to marketing campaigns. For example, no source we could find has calculated the total population of the Silent Generation and Alphas, so The Financial Brand did.

Generational cheat sheet for financial marketers


Source: U.S. Census Bureau/Forbes

Further, we analyzed the deeper distinctions between the age groups to outline the socio-economic and behavioral qualities that can be attributed to each. Here are the generation names and years they were born:

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What Years Were The Silent Generation Born?

Silent Generation Years: 1928 and 1945

Generation Names: Traditionalists, the Greatest Generation, Radio Babies

Silent Generation age distribution start and end years from 16 sources

Shaped by deprivation — they have several wars as well as multiple financial collapses — the Silent Generation values thrift, hard work, fairness, and loyalty and its social values tend toward the traditional. But this generation ushered technological marvels onto the world stage. When they were born, Lindbergh had just crossed the Atlantic. Forty-two years later, Armstrong walked on the moon. The Silent Generation may be quiet, but it oversaw the emergence of America as a technological, social, economic, and military powerhouse.

U.S. Silent Generation Population (in 2021)
• Total population: 22.8 million
• Portion of total U.S. population: 7.6%

Notable Silent Generation Representatives: President Joe Biden, Senator Mitch McConnell, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Gloria Steinem, John Lennon, Anne Frank

Major Events Affecting The Silent Generation: World War II, The Great Depression, the 1929 stock market collapse, the Dust Bowl, the invention of movies with sound, the widespread adoption of telephones, radio, and television; the United Nations, the beginning of the Cold War

Silent Generation Financial Data:

  • Average income before taxes: $41,876
  • Average net worth: $253,200
  • Average credit scores: 729.9
  • Average non-mortgage debt (revolving & installment): $11,725
  • Average mortgage debt: $163,254
  • Primary source of wealth: corporate equities and mutual fund shares

What Years Were the ‘Boomers’ Born?

Boomer Generation Years: 1940 and 1965

Generation Names: Baby Boomers, the Me Generation

Baby Boomer generation age distribution with starting and ending years from 27 sources

The term “Baby Boom” reflects America’s post-WW II population explosion. This generation was born into an era of great prosperity and technological advancement — including manned space travel — but endured five wars in their lifetime (as well as the threat of nuclear war). Boomers are noted for valuing personal freedom, and their era was marked by rapid cultural transformation, including the Civil Rights movement, the rise of rock ‘n roll, and the women’s movement. The generation is so numerous that demographers predict that by 2034, for the first time in U.S. history, older adults will outnumber children.

U.S. Boomer Population (in 2021)
• Total population: 71.6 million
• Portion of total U.S. population: 21.8%

Notable Boomer Representatives: Presidents Bill Clinton and George Bush, Princess Diana, Steven Spielberg, Sylvester Stallone, Courtney Love

Major Events Affecting Boomers: the Korean conflict, the Vietnam War, the assassinations of Pres. John F. Kennedy and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the murder of Emmett Till; Elvis Presley’s appearance on the Ed Sullivan show, The Beatle’s first U.S. tour, FDA authorization of the birth control pill, Woodstock

Boomer Financial Data:

  • Average income before taxes: $78,508
  • Average net worth: $240,900
  • Average credit scores: 710.0
  • Average non-mortgage debt (revolving & installment): $24,136
  • Average mortgage debt: $198,203
  • Primary source of wealth: corporate equities and mutual fund shares

When Was Gen X Born?

Gen X Years: 1965 and 1980

Generation Names: the Sandwich Generation, the Latchkey Generation, the MTV generation

Generation X age distribution with starting and ending years from 27 sources

Once characterized as apathetic “grunge kids,” Gen Xers are now known for independence, individualism and entrepreneurialism. Their childhood was marked by the end of the Cold War and the rise of personal computers — indeed, Gen X invented the internet economy — as well as a record-high divorce rate and the AIDs epidemic. They entered adulthood in a poor economy, which was further destabilized by the 9/11 terrorist attacks and the 2008 Great Recession, contributing to the generation’s reputation for cynicism. Many are now caring for children and aging parents at the same time, and Gen Xers carry the highest debt load of any generation.

U.S. Gen X population (in 2021)

• Total population: 65.2 million
• Portion of total U.S. population: 19.9%

Notable Gen X Celebrities and Representatives: Tiger Woods, Angelina Jolie, Elon Musk, Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin, Winona Ryder, Melania Trump

Major Events Affecting Gen X: The “War on Drugs,” 9/11 terrorist attacks, the collapse of the Soviet Union, the release of Pac-Man, the Apple Macintosh, and the Sony Walkman, Pearl Jam’s “10,” N.W.A.’s “Straight Outta Compton,” the Desert Storm conflict, the suicide of Kurt Cobain

Gen X Financial Data:

  • Average income before taxes: $113,455
  • Average net worth: $121,400
  • Average credit scores: 667.8
  • Average non-mortgage debt (revolving & installment): $32,898
  • Average Mortgage Debt: $259,100
  • Primary source of wealth: real estate

When Were Millennials Born?

Millennial Generation Years: 1981 and 1996

Generation Names: Generation Y, Digital Natives, iPod Generation

Millennial generation age distribution with starting and ending years from 26 sources

Millennials prize authenticity, meritocracy, and work-life balance. They grew up in a hyper-connected world — the first major social networking site, Friendster, launched when the youngest Millennials were 7 and Twitter when they were 11 — and Millennials were the first generation to have iPads as children. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan began when the oldest Millennial was 20 and continued until the youngest was 25. This generation has postponed marriage longer than any other to accommodate educational and career aspirations. The largest age cohort, they nonetheless have 8x less net wealth than Boomers, on average.

U.S. Millennial Population (in 2021)
• Total population: 72.19 million
• Portion of total U.S. population: 22.0%

Notable Millennial Celebrities and Representatives: Stephen Curry, Kim Jong-Un, Beyonce, Mark Zuckerberg, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman

Major Events Affecting Millennials: The birth of social media, the explosion of the space shuttle Challenger, the Oklahoma City bombing, Columbine High School and Sandy Hook school shootings, legalization of gay marriage, the release of the first iPod, reality TV, the election of the first Black president, Hurricane Katrina

Millennial Financial Data:

  • Average income before taxes: $84,975
  • Average net worth: $27,420
  • Average credit score: 667.4
  • Average non-mortgage debt (revolving & installment): $28,317
  • Average mortgage debt: $255,527
  • Primary source of wealth: real estate

When Was Gen Z Born?

Gen Z Years: 1997 through 2012

Generation Names: Zoomers, iGen, centennials

Gen Z age distribution with starting and ending birth years from 18 sources

The most diverse generation in American history (along with Alphas), Gen Z was born into a digitized culture — 53% of them had a mobile phone by age 11 — but Covid-19 broke out just as they began to join the workforce. Their childhood was marked by social upheaval, including school shootings, the Black Lives Matter and #MeToo movements, and severe political polarization. If current trends continue, Gen Z will be the most well-educated, and most socially and ecologically conscious generation yet.

U.S. Gen Z Population (in 2021)
• Total population: 68.2 million
• Portion of total U.S. population: 20.3%

Notable Gen Z Celebrities and Representatives: Malala Yousafzai, Lil Nas X, Kylie Jenner, Greta Thunberg Jake Paul, Lamar Jackson, Zendaya, David Hogg, JoJo Siwa

Major Events Affecting Gen Z: Covid-19, Marjory Stoneman Douglas high school shooting, Minecraft and Roblox video games, LGBTQ-rights movement, Arab Spring democracy movements, the explosion of dating sites, Harry Potter book series, anti-bullying polices and legislation, Tik Tok

Gen Z Financial Data:

  • Average income before taxes: $38,635
  • Average net worth: $3,080
  • Average credit score: 660.5
  • Average non-mortgage debt (revolving & installment): $12,524
  • Average mortgage debt: $192,276
  • Primary source of wealth: Real estate

When Was Gen Alpha Born?

Gen Alpha Years: 2013 to the present

Generation Names: Post-Gen Z, TikTok generation

Alpha generation age distribution with starting and ending birth years from 20 sources

Predicted to be the most technologically advanced, globally connected, open-minded generation to date, Alphas will have lived more of their childhood than any generation prior without both of their biological parents in the home. Due to pandemic-era social distancing restrictions, a significant portion of their early education was conducted online. A majority say YouTube has a big influence on their lives and many had a digital presence established before birth. When they’re all born, Alphas will be the largest, richest generation in the history of the world.

U.S. Gen Alpha Population (in 2021)
• Total population: 26.6 million
• Portion of total U.S. population: 8.4%

Notable Gen Alpha Celebrities and Representatives: Prince George and Princess Charlotte of Great Britain, Ryan Kaji, Anastasia Radzinskaya, Mila and Emma Stauffer

Major Events Affecting Gen Alpha: Black Lives Matter movement, Simone Biles’ gold-medal record set at the 2016 Olympics, legislation to regulate the internet, the release of the stage production “Hamilton,” the January 6th, 2021 attack on the U.S. Capitol, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Elon Musk’s purchase of Twitter

Gen Alpha Financial Data:

  • Average income before taxes: $204
  • Average net worth: $105
  • Primary source of wealth: gifts, babysitting, lawnmowing, chores, gaming

Population and Regional Distribution of U.S. Generations

One thing everyone can agree on is that the generations are not evenly distributed, not in size or in location.

The oldest Americans are concentrated in a few regional markets. Further, as the pie graph below shows, they’re greatly outnumbered by their juniors: just two generations, Boomers and Millennials, comprise almost half the U.S. population. For now, Alphas and the Silent Generation make up just a tiny portion of the population, though time will increase the Alpha’s percentage and, inevitably, decrease that of the Silent Generation.

U.S. population by generation

Sources:
BBC, BBVA, Beresford Research, Britannica, Brookings, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Career Planner, CNN, Experian, Federal Reserve, Forbes, FourHooks, Generation Alpha, Generational Edge, GenHQ, Harvard Business Review, I
ndependent, Insider Intelligence, International Accreditors for Continuing Education and Training (IACET), Investopedia, Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University, Lending Point, Medium, NCSU, NPR, Pew Research Center, Research Gate, Ruthven Institute, Statista, The Atlantic, U.S. Census Bureau, University of South Florida, Wikipedia

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