People Are Starting to Notice


... that Generation Y and the Millennials are not the same demographic cohort, as Kent State found when they studied younger people in the work force.
Many discussions of the post-1980 population lump everyone together and call them all Millennials. Increasing numbers of research studies, however, are recognizing that even a five to seven year difference in age can create significantly different mindsets. Some of these differences are, of course, due to phase-of-life differences –  those in high school versus those who are married with children for example. However, because society, technology and education practices have changed so rapidly since 1980, mindsets of the younger generations have changed rapidly as well. For example, how old were you when you received your first cell phone? There is a difference in mindset about the constant use of technology if you were in college when you bought your first phone to keep in touch with friends, versus if your parents gave you your first phone at the age of ten to keep track of you and keep you safe.  
Change happens so quickly that researchers use varying beginning and ending dates to establish generational boundaries. These dates are often chosen because of the researcher’s focus: population growth, historical event, economic change, technological change, etc. Based on a number of factors many researchers are now describing the post-1980 generations in three groups: (The dates listed here are an average of several studies.)

  • Gen Y – born between 1980 and 1985
  • Millennials – born between 1986 and 1995
  • Gen Z – born after 1996 until?

Based on listening to the comments of participants while facilitating “Generations at Work” training programs for thousands of people over the past ten years, I agree with these delineations. For example, many participants in the Gen Y category have said that they may have started out exhibiting the traits that were attributed to early Millennials, but now that they have been in the workforce for a while, they believe the description of Gen X fits them more aptly. This makes sense, since many Gen Ys are supervised by Gen X. You see, it is not just historical influences that define our generational mindsets. We must consider the generation who raised, coached, taught or mentored us.
Easton ends Generation Y and starts the Millennials four years earlier than I do, and her first year for Gen Z is five years behind mine, but I'll take the official recognition that these are three different generations as vindication.

When your generational model increasingly requires additional ad hoc qualifiers like "younger Gen Xer" and "early Millennial" to make useful descriptions and predictions, you may have to consider that your model is flawed.

Generation Y is real. As author JD Cowan said, it's high time they reclaimed their identity.

Space pirates in hell!


  1. Speaking as a Gen Y individual, yeah, there's good reason to consider us separately from broader millennials and Gen X. I learned early, quickly, and deeply from books like Gen X, and then I got Internet just in time for the twinklings of adolescence, sending me down rabbit holes of degeneracy like Millennials. Most Millennials don't have my proficiency with words, and most Gen X don't have my proficiency with tech. There was a real sweet-spot culturally that I hit directly.

    Maybe I'm just distorted due to bias, but hey, here's an anecdotal report affirming your hypothesis.

    1. The plural of "anecdote" is "data".

      Thanks for sharing.

  2. I think Easton also gets it slightly wrong about phones. It's more an issue of when you got experience with the internet than when you got your first phone (especially since for most of Gen Y, the first phone probably wasn't a smartphone capable of web browsing).

    1. Agreed. I was in my late 20s when I first experienced the net.
      It was such a mindblowing experience to read and download stuff from all over the world.

    2. Also voicing agreement. Our house didn't get internet until the mid-90s, and I still don't have a smartphone.

    3. I think our household moved from prodigy to prodigy internet in the mid90s. I can't honestly remember when, but I am pretty sure we were early adopters, so that might be been 1994, when prodigy switched. I was out of college and married before I got a smart phone. My students are mostly Zoomers. They don't remember the way things used to work. The nontraditional students, more likely to be Millennials, Ys, or Xers, do.

    4. Many Gen Y’s can likely sing the sound the modem made as it logged into AOL or Compuserve.

    5. My family didn't get our first PC until I was 14, and most of my peers didn't start using one until around the same period.

      No one had one when I was a kid aside from one friend who had DOOM, Quest for Glory, and the original Leisure Suit Larry.

      When it came to phones? No one had them in high school. Best it got were some who had pagers.

      That all changed seemingly overnight a few years later.

    6. Relatable. Only the rich kids had cell phones at my high school.

    7. Brian and JD

      I didn't my first real PC til my late 20s and it was for my postsecondary studies. I never played video games as my attitude was a computer was for work not playing.
      I've mellowed since then.

      I have a smartphone which is useful for my work. It's mostly staying in touch, sending files and capturing curating content for my teaching as well as note taking
      But I still prefer a computer, pen and paper for writing


    8. @Xavier,
      That sounds like my wife's experience. She's an Xer, and got her first two computers for school. Her first was an IBM PC circa 1993, for undergrad, and the second, an HP, about ten years later for grad school. We still have both of them. Big Blue built them like tanks back then.
      My family went through a few in that same period, particularly if one counts the computers my sister and I took to school and all the old junkers I collected as an undergrad. I rescued machines and tinkered. I didn't have a TV in my first two apartments. I had computer labs instead.

  3. Athletic and WhitesplosiveMarch 10, 2020 at 1:21 PM

    I tend to agree with you (though I think I lean more towards Easton's timeline), but I'm not sure exactly why you think it's such an important subject? I understand it might have predictive utility, but specifically the line "it's high time they reclaimed their identity."

    Is there really much reason to think that the concept of a distinct age-cohort identity is intrinsic to human nature? To my mind it's only coherent within the dysfunctional identity-politics paradigm. Take homosexuals, before 1900ish, the idea of sodomites forming a distinct class with its own identity and interest would be absurd, akin to a "petty criminal" identity group. It was a character flaw, not an identity. Likewise, is there much evidence that there was this identity-based tension between different age groups before 20th century? Turning the young against the old based on an "age-identity" feels like a more modern phenoma, in sane times I think the goals, values, and identity of the old and young were basically the same (yes, the young take more risks, fads and manners change, but not normally radically to something antithetical to what came before).

    It just feels like boomerism filtering down onto younger generations. It's obvious why they would want their g-g-g-generation to be a unique special snowflake, but why should we think that this is good in general?

    1. Because it's true. I could honestly stop there, but since I aim to please ...

      The Gen Y classification has both predictive and descriptive utility.

      Likening being born in the 1980s to being afflicted with sexual degeneracy is a category error.

      Nowhere did I suggest a political application of the Gen Y grouping. These are real people with real, shared formative experiences that tend to produce shared behaviors and attitudes--including tendencies toward lethargy and tractability.

      It could reasonably be said that Gen Y as a whole suffers from a collective identity crisis. If you understand the problem, you have the solution.

    2. I'd say it's not intrinsic, but we know human beings cue very strongly off their age-cohort in a number of areas during adolescence. We also know that in an age of centralized mass education and mass media, relatively narrow time cohorts will be closely related culturally. This may start to disperse a little with the cultural stream choice of the post-ubiquitous-internet age, but that too then becomes a distinct cultural feature of an age cohort. Applies because they are the first, much like mass pop culture / boomers / the beatles complex is distinctive even though mass pop music was thereafter assumed.

    3. I'm not quite the franchise-ophile GenY Brian describes, but I know some other Ys who are very invested in the nostalgia, and some Millenials who are 100% in the Pop Cult. One of my friends, who I would estimate was born in the mid80s, is a massive comic book and gaming nerd. Mario, Zelda, TMNT, Marvel, DC, Power Rangers, etc. etc. He's also a happily married, committed Christian with three kids, two of fraternal twin boys who recently made decisions for Christ and one little girl who's too young to do so, so nostalgia hasn't stopped him from functioning, but that enthusiasm for yesterday's entertainments is unmistakeable.
      We need to understand ourselves if we are to grow beyond ourselves.

    4. It's an example of Simpson's Paradox. Traits expressed by the group as a whole tend to diminish or disappear at the individual level.

    5. This is why that modern generations chart I made stopped with the generation currently being born. By 2022 the last semblance of any unifying larger culture will be so diluted as to not matter anymore. Ten years isn't going to be short enough.

      They're trying to call them the Alpha Generation, but they're really the parallel of the Lost Generation in gauging their place in a changing world. They're the last ones that will fit in the old frame before a new one will be formed.