We didn't have a generation gap. We had a generation Grand Canyon.

—Mary Crow Dog, Lakota Woman1

No doubt you've come across many of the descriptions used for the various generations. Baby Boomers, Echo Boomers, Generation X, Generation Y, Silent Generation, Me Generation—these terms appear all over the place in the media, and everyone has some sense of what they mean. But most of us would have a hard time defining them precisely, and the lack of standardized definitions can make it difficult to have productive conversations that help bridge divides among different age groups. So let's start by defining our terms.


When describing generations, most people tend to focus on dates—that is, birth years. The usual practice is to lump into one generation everyone who was born between year X and year Y. Sure, that's a convenient way to draw the lines. The Harvard Joint Center for Housing Studies, for example, specifically chooses “equal 20‐year age spans” when defining post–World War II generations because those groups align both “with typically published age groups” and “with levels of annual births.”2 But going by the calendar alone doesn't yield an accurate picture, because a generation is defined by much more than its birth dates.

Broadly speaking, a generation can be characterized as “an identifiable group that shares birth years, age, location, and significant life events at critical developmental stages.”3 The Pew Research ...

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