For the last few decades, millennials have been dogged with think pieces, trend pieces, and hit pieces attempting to define a large swath of people who happened to be born around the same time. It's pretty exhausting to hear constantly that you can't afford to buy a home/get decent healthcare/pay off your student debt because of, say, avocado toast, and not because of a capitalistic system stacked against us. But now, it's time for the next generation to feel the heat, with new research officially defining the line between millennials and Generation Z. Sorry guys, the #hottakes are on you, now.
According to Pew Research Center, millennials are now officially defined as the generation born between 1981 and 1996 — so, if you're turning anywhere from 22 to 37 this year, you're officially in the gang. The 1981 designation has been the millennial/Gen X cutoff for a while now, but the 1996 number is relatively new, with previous researchers suggesting millennials could include people born as late as the year 2000. But Pew Research Center says the 1996 cutoff makes sense for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that at this point a 37-year-old doesn't have a whole lot in common with a 20-year-old.
Pew Research Center also notes that a few major global events helped shape millennials, starting with the September 11 attacks in 2001. Then, millennials were between the ages of 5 and 20, and therefore old enough to understand the significance of the event, and also notice how it and the subsequent wars in Afghanistan and Iraq changed the United States and the world. Then, there was the election of Barack Obama, which spoke to the power of the youth vote; the invention of the iPhone, which put the internet in everyone's pocket; and the launch of Facebook and subsequent rise of social media, which developed with millennials but the younger generation has never lived without. Millennials are also, as Pew Research Center points out, the most diverse defined generation, though Generation Z is proving to be even more diverse.
So now that we know who millennials are and aren't, what does it mean? For one thing, it means members of Generation Z are just old enough to start showing characteristics that make them distinct from millennials, which will come into play even more when they start voting, entering the workforce, and contributing (or not) to the economy. We're already starting to see some of this at work. One of the reasons that the teenaged activists who have arisen in the aftermath of last month's massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida have been so effective is the skill with which the wield social media, something that is endemic to their generation but not necessarily to high school students in the ones prior.
Gen Zers are also the first generation to come of age with Donald Trump as president, an era that has thus far seen more political activism than that of Obama, which is also amplified by social media. Gen Zers already know the deleterious effects of college debt, and may be less inclined to take out big loans for private universities, setting them up for a more financially stable future than their millennial counterparts. And, as mentioned previously, Gen Zers are even more diverse than millennials, meaning future generations will be even more comfortable with diverse and complex sexualities and gender identities, and will have more friends and romantic partners of different races. This will likely lead them to push for more inclusive public policy, much like how millennials and some Gen Xers were big proponents of gay marriage and gender-inclusive language.
So, though the sun hasn't quite set on millennials as the #1 Most Analyzed Generation, Gen Z's profile is rising. We should all be excited to see what the kids can do.