Generational segmentation is the backbone of demographic marketing — but how is each generation defined? 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. 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 of each generation. 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 the year in which each generational cohort starts and ends. 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:
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.
The U.S. Silent Generation (Born 1928-1945)
Also called: Traditionalists, the Greatest Generation, Radio Babies
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 representatives: President Joe Biden, Senator Mitch McConnell, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Gloria Steinem, John Lennon, Anne Frank
Major events: 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
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
- 30-59 DPD: 1.07%
- 60-89 DPD: 0.51%
- 90-780 DPD: 1.33%
Primary source of wealth: corporate equities and mutual fund shares
BBC, Brookings, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Business Insider, Career Planner, CNN, Experian, Federal Reserve, Fourhooks, GenHQ, Independent, Investopedia, Medium, NPR, Pew Research Center, Ruthven Institute, Statista, U.S. Census Bureau, Wikipedia
Boomers (Born 1946-1964)
Also called: Baby Boomers, the Me Generation
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 representatives: Presidents Bill Clinton and George Bush, Princess Diana, Steven Spielberg, Sylvester Stallone, Courtney Love
Major events: 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
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
- 30-59 DPD: 1.80%
- 60-89 DPD: 0.77%
- 90-780 DPD: 2.05%
Primary source of wealth: corporate equities and mutual fund shares
BBC, BBVA, Beresford Research, Britannica, Brookings, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Business Insider, CNN, Experian, Federal Reserve, FourHooks, GenHQ, Harvard Business Review, International Accreditors for Continuing Education and Training (IACET), Independent, Investopedia, Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University, Medium, NPR, Oregon Office of Economic Analysis, Pew Research Center, Research Gate, Ruthven Institute, PEW Research, University of South Florida, Statista, U.S. Census Bureau, Wikipedia
Gen X (Born 1965-1980)
Also called: the Sandwich Generation, the Latchkey Generation, the MTV generation
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 representatives: Tiger Woods, Angelina Jolie, Elon Musk, Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin, Winona Ryder, Melania Trump
Major events: 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
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
- 30-59 DPD: 3.02%
- 60-89 DPD: 1.25%
- 90-780 DPD: 3.42%
Primary source of wealth: real estate
BBC, BBVA, Beresford Research, Britannica, Brookings, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Business Insider, CNN, Experian, Federal Reserve, FourHooks, GenerationalEdge, GenHQ, Harvard Business Review, International Accreditors for Continuing Education and Training (IACET), Independent, Insider Intelligence, Investopedia, Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University, Medium, NPR, Pew Research Center, Research Gate, Ruthven Institute, PEW Research, Statista, The Atlantic, U.S. Census Bureau, Wikipedia
Millennials (Born 1981-1996)
Also called: Generation Y, Digital Natives, iPod Generation
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 representatives: Stephen Curry, Kim Jong-Un, Beyonce, Mark Zuckerberg, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman
Major events: 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
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
- 30-59 DPD: 3.07%
- 60-89 DPD: 1.32%
- 90-780 DPD: 3.15%
Primary source of wealth: real estate
Britannica, Brookings, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Experian, Federal Reserve, FourHooks, Generation Alpha, Insider Intelligence, International Accreditors for Continuing Education and Training (IACET), Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University, Medium, NPR, Research Gate, Ruthven Institute, Statista, U.S. Census Bureau, Wikipedia
Gen Z (Born 1997-2012)
Also called: Zoomers, iGen, centennials
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 representatives: Malala Yousafzai, Lil Nas X, Kylie Jenner, Greta Thunberg Jake Paul, Lamar Jackson, Zendaya, David Hogg, JoJo Siwa
Major events: 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
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
- 30-59 DPD: 2.12%
- 60-89 DPD: 0.95%
- 90-780 DPD: 1.73%
Primary source of wealth: Real estate
BBC, BBVA, Beresford Research, Britannica, Brookings, Bureau of Labor Statistics, CNN, Experian, Federal Reserve, FourHooks, Generation Alpha, International Accreditors for Continuing Education and Training (IACET), Independent, Insider Intelligence, Investopedia, Medium, NPR, Pew Research Center, Research Gate, Ruthven Institute, Statista, U.S. Census Bureau, Wikipedia
Generation Alpha (Born 2013-Present)
Also called: Post-Gen Z, TikTok generation
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 representatives: Prince George and Princess Charlotte of Great Britain, Ryan Kaji, Anastasia Radzinskaya, Mila and Emma Stauffer
Major events: 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
Average income before taxes: $204
Average net worth: $105
Primary source of wealth: gifts, babysitting, lawnmowing, chores, gaming
BBC, Brookings, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Career Planner, Federal Reserve, Forbes, Generation Alpha Generational Edge, Insider Intelligence, LendingPoint, Research Gate, NCSU, NPR, Ruthven Institute, The Atlantic, U.S. Census Bureau, Wikipedia
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.