What Causes a Generational Shift?

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generational shift

What Causes a Generational Shift?

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Generational differences continue to be a hot topic. It seems that nearly anything that is changing or perceived as non-mainstream thinking casts blame on the millennial generation. However, millennials are not our youngest workforce generation. What causes a generational shift?

In a general sense, the definition of each workforce generation is a soft concept. By soft, I’m indicating that it is not an exact science and popular opinions led by experts in the field shape most of the published work which defines the generations.

Generational Framework

In my opinion, and consistent with many opinions discovered through my research on the subject this is our current (2017) framework (Chart):

Traditionals: Born 1930 – 1945

Baby Boomers: Born 1946 – 1964

Generation X: Born 1965 – 1976

Millennials (Gen Y): Born 1977 – 1994

Generation Z (Gen 9/11, iGen): Born after 1994

What shapes this framework or what causes one generation to end and another to begin?

generational framework

Factors Shape Generations

Three significant factors are likely responsible for an emerging new generation.

Socio-Economic Conditions: This represents a significant shift in values, culture, and issues that impact economic conditions. One example is the Great Depression (Circa 1929-1933).

Major Technology Shifts: Represented as anytime technology drives a significant shift in activities, behaviors, or the economy. Examples could include the space race (Circa mid-1960’s), and the emergence of personal computing devices (Circa late-1970’s, early 1980’s).

Times of War: Unfortunately, a time of war also seems to impact or contribute to shifting the generational framework. Examples could include World War II, Vietnam, and the Gulf War.

Generational Shift

Popular wisdom suggests that there may be a blending of these conditions, and if only one condition seems to exist it is unlikely that a generational shift will occur. When two or more of the conditions (factors) exist it is very likely the framework will shift.

For example, the shaping of the next generation, the one beyond Gen Z has likely started around 2007. This is true because of the period becoming known as the Great Recession (2007-2010) and the emergence of shifting technology with the introduction of the iPhone, which is often regarded as the first smartphone.

It is also worth noting that I while I consistently cite Gen Z as having a start year of around 1994; I believe it is closer to 1990. Consider the Gulf War, economic factors, and technology shifts such as those associated with NASA and the emergence of cellular telephone hardware and services.

generational differences

There are opinions that generational differences are not real, that it is only representative of changing needs based upon age. However, there is strong argument from social philosophers and experts who research this subject.

Differences exists because of age as well as what we label as the generations. Generational differences are not so much about age, but they are about the values and beliefs of people who are grouped together and categorized by their birth year.


Developing a greater understanding of how to navigate workforce generations is why I wrote this book:

forgotten respect

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Dennis E. Gilbert is a business consultant, speaker (CSPTM), and culture expert. He is a five-time author and the founder of Appreciative Strategies, LLC. His business focuses on positive human performance improvement solutions through Appreciative Strategies®. Reach him through his website at Dennis-Gilbert.com or by calling +1 646.546.5553.

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This article was originally posted on November 29, 2017, last updated on November 10, 2018.

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