Generations: The History of America’s Future, 1584 to 2069 by William Strauss and Neil Howe is one of the most interesting books I have ever read. I don’t think I fully buy their theory just yet . . . but get back to me when I’m in my nineties and I might have a different opinion.
Strauss and Howe posit that, throughout America’s history things occur in cycles, including people. The big breakthrough in this book was Strauss and Howe’s description of recurring generational archetypes that shape, and are in turn shaped by, events. They are not the first social scientists to put forth a generational theory, but they are the first, as far as I can tell, to have a four-stroke generational cycle, as well as clearly defining the generational types.
Each generational cycle, as observed by Strauss and Howe, consists of the following generational types:
- Idealist (dominant)
- Reactive (recessive)
- Civic (dominant)
- Adaptive (recessive)
I’ll explain dominant and recessive generations later, but suffice it to say that each generational archetype has its own personality and tendencies.
Still alive today, we see the following generational breakdown:
- G.I. (“The Greatest Generation”) (Civic) (born 1901-1924)
- Silent (Adaptive) (born 1925-1942) (end of the prior “Great Power Cycle”)
- Boomers (Idealist) (born 1943-1960) (beginning of the current “Millennial Cycle”)
- 13er (“Gen X”) (Reactive) (born 1961-1981)
- Millennial (Civic) (born 1982-2003)
The book was published in 1991, so this is where the analysis ends, but it’s easy to see that what is sometimes called “Generation Z” (those born in or around 2004) would be considered an Adaptive generation by Strauss and Howe, more similar to the Silent generation than to their parents and grandparents.
Each generation lasts approximately 22 years, and is split into two waves. While there may be some differences between, say, first-wave Adaptives and their second-wave counterparts, these are nothing close to the differences between those second-wavers born on the cusp of the next generation–in Strauss and Howe’s analysis, these tend to have far more in common with their first-wave generational cohort than the succeeding generation. As one born in 1981–the last birth year for 13ers–I find this particularly fascinating.
But there’s even more groundwork needed to understand this hypothesis. It sounds complicated, but the pieces fit together quite nicely. Continue reading “Book Review: Generations: The History of America’s Future, 1584 to 2069 by William Strauss and Neil Howe”