MapMaker: Generations

MapMaker: Generations

Use this map layer to visualize seven active generations that make up the current population of the United States at multiple scales (country-level to block groups). Generations allow for a better understanding of the distribution of the U.S. population's public attitudes on political opinions and key issues. Generations are primarily marked by significant political, economic, and social changes that define one’s formative years.

Grades

9 - 12+

Subjects

Anthropology, Civics, Geographic Information Systems (GIS), Geography, Human Geography, Social Studies, Sociology, U.S. History

Learning materials

This map layer shows the prevalent generations that make up the population of the United States using multiple scales ranging between country-level and block group-level data. As of 2018, the most predominant generations in the U.S. are Baby Boomers (born 1946-1964), Millennials (born 1981-1998), and Generation Z (born 1999-2016). Currently, Millennials are the most predominant population in the U.S.

A generation represents a group of people who are born around the same time and experience world events and trends during the same stage of life through similar mediums (e.g., online, television, print, or radio). Because of this, people born in the same generation are expected to have been exposed to similar values and developmental experiences, which may cause them to exhibit similar traits or behaviors over their lifetimes.

Generations provide scientists and government officials the opportunity to measure public attitudes on important issues by people’s current position in life and document those differences across demographic groups and geographic regions. Generational cohorts also give researchers the ability to understand how different developmental experiences, such as technological, political, economic, and social changes influence people’s opinions and personalities. Studying people in generational groups is significant because an individual’s age is a conventional predictor for understanding cultural and political gaps within the U.S. population.

Though there is no exact equation to determine generational cutoff points, it is understood that we designate generational spans based on a 15- to 20-year gap. The only generational period officially designated by the U.S. Census Bureau is based on the surge of births after World War II in 1946 and a significant decline in birth rates after 1964 (Baby Boomers). From that point, generational gaps have been determined by significant political, economic, and social changes that define one’s formative years (e.g. Generation Z is debated to be marked by children who were directly affected by the al Qaeda attacks of September 11, 2001).

In this map layer, we visualize seven active generations in the U.S., each marked by significant changes in American history:

  • The Greatest Generation (born 1901-1924): Tom Brokaw’s 1998 book, The Greatest Generation, coined the term ‘the Greatest Generation” for Americans who lived through the Great Depression and later fought in WWII. This generation had significant job and education opportunities as the war ended and the postwar economic booms impacted America.
  • The Silent Generation (born 1925-1945): The title “Silent Generation” originated from a 1951 essay published in Time magazine that proposed the idea that people born during this period were more cautious than their parents. Conflict from the Cold War and the potential for nuclear war led to widespread levels of discomfort and uncertainty throughout the generation.
  • Baby Boomers (born 1946-1964): Baby Boomers were named after a significant increase in births after the end of World War II. During this 20-year span, life was dramatically different for those born at the beginning of the generation than those born at the tail end of the generation. The first 10 years of Baby Boomers (Baby Boomers I) grew up in an era defined by the civil rights movement and the Vietnam War, where a lot of this generation either fought in or protested against the war. Baby boomers, I tended to have great economic opportunities and were optimistic about the future of America. Contrastingly, the last 10 years of Baby Boomers (Baby Boomers II) had fewer job opportunities and available housing than their Boomer I counterparts. The effects of the Vietnam War and the Watergate scandal led a lot of second-wave boomers to lose trust in the American government.
  • Generation X (born 1965-1980): The label “Generation X” comes from Douglas Coupland’s 1991 book, Generation X: Tales for An Accelerated Culture. This generation was notoriously exposed to more hands-off parenting, out-of-home childcare, and higher rates of divorce than other generations. As a result, many Gen X parents today are concerned about avoiding broken homes with their own kids.
  • Millennials (born 1981-1998): During the adolescence of Millennials, America underwent a technological revolution with the emergence of the internet. Because of this, millennials are generally characterized by older generations to be technologically savvy.
  • Generation Z (born 1999-2016): Generation Z or “Zoomers” represent a generation raised on the internet and social media. Gen Z makes up the most ethnically diverse and largest generation in American history. Like Millennials, Gen Z is recognized by older generations to be very familiar with and/or addicted to technology.

Questions to ask when you look at this map:

  • Do you notice any trends with the predominant generations located in big cities? Suburbs? Rural areas?
  • Where do you see big clusters of the same generation living in the same area?
  • Which areas do you see the most diversity in generations?
  • Look on the map for where you, your parents, aunts, uncles, and grandparents live. Do they live in areas where their generation is the most predominant?
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Writer
McClain Martensen
Expert Reviewer
Anita Palmer
Manager
Sarah Appleton, National Geographic Society, National Geographic Society
other
Last Updated

August 31, 2022

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