No official commission or group decides what each generation is called and what age or birth year it starts and ends. Instead, different names and birth year cutoffs are proposed, and through a somewhat haphazard process a consensus slowly develops in the media and popular parlance. Because generations are often shaped by specific events, their labels and spans sometimes differ from one country to another; here, I’ll focus on the U.S.
The truth is that generational labels and birth year cutoffs are merely convenient shorthand; although some generations clearly begin with a pronounced cleft from the earlier group, generations often bleed into one another. However, the arbitrary nature of generational names and spans does not negate the reality that growing up during different eras can have a profound effect.
Large generational shifts appear in work attitudes, living arrangements, gender roles, and mental health. The generational names and spans may be squishy, but the evidence for generational differences is strong. Knowing what generation you are doesn’t perfectly predict your attitudes and experiences, but it can tell you something about how the culture and events of the time mold what you believe, how you spend your time, and what you become. No matter what generation you are in, the shifting winds of culture and technology affect you—for better, for worse, and almost always for both. Age is more than just a number.