Understanding Generations

Generation Terminology

Description Born Millions %
Seniors Before 1925 0.94 5%
Builders 1926-1945 2.75 15%
Boomers 1946-1964 4.75 25%
Generation X 1965-1981 4.83 26%
Generation Y 1982-2000 5.15 28%
Generation Z 2001+ 0.25 1%

* Figures are approximate for Australia's population

(Source 2006 Census - Australian Bureau of Statistics).

Generation X has been synonymous with young people since the name was first coined in 1991. However many X'rs are now in their 30’s and when it comes to understanding school students we're talking about Generation Y.

So why are young people so different when it comes to understanding generations?


In understanding generations obviously the age or life-stage of X'ers makes them unique to others. Being young they have different priorities to older generations. They generally have no financial commitments, thus over 70% of their income is spent arbitrarily, with the majority going on entertainment, travel, and food.

They have different recreational pursuits to other generations with their top 3 spare time activities being: “go to a party” (74%); “listen to the radio” (74%); and “go to a movie” (72%).

The point is that people operate in different ways because of their age. However age is not the sole reason for generational behaviours otherwise teenagers today would be indistinguishable from teenagers of a generation ago.

Yet this is clearly not the case, and it is because life-stage is just one of three broad factors that differentiate the generations.


The current economic, social, and political conditions which we all live under actually further divide the generations. The same conditions act upon people of different ages in different ways.

Take text messaging on mobile phones as an example: the technology is available to all, however 74% of messages are sent by Generation Y’s and so they are developing the new text language (e.g. “CU L8R” for “see you later”).


Experiences that occur during the formative childhood and teenage years also create and define differences between the generations. These social markers create the paradigms through which the world is viewed and decisions are made.

Baby Boomers were influenced by the advent of the TV, Rock and Roll, the Cold War, Vietnam War, the threat of nuclear war, and the decimal currency.

X’rs saw in the Personal Computer, AIDS, single parent families, the growth in multiculturalism, and the downsizing of companies.

Generation Y’s have lived through the age of the internet, cable television, globalisation, September 11, and environmentalism. Such shared experiences during one’s youth unite and shape a generation.

There is an ancient saying that bears much truth: “People resemble their times more than they resemble their parents”.

What most influences Generation Y?

While the Builders’ Generation are most influenced by authority figures and Boomers make decisions based on data and facts, post-modern youth are more likely to make a decision based on the influence of their own peers.

Research has further confirmed that the biggest factor determining the choice a teenager will make is the experiences of their core group of 3 to 8 friends.

Rather than making independent decisions based on core values, they live in a culture encouraging them to embrace community values, and to reach consensus.

It is understandable that young people today are less idealistic than generations past due in part to the media and pop culture that fills their life. The most popular song of the 1940’s was Bing Crosby’s “White Christmas” (1942), for the 50’s it was “Rock around the Clock” (Bill Haley and his Comets, 1955), and the 60’s it was the Beatles’ “I want to hold your hand” (1963).

A quick listen to the music of choice for Generation Y reveals what different times they live in. Much is made of the dark lyrics of Eminem and Marilyn Manson, but these are just public examples of the popular and pervasive genre.

The influence of music is second only to the influence of TV and movies in Gen Y culture. Research has found that when teenagers were asked, “What/who has a lot of influence on your thinking and behaviour?” One quarter of the influence on their lives is from TV and movies.

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