The Pew Research Center takes a look this week at political polarization between generations. Unsurprisingly, millennials and Gen X'ers (those in the 19- to 52-year-old age range this year) poll more liberal than their older counterparts, with differences especially stark when it came to labeling oneself a liberal Democrat or a conservative Republican. What did surprise me about Pew's latest round of generational sorting is that 2016 was the last year in which surveys of U.S. adults could exclude "Gen Z."
Granted, generational boundaries are about as disputed as territorial borders (and as much of a social construct), and no one has quite agreed yet on when the millennial generation begins and ends. But Pew is as good an arbiter of generational parameters as any, and here's how it categorizes us:
- You're a millennial if you turn 19- to 36-years-old in 2017 (birth years 1981-1998)
- You're part of Gen X if you turn 37- to 52-years-old in 2017 (birth years 1965-1980)
- You're a baby boomer if you turn 53- to 71-years-old in 2017 (birth years 1946-1964)
- You're a member of the Silent Generation if you turn 72- to 89-years-old in 2017 (birth years 1928-1945)
Folks still living who were born before 1928 are mostly part of the generation alternately referred to as the "G.I. Generation" or the "Greatest Generation." Those born after 1998 are currently (and quite unimaginatively) being called Generation Z. And, by Pew's math, the eldest members of this nascent generation are turning 18 this year.
Welcome to adulthood, Gen Z!
As one of the oldest members of your immediate ancestors in American youth, I'd like to officially transfer the think-piece mantle your way. As millennials' misadventures in youthful entitlement and narcissism dwindle, may your place as a scapegoat for societal fears about sex, technology, and general change shine bright. May Gen X prove as much a collective nemesis for you as boomers have so generously done for my generation. And, perhaps most importantly, may you please be patient in a few years when you're trying to explain to us how to upload a hologram snap to Mind Twitter.
Also, for what it's worth, millennials may have spawned Facebook, but don't blame us if Americans are more politically polarized these days. According to another recent generational study, it's the oldest Americans who have grown the most polarized within their own generation in recent decades. While many people attribute political polarization to social media or the internet more broadly, the study's authors found that, between 1996 and 2012, the increase in polarization was "largest among the groups least likely to use the internet and social media." On a nine-point measure of different sorts of polarization, the gap grew by 0.38 index points for respondents ages 75 and older, but just 0.05 index points for adults ages 39 and below.
Lastly, don't get too comfortable, kids—your generational predecessors are already arriving. Going by Pew's parameters, the typical generation spans about 17 years… which means that the last of Gen Z babies were likely born in 2016. A new generation starts being born this year.
Welcome to the world, post-Gen Z generation! What a weird, absurdist time to be starting your lives. May we course correct a bit here before you hit adulthood. (Alternately, tell your kids to give President Ivanka's reanimated corpse and V.P. Chelsea Clinton's cryogenically frozen head my love, and sorry about the Kardashians. That one really is our fault.)