The Late 90's Generational Debate

With so many unofficial opinions and vague time lines provided by internet aficionados, it is increasing difficult to draw a defining line which separates the Millennial generation from Gen Z. For those born between 1995-1999, one may know what I am talking about. Past generations are agreed upon by those who experienced life defining events for the county. However, much of the difference between iGen/Gen Z and Millennial's come from collective experience rather then era defining events such as WWI and II.

I became conscious of this issue in 2014, but more acutely aware of it during the first semester of my senior year in college. I was taking upper level courses addressing varying demographics in society and advanced business topics which explored issues that effected every aspect of our lives from a primarily economic angle. What struck me as interesting concerning the generational label debate was the evidence provided by two professors, who contradicted one another on this topic, on the same day.

Exploring the generational topic that day, my Entrepreneurship course professor stated to the class, “You are the first of this new generation entering the workforce, as you all graduate and get out of here, it’ll be up to you to start Generation Z off strong.” This caught me by surprised since I had always identified myself as a Millennial and was quite comfortable with that label. However, things started to get even more interesting when I entered my next class.

An upper level human resources management class, my next class was definitely the sort of environment that explored generational topics. The professor was a seasoned demographics researcher and loved to regale the class with interesting anecdotes concerning the current economic climate and what variables cause the economy to fluctuate. Sure enough, the subject was brought up and as if answering an unintended prayer, someone asked “To what generation do people born in 1997 belong?”

I have never considered myself to be a member of Generation Z, and hearing what I’m about to tell you in the next class, only reinforced my position. My professor responded, “From 1985 to 1999 is when the Millennial generation starts and ends.” He continued, “Most families that started at that time bracketed their children between those years.” What he meant was that very rarely would one see families that had children in the early 90’s to late 90’s cross over into the early 2000’s. This distinct line also separates the technological changes and many early events of the 2000’s.

I find it fascinating as to where the line is being drawn in the first place. Some sources state that Gen Z starts in 1995, others 1996, and even some site 1997 as the start date. It seems intuitive to propose, “Why not just end the millennial line at the end of the millennium?” It’s worthwhile to mention that if one takes the 1997 to 2012 bracket to define Generation Z, one is forgetting about the technological boom, 9/11, and the many culturally shattering occurrences that create a disparity between someone who is 22, and someone who is 7 in 2019.

Polling statistics taken two years ago attempt to offer results. People born from 1992 to 1999 were asked if they were in Gen Z or a Millennial. The poll results demonstrated a clear Millennial identity from 1992 to 1995. However, from 1996 to 1998, the results differed. In 1996: 68% identified as Gen Z and 32% identified as Millennial. In 1997, 80% identified as Millennial's and 20% identified as Gen Z, and in 1998, 73% identified as Gen Z and 27% identified as Millennial's. The cause of this difference seems to be unknown to and much speculation revolves around the thought differences between ages 21 and 22.

Generation Z is following the most educated generation in human history, while having some of the highest anxiety and depression rates ever recorded since WWII; further creating a rift between the generations. Those of us who were born in the gray area in between of 1992 to 1997 are pulled in both directions. However, a clear separation is found in public opinion from 1998 on. While many may want to distance themselves from the negative portrayal of Millennial's by past generations, both Gen Z and Gen Y experienced the same society changing events. Ultimately, much of Generation Z is still in school and has yet to establish themselves in the workforce or hold positions of influence. We will just have to wait and see how this young Generation uses their own experiences to shape the world around them.

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