Taking this cue, I turned to the word of Neil Howe and William Strauss. These two scholars led the field in generational theory. I found useful their identification of birth years for current generations and the nomenclature ascribed to each generation. According to Strauss and Howe, those generations present from 1970-2010 are as follows:
Because the Strauss and Howe generation definitions do not fall neatly into decennial increments, I had to slightly alter the generational definitions to allow for use with the Census dataset:
The next step was to apply these generational definitions to the Howard County Population age demographic data:
Collecting the data on a generational basis yields the following table and graph:
A quick note about the graph and table above. With 2010 as the exception, U.S. Census data typically does not track discrete age groups beyond 85-years old. Therefore, it is difficult to account for populations greater than 85. I am aware that there are more than a few people in Howard County that are near or actual centigenerians, and I for one am happy to have them in our communities. However, from a statistical standpoint, it is difficult to impossible to characterize their populations when constructing graphs in the 1000’s.
Taking the Broad View
Initial analysis of the Howard County population by generation chart shows some similarities to the previously discussed Howard County population by age group chart. In 1970 the generations were closely grouped (relatively speaking). In the year 2000, three population constituents (this time boomers, gen-x’s, and millennials) had almost identical population numbers. In 1970 a similar convergence is also present in the Population by Generation chart. In this year, the GI, Silent and Gen-X constituents each represented approximately 20% of the total county population. It is interesting that a similar convergence is not present in the Population by Age Group Chart.
But what is truly remarkable about this chart is how it is different from the age group chart. Recall in the age group chart that the middle aged and senior population constituents have experienced rapid positive growth over the last twenty years, while the youth and young adult growth was shown to be slower. In the generation chart, the roles are reversed. The Lost generation, born between the years 1883-1900 had long since peaked. The GI (1980), Silent (1990) and Boom (2000) generations have all shown a population peak and are in decline. Conversely, the Gen-X (13’rs to my friends in the know), Millennial, and Homeland generations have experienced positive upward growth.
The GI Generation (born approx 1901-1925)
In 1970, the 12,238 members of the GI Generation were between the ages of 45-69 and represented almost 20% of the county population. In 1980, the GI Generation (age 55-69) population peaked (13,029) as they began to dominate the Senior age group. Although this generation increased in population, their percentage of the total population dramatically decreased from 19.77% to 10.99% due to much faster growth of other generation populations.
Since 1980, the GI Generation has steadily declined in a concave-down characteristic. Today, the GI Generation (age 85-109) dominates the Meta-Senior age group and currently number 3,152 persons.
Silent Generation (born approx 1926-1940)
In 1970 the Silent Generation, age 30-44, occupy the upper portion of the Young Adult age group and are just beginning to populate the Middle Aged age group. At 13,841 persons, they are second only to the Boomers in size and represent 22.36% of the population. The Silent Generation increases its size by 50% over its 1970 population and grows to a size of 20,830 persons by 1980.
By 1990, the Silent Generation peaks at 21,443 persons and with an age range of 50-64, occupy the upper Middle Aged age group, with the eldest component of the generation entering the Senior age group. Since 1990, the Silent Generation population in Howard County has progressively declined as these members move into the Senior age group. Currently, the Silent Generation in Howard County is 15,123 persons strong and constitute 5.27% of the total population.
Boom Generation (born approx 1941-1960)
The Boom Generation is one of three generations that has come to dominate many aspects of life in Howard County. By 1970, Boomers were between 10-29 years old. At a size of 20,693, Boomers represented 33.42% of the total county population. From the period 1970-1990, the Boomer population grew with a near-linear characteristic (22,976 persons added 1970-1980 and 25,575 persons added 1980-1990) and over the twenty-year period grew faster than any other generation constituent. However, from the period 1970-2010, the Boomers have not had the fastest growth in any one particular decade.
In 1990, the Boomers were near their peak of influence in Howard County. Numbering 69,244 and ranging in age from 30-49, Boomers straddled the Young Adult/Middle Aged demarcation line and constituted 36.96% of the total Howard County population. This is the largest percentage of total population for any generation during the study period.
After 1990, Boomer population increased at a much slower pace and peaked in 2000 at 74,478 persons. Although this represents the zenith of Boomer population, it came with a 6% drop in percentage share of the total population due to the dynamic positive growth of younger generations. From 2000-2010, the Boomer population showed a population decline for the first time and a second 6% drop in total population percentage share. Today 1-in-4 Howard County residents is a Boomer.
Generation-X (born approx 1961-1980)
Gen-X provides a unique condition in that it is the only generation studied that the population is known in 1960. By 1970, the Gen-X’rs had increased from 0 to 13,023 persons. As stated above, Gen-X’rs (13,023), Silent (13,841), and GI (12,238) Generations all had nearly identical populations in 1970. During the 1970’s the Gen-X population growth was the fastest rate for the 1970’s and by the end of the decade the Gen-X population more than triples. Also of note is that by 1980 the Gen-X’rs solely occupy the Youth age group.
In 1980 1-in-3 Howard County residents is a Gen-X’r and the Gen-X’rs almost match the population of the Boom Generation (40,015 v. 43,669). Also of note is that the Gen-X population in 1980 was larger than the Howard County Lost, GI and Silent generations combined.
After 1980, Gen-X grows at a slower but near constant rate for the next three decades. From 1980-1990, Gen-X adds 16,034 people. In 2000, Gen-X owns the Young Adult age group and has added another 16,624 to achieve a generation population of 72,673 people. Between 2000 and 2010, Gen-X’rs begin to enter middle age and add 13,996 people despite soaring home prices and the economic downturn. In 2010 there were 86,669 Gen-X’rs living in Howard County.
Millennials (born approx 1980-2010)
The Millennials appear ten years into the study period. During their first decade in existence, the Millennials quickly become recognizable generation, ending the 1980’s with 29,262 persons. Compare this number with the size of Gen-X in 1970 (ten years after Gen-X began) – 13,023. In fact, the Millennial population growth rate was the fastest growth rate during the 1980’s; faster than the Gen-X’rs, faster than the Boomers. To be fair, there were a lot more households in Howard County during the 1980’s than in the 1960’s.
By the year 2000, the Millennials have more than doubled to 74,085 persons and now constitute 29.89% of the total Howard County population. As noted above, in the year 2000, the Boomers (74,478), Gen-X’rs (72,673) and Millennials (74,085) all had nearly identical populations. During the ‘00’s, the Millennials grew very slowly and added 1,174 people to the total Howard County population. In 2010, there were 75,259 Millennials in Howard County.
Homelands (born approx 2001-Present Day)
The Homelands have been with us for only a short time. Next year, the 1st Homelands will enter middle school. Let’s hope a better name is given to this generation by then. From a population standpoint, in just one decade, the Homelands have arrived in much the same manner as the Gen-X’rs, and the Millennials. What is interesting about the Homelands is that after their first decade on earth (and Howard County) increased in population to 37,920.
So what does all this mean? First, recall the Population by Age Group chart discussed in a prior blog post.
Compare the above chart with the chart that we have been discussing here.
The reason these two charts depict the same data differently is because they track the data differently over time. The Population by Age Group chart provides a set of signposts through time. It is a gatekeeper function. Said another way, it answers the question, “How many of a certain age have passed through at this time?” The Population by Age Group chart does an adequate job of “what” but provides little else.
With respect to the Population by Generation chart, the data is grouped by generation and then the generations are tracked over time. This provides the data in a different light. If the Population by Age Group chart provided a magnitude, the Population by Generation chart provides the direction.
Taken together, what these two graphs do is generate a lot of intriguing questions. For example, why is the “Young Adult” curve on the Age Group chart almost identical to the “Boomer” curve on the Generations chart, even though the Boomers were completely in the Middle Aged group by 2000? Why does the Age Group chart show the Senior and Meta-Senior curves increasing while the Generation chart shows the GI, Silent and Boomer Curves all decreasing?
In our next installment, we will take a look at some of these questions, and we will talk about housing units too. Stay tuned.