A report from the Pew Research Center released late last week offered ill tidings for anyone who can't name more than three Pokemon characters: #Millennials are about to overtake boomers in the United States.
Which is obviously terrifying! #Millennials, with their hippity-hop music and their "Snapchats" and their twerks, overtaking that most noble (and by "noble" we mean "populous") generation! Except that this determination hinges upon a very, very important point: What constitutes a #millennial is almost completely subjective.
(Why the hashtag on #millennial? Because #millennials use hashtags to identify their favorite #brands, and their all-time favorite #brand is "#millennial.")
Last year, I reached out to the Census Bureau to see if it might put to rest one of the key questions for old #millennials/young Gen Xers: When, exactly, do those generations begin and end? The answer was simple: No idea. The bureau delineates boomers only by year as a generation because specific population markers defined them. Otherwise, the boundaries for millennial and Generation X and whatever-comes-after-millennial-but-which-the-White-House-calls-the-Homeland-Generation are all in the eye of the beholder. Or, more accurately, the statistical observer.
Pew acknowledges as much. "For the purposes of following a cleanly defined group," a footnote to its generation marker reads, "Millennials [sic] are defined as those ages 18 to 34 in 2015." In other words, those born between 1981 and 1997. But other researchers, such as William Strauss and Neil Howe, put the end year at 2004. Which is a very, very big difference.
Take a look at the age-by-year data from the Census Bureau for 2013. We spent some time outlining the generations for an article last year, and compared our delineations -- based on Strauss-Howe and others -- to Pew's.
Giving the #millennials a few more years has an obvious effect: the generation's size gets bigger. Bigger than the boomers, already.
If you look at the generations by gender, the mix becomes murkier. As generations age, they become more female-dense, because women live longer than men.
Anyway, the goal here is not to disparage Pew, which is a good organization that is mostly staffed by non-#millennials. It is, instead, to reinforce an important point. Generations seem like they have hard edges; your mom is not from the same generation as you, by definition. But generational names are gauzy and unspecific, by their very nature. Pew was right: The boomers are fading and younger people -- particularly 22-year-olds -- are taking their place.
And if you don't like it, they'll be happy to send you a GIF of their response.