Understanding generational dynamics can help your department avoid conflicting priorities and miscommunication. Here are some essential points to consider:

Until the late 1900s, people were rarely viewed by social generations. The popular ages we know today were coined by journalists and writers.

Many respondents who supported teaching about generational tendencies suggested that this content could improve cultural competence in medical education. However, those less supportive of this content cited stereotyping and potential division concerns.

What is a Generation?

A generation is a group of people born at approximately the same time and sharing similar experiences. Social scientists have studied generations for millennia. Defining exactly when one generation begins and ends can be difficult. Some experts argue it’s better to think of an era as a fluid category than a rigidly defined time frame.

A popular idiom is that someone comes from “the same generation as my parents.” This is a way to indicate that the person’s family tree goes back to roughly the same place in history.

The word generation derives from the Greek genie, meaning “fathered, birthed, or brought up.” It can be used to describe a family’s lineage and the period characterized by a particular cultural attitude or mindset. For example, Baby Boomers were raised during the era of television growth, while Gen X and Millennials have grown up as the Internet revolution takes hold.

The Greatest Generation, born before 1928, saved the world from the Great Depression and fought in World War II. They were a generation that valued work ethic, and many of them raised families on their own. They were known as a “silent generation,” so the term “MacCarthy generation” was applied to them.

Now, how long is a generation in years? Age is a social construct, meaning it’s a group that shares similar formative experiences (including world events and technological, economic, and sociological shifts). These experiences can shape a person’s views on various issues. This is why it’s important to consider generational cohorts when conducting research.

Generally, a generation lasts around 30 years, depending on the context. For example, a family generation is typically the time it takes for children to be born and raised. Then, those children will have their children, and so on.

But, in other contexts, defining a generation’s length is harder. Sociologists typically look at the average age at which a given social group members begin to have children. Then, they determine the number of years from that point that a generation exists.

Regardless of the precise cutoff points for each generation, there’s no doubt that social generations are impacted by the technology they grow up with. Consider Millennials, the first generation to grow up with computers, smartphones, and high-speed internet access. These technologies are now commonplace and can be found in most homes.

Other studies have shown that educating residents and faculty on intergenerational dynamics can help improve communication between doctors and patients. However, there currently needs to be a comprehensive study that shows the frequency and method by which schools incorporate this type of content into their curricula.

What is a Social Generation?

A social generation is a group born over 15-20 years old. Many factors, including historical events, economic conditions, and sociocultural changes, can influence this group. These influences can have a significant impact on the life-shaping trends experienced by the members of the cohort. Their values, beliefs, and preferences often characterize social generations. They may even have unique behaviors and habits.

These differences can also affect how people interact with each other. For example, members of the Baby Boomer and Millennial generations may have very different opinions and perspectives about what it means to be an adult today. Their differing views can be shaped by how they were raised, their cultural and educational backgrounds, their experiences in the workplace, and how they were introduced to technology.

Some researchers are skeptical that generations are a meaningful way to divide people. They argue that social and demographic trends can obfuscate what is true about an individual. However, understanding how social and demographic trends influence individuals’ attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors can offer practical predictability. It can also be helpful for people who are trying to reach, inform, or persuade large groups of people. For this reason, it’s essential to understand how long a generation lasts and the characteristics that distinguish one from another.

What is a Biological Generation?

A biological generation is years between the births of parents. A typical physical generation lasts 20 years, though this can vary from person to person and can be affected by various factors, including age at the onset of parenthood, longevity of the grandparents, and more. Biological generations are helpful for genealogy and tracing family trees. However, they are less relevant in modern times due to the longer life expectancies of humans and many people choosing to delay having children until their 30s.

Defining specific generations is essential for researchers as it allows them to track groups of people over time and see how formative experiences shape their worldviews and behaviors. Defining generations also helps them identify and understand what makes different cohorts of people unique, such as how they respond to particular historical events or technological changes.

There is yet to be a universally accepted definition for when a generation starts and ends. Many academics and researchers use a 20-year interval between parents’ births, which is arbitrary and can vary significantly from case to case. Other researchers use a more biological definition of a generation that spans 15 years, closely tied to the average age at which a person has children. Marketing companies use this definition more widely as it allows them to accurately segment demographics for target marketing purposes.