Born into it

It's the people who eagerly grasped the car keys for the first time when you did, who pushed open the curtain at the polls to cast their first presidential vote the same year as you, or who suffered through over-the-hill jokes and midlife crises within years of you. It's your generation.


Whether you fit a generational mold or whether monikers such as Generation X or Y are just letters is still up for discussion.

Tammy Hughes, the president of Claire Raines Associates, a Marana, Ariz.-based consulting firm specializing in generational differences, said how we act at home and at work is shaped by the time you grew up in.

"You tend to have generational lenses," she said.

The generational divisions are the World War II generation, baby boomers, Generation X and Generation Y, or millennials.

Members of the World War II generation, for example, grew up in a time of economic devastation and sacrifice, she noted. They learned to do without and are frugal to the point that they will buy a box of plastic bags, then wash out the bags and keep using them.

Budgets were adhered to; pennies were stretched. Going into debt with credit cards was no option for this generation, according to Aiken residents Bob and Colleen DeMeester, ages 83 and 79.

"I used to earn the money and she would make sure it covered everything," Mr. DeMeester said.

Baby boomers grew up in a time when the economy had recovered, and they became a very ambitious generation, Ms. Hughes said. They were also the first group to have "works well with others" on their report cards.

"Working on a team is really important to them," Ms. Hughes said.

Baby boomer Beverly Dorn, 64, said growing up during the '60s and the protest era left her with a "flaw" that can come out in the workplace: "I may be more prone to question authority."

Coming on the heels of the protesters was the next generation, known for MTV, hair bands and a new brand of rebellion. Generation X-ers had a unique childhood because so many grew up in single-parent homes. The term "latchkey kid" was born, because of the key that children would use to let themselves into the house.

"They became very autonomous," Ms. Hughes said.

As Gen X-ers learned to only depend on themselves, they are viewed as a fairly negative and sarcastic generation, she said. Matt Plocha, 44, a Gen X-er who owns Blue Magnolia in downtown Augusta, said his generation was also nontraditional and nonconforming: "I think it was the culture in which we were living."

In life and in business, Generation X took risks.

"We wanted to do it our way, not to be told by the older generation," he said.

Millennials had an almost opposite childhood experience, reared by hyper-involved "helicopter parents" or "soccer moms," Ms. Hughes said: "It was a very friendly time to be a child.

Millennial Derick Colbert, 20, a psychology student at Paine College, said his generation is not a positive one: "This generation is very destructive, actually."

The millennials, who have grown up with pop-culture icon Britney Spears, have also followed a path of self-destruction, he said: "She has so much drama in her life."

Generational differences can lead to workplace conflict. In an evaluation by a baby boomer (who values teamwork), a typical Generation X-er might get dinged on not being a team player, though the X-er might have a different definition of the term, Ms. Hughes said.

"We know that's a big point of frustration in the workplace," she said.

Some contend that differences might be more about personalities than generations.

Barry Markovsky, a professor and the chairman of the sociology department at the University of South Carolina, contends generational labels are kind of like astrology.

"You tend to look for instances that confirm those traits," he said.

He also says that the dates assigned to each generation are arbitrary and vary.

"Whether there is anything real to it is a question," Dr. Markovsky said.

Although there are differences, there are aspects of life that are universal. Ms. Hughes said that most people don't work for the sheer enjoyment, and that flexibility is important for all age groups.

Mr. Plocha said he can see similarities in his children and in himself when he was a teenager.

"We're going through the same thing," he said.

Any differences caused by different age groups would be subtle, Dr. Markovsky said.

"I think fundamentally, we're pretty much the same people from generation to generation," he said.

Reach Sarah Day Owen at (706) 823-3223 or



GEN X: 49,243

BOOMERS: 45,999

WWII: 20,545



GEN X: 29,190

BOOMERS: 28,953

WWII: 9,046



GEN X: 38,785

BOOMERS: 40,778

WWII: 19,263

NOTE: Estimates based on U.S. Census population estimates. The estimates factor in births, deaths and migration. These numbers are from 2006.