Sometime this year, the millennials — those ages 18 to 34 in 2015 — will outnumber what has been America's largest living generation, baby boomers, ages 51 to 69.
Generation X finds itself caught in the middle — for now, according to a Pew Research Center analysis.
Richard Fry writes that the ranks of the millennials continue to swell in part because of young immigrants, while boomers are projected to have fewer incoming compared to the number of deaths. The number of deaths is not expected to be significant enough for the Gen X population to outnumber boomers until around 2028. Fry notes that there are fewer Xers than millennials because the generation span was one year shorter. Gen Xers' were born over 16 years, compared to their kids' generation of 17 years.
So 2015 will mark a point where there wil be 75.3 million American millennials and 74.9 million boomers. The boomers peaked in 1999, when there were 78.8 million.
The numbers are all based on Census Bureau projections, which say the millennial population will probably peak in 2036 at 81.1 million.
Generation naming is not new. The Lost Generation overlapped the Greatest Generation, which led into the Lucky Few (also called the Silent Generation). The great/silent ones gave birth to the unprecedented baby boom, which led to Gen X and then millennials (wags called them Generation Why) and the new crop of kids, whose generational moniker is still being decided.
Reams have been written about the traits of each wave — and they've all come in for praise and complaints aplenty. Boomers, for instance, may be considered innovative, revolutionary or just selfish, depending on who you ask. Gen Xers, according to an NPR piece, were thought to be somewhat "cautious and conformist." That same article explained that millennials were first called Generation Y "as a placeholder" until their nature was actually determined.
Naming a generation is as much whim as art, fraught with some challenges. As NPR's Samantha Ralphelson wrote in that October article: "… Experts are still debating what to call the generation after the millennials. There are a few names floating around — Generation Z, plurals, Generation Wii — but iGeneration seems to be winning."
Erica Williams Simon, communications strategist, told NPR that a name like iGen would not capture the entire generation. "If we identify the next generation solely by technology, we're forgetting about the low-income young people who don't have the access to technology that higher-income young people have. It's very hard to label something in a way that reflects everyone's experience."
As for mixed reviews of a generation, an article on Business2Community is titled, "Why Millennial Managers Are the World's Most Perplexed Demographic." Author Eric Chester's theory is that the millennials include both real go-getters and also those who are, as others have complained "lazy and entitled." And since Generation X will retire first, some older millennial managers will have to deal with that more challenging segment of the same generation's workforce.