The Breakdown

Explaining Southern California's economy

A new generation gets a name: 'Plurals'

They're about to learn to drive. And now we know what to call them: "Plurals."
They're about to learn to drive. And now we know what to call them: "Plurals." Gary S Chapman/Getty Images

"It's been nearly 15 years since the Millennials were so named." This line appears early in a just-released white paper from Sherman Oaks-based Magid Generational Strategies. As you might imagine, they're got a new name in mind for the generation that's following the Millennials (born between 1977 and 1996). This new cohort, with its oldest members just entering their teen years, shall be known as the "Pluralist Generation" — "Plurals," for short.

This naming-of-a-generation business isn't a one-firm game. A researcher and Harvard Business Review contributor, Tammy Erickson, has proposed that we call the up-and-comers the "Re-Generation," which is nifty pun on the "Me Generation" of the 1970s (actually a sub-generation of, or perhaps a frame of mind within, the famous Baby Boomers) and a sort of call-to-arms: these kids will be responsible for rebuilding our tattered, post-Great Recession institutions and economy.

But let's go with Magid's Plurals. This group will be America's last to see a "caucasian majority" and, probably for this reason, be highly open to diversity. Sounds good, but they'll also be "the least likely to believe in the American Dream." You can see how factors like these will bound their optimism and pessimism. 

Some blame for the pessimism falls to the parents of Plurals — Generation X. The children of the Boomers, the aforementioned Millennials, are more bullish on the American Dream, mainly because their parents believed in it. Gen X, with its generally more pragmatic and skeptical attitudes — shaped by absent parents, a prematurely independent "latchkey" lifestyle, and repeated recessions — is starting to see how those sentiments play out in its offspring.

According to Magid: "The group-oriented style of Boomers reversed the latchkey kid trend with an unprecedented focus on the well-being of Millennial children at large (e.g. the development and implementation of after-school programs)."

Gen X parents, meanwhile, place far more stress on parenting the individual, rather than bolstering the group.

The study, titled "The First Generation of the Twenty-First Century," contains a lot of additional insight. Some of it is more suggestive than empirical, provoking questions rather than answers. What will we make a generation that's been literate with electronic devices and wired in 24/7 almost from birth? Will they shop the same way — even remotely the same way — as their parents and grandparents? Will they even shop?

An important use for much research of this type is in a management framework. The workplace is where generations are thrown together; managers are directed not just to compel everyone to get along but to drive everyone from Boomers to Millennials to be productive and profitable. 

So while it's easy to think of generation naming as a relatively recent preoccupation that might not seem like very rigorous science, it does have meaningful real-world application. Plus, it's always fascinating to read about yourself, your parents, and now that we know what to call them (in my case), your children.

Follow Matthew DeBord and the DeBord Report on Twitter.

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