Naming the Next Generation Speaker Q&A: Neil Howe

On June 26th Ypulse will be Naming the Next Generation.* Neil Howe, author, historian and generational guru, will be joining us in our quest to find a name for post-Millennials that fits their unique generational experience. Neil has been a pioneer in generational theory, writing nine books on American generations.  Along with William Strauss, he first coined the term “Millennials,” describing this generation with remarkable foresight as far back as 1991. We can think of no one better to help us to name the next generation, in fact, we wouldn't have dreamed of trying without Neil's help. Today Neil tells us about why we need to move away from the term “Gen Z,” how post-Millennials will be the oldest group to not recall a time before the Great Recession, and how this generation could be like Millennials ... on steroids.
 
*Register to attend Naming the Next Generation, and you can give your own suggestions on what the next generation should be named here!
 
Ypulse: What do you think is the biggest difference between Millennials and post-Millennials?
Neil Howe: I think it’s important to establish what we mean when referring to “Millennials” and “post-Millennials.” My definition for “post-Millennials” includes those born after 2004, so these are kids currently just entering grade 2 of elementary school. Yes, that date remains tentative. You can’t be sure where history will someday draw a cohort dividing line until a generation fully comes of age into adulthood. But since there are good reasons why social generations tend to be 20 or so years long, I am naturally suspicious of a definition that abruptly limits Millennials to only 10 or 15 birth years.
 
Right now, the biggest difference is the emphasis on socialization, pushed on them largely by their Gen-X parents and teachers. Post-Millennials are being taught from a very early age to inhibit their impulses, control their behavior, and play well with others. This goes hand-in-hand with their heightened sense of risk aversion. The parents of these kids are incredibly careful to shield them from physical dangers or even emotional duress.

YP: Why does the term “Gen Z” not suffice as the name for the post-Millennials?
NH: “Gen Z” is a generic term that doesn’t speak to who the post-Millennials are. It implies that they will merely carry on the trends of the last generation—the same problem that the term “Gen Y” has in relation to “Gen X.” (Hint: Ad Age, which first coined the term “Generation Y” back in 1993, last year formally relinquished it and declared “Millennials” the winner. There’s a lesson there.)
                                                                                          
YP: What are the biggest forces currently shaping the post-Millennial generation? 
NH: I’d say the extreme hands-on sheltering by their (mainly) Xer parents and also their parents’ reduction of wise parenting to a list of behavioral do’s and dont’s. Yes, their early (and perhaps premature) immersion in digital technologies is also a big deal.
 
YP: What is one thing you know about Millennials that you think will hold true for post-Millennials as well?
NH: In many ways, post-Millennials may be like Millennials on steroids. They will inherit several Millennial trends at their most extreme: parental sheltering, risk aversion, an other-directed sensitivity to peer opinion, deeper worries about shame than guilt, and a focus on good behavior and credentialed achievement.
 
YP: What is the one thing that brands need to know when thinking about the post-Millennial generation as consumers?
NH: They’ll expect to have direct, two-way engagement with brands. They’ll expect their feedback to matter. And before making a big purchase, they’ll consult with their parents and peers first.
 
YP: What are some of the new world issues that you think post-Millennials are having to deal with that other generations didn’t?
NH: This will be the first generation that will have an online identity formulated for them before they can talk. Their parents have been documenting their childhoods in a public way since day one—and they’ll have to deal with the permanence of that.
 
YP: What makes the post-Millennial generation unique from the generations that have come before them? 
NH: They’ll be the oldest Americans who will never recall any year of prosperity before the Great Recession—nor any national leader before the election of Barack Obama. They’ll grow up in a world where their every move can be tracked, monitored, and assessed. And—more astonishing still—they’ll spend most of their lives believing that this is a good thing.
 
YP: If you could name the post-Millennial generation right now, what would you call them and why? 
NH: For now, we call them the “Homeland Generation”—a name that was literally chosen by our readers in an online contest. They literally spend more time “at home” (on their laptops and iPads) than any earlier child generation in history, and they’re growing up in the shadow of 9/11, the War on Terror, the creation of the Department of Homeland Security, and a sense that our “homeland” demands protection. 

 

NEIL HOWE, PRESIDENT, LIFECOURSE, ASSOCIATES

Neil Howe is a historian, economist, and demographer who writes and speaks frequently on generations, the economy, and social change. He is the nation’s leading thinker on who today’s generations are, what motivates them, and how they will shape America’s future. He is president and co-founder of LifeCourse Associates, a marketing, HR, and strategic planning consultancy serving corporate, government, and nonprofit clients. He has authored nine books on American generations, mostly co-authored with William Strauss, including Generations (1991), The Fourth Turning (1997), Millennials Rising (2000), and, most recently, Millennials in the Workplace (2010).  He has also authored numerous books and policy reports on demographics, most recently The Graying of the Great Powers (2008).  He is a senior associate at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, where he helps lead the Global Aging Initiative. He holds graduate degrees in history and economics from Yale University. He lives in Great Falls, Virginia.

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