Generation Watch

Generation Watch
News and Views of America's Living Generations



Generation Watch brings you news and views of America's living generations, usually directly in relation to a theory developed by William Strauss and Neil Howe. These authors propose that American society has been subject to a cycle whose duration is approximately that of one long human life. In this cycle, a society experiences an alternation between a period of institutional growth and ideological conformity, and a period of institutional decay and ideological divisiveness. The cycle is driven by the changes in values and attitudes of each new generation, developing under conditions inherited from, but distinct from, those within which its parental generation was raised.

Strauss and Howe develop a very specific theory of this cycle, or saeculum, that divides it into four phases called turnings. Within each turning, a new generation is born, exhibiting a distinct collective persona described in part by an archetype. Each generation is shaped by the mood and orientation of the turning in which it is raised, and has an important part to play in the whole cycle. As one turning gives way to the next, a society's mood shifts, because the generations age from one phase of life to the next, bringing their unique perspectives and tendencies into their new social roles.

Phase of Life Ages Social Role
Childhood 0-20 Growth: receiving nurture, acquiring values
Young Adulthood 21-41 Vitality: serving institutions, testing values
Midlife 42-62 Power: managing institutions, applying values
Elderhood 63-83 Leadership: leading institutions, transfering values
The four phases of life, from The Fourth Turning, 1997, Broadway Books, p. 57.

The Generational Cycle

A generation's formative phase of life is its childhood. It is during this period that a generation's collective persona develops, determining its archetype. As the years pass, child rearing patterns alter to suit changes in society's priorities, insuring that each generation develops a unique persona.

Since a generation moves through four phases of life, at different points in time there are different types of generations occupying the age brackets of the life phases. For example, in one era there may be a risk-taking generation in young adulthood; in another, a cautious generation. The arrangement of the archetypes within the life phases in an era is the generational constellation, the makeup of which determines the mood and inclination of society in that era. The change in the constellation as the generations age drives a cycle, which has four turnings.

The saecular cycle begins in the aftermath of an epic struggle which remakes the society's political structure and empowers the rising generation to lead the new regime. In this First Turning of the cycle, the society expands and prospers, while its children are raised optimistically in a secure environment and encouraged to explore the frontiers of social values in an atmosphere of increasing freedom. These children develop into a Prophet generation, obsessed with meaning and distrustful of authority. When it enters young adulthood, the Prophet generation defies the rulership of the political regime, which at that point seems overly repressive and out of touch with reality.

Thus the Second Turning begins, in which the society is shaken to the core by a dramatic challenge to its basic values and institutions. Spiritual fervor sweeps the land, and children are more or less left to themselves as adults become preoccupied with self discovery and new movements. The underprotected children develop into a Nomad generation, tough and wild, who earn a bad reputation and bear the brunt of the blame for the ensuing social chaos. With the society's institutions discredited, civic decay sets in and the Third Turning begins. The Nomad generation has a rough and tumble coming of age, as traditional bonds and associations are broken and scattered. Meanwhile, children are raised pessimistically in a dangerous environment, restricted by ever-tightening codes and harsh judgements from their elders.

The Current Saeculum

One can see a trend of increasing protection of children in the recent American experience. Zero-tolerance rules, laws named after victimized children (Megan's Law, Amber's Law), and endless political wrangling over the educational system are all indicators of the Third Turning child rearing mode. The urgency and concern of adults are helping to develop a new Hero generation, civic-minded and optimistic, which is destined to provide the politically powerful leaders of America's next regime.

This regime will be forged by the epic trials of the Fourth Turning, which may or may not be upon us. This is the phase of the cycle in which the Hero generation comes of age and the political order is transformed according to the new values which arose in the previous Second Turning phase. It is a dangerous and difficult time, during which children are heavily protected, developing into a sensitive and caring Artist generation. This Artist generation has a quiet coming of age in the subsequent First Turning of the new cycle, as the inheritors of the new regime.

The Four Turnings

Turning Name Description Related Season
First High Era of prosperity and civic growth. Spring
Second Awakening Political regime faces spiritual challenge from rising generation. Summer
Third Unraveling Era of self-absorption and civic decay. Autumn
Fourth Crisis Political regime is transformed in a trial by fire. Winter
The four turnings, adapted from The Fourth Turning, 1997, Broadway Books

America's Living Generations

  • Lost (Nomad, born 1883-1900) The generation that gave the 1920s its roar. Examples: Dwight Eisenhower, F. Scott Fitzgerald, George Patton, Harry Truman, Mae West
  • G.I. (Hero, born 1901-1924) The "greatest generation," which fought WWII and built up the nation during its post-War boom. Examples: Lucille Ball, Walt Disney, Judy Garland, Bob Hope, Ronald Reagan
  • Silent (Artist, born 1925-1942) They grew up as quiet, sensitive types and then had mid-life crises in the 1970s. Examples: Woody Allen, Judy Blume, Phil Donahue, Jane Fonda, Colin Powell
  • Boomer (Prophet, born 1943-1960) The rebellious generation which gave America its famous 1960s generation gap. Examples: George W. Bush, Hillary Clinton, Bill Gates, Michael Jackson, Madonna
  • Gen-X (Nomad, born 1961-1981) The latchkey kids of the 1970s; they have fared the least well in post-revolutionary America. Examples: Matt Drudge, Jodie Foster, Michael Jordan, Courtney Love, Barack Obama
  • Millennial (Hero, born 1982-?) The "babies on board" of the 1980s who have been the focus of adult attention ever since. Examples: Reggie Bush, Sarah Hughes, Scarlett Johanson, Haley Joel Osment
  • Homeland (Artist, born ?-) The Homeland Generation is probably being born now, or at least will be soon.


See a chart of the complete cycle of four turnings.

To learn more about this theory, visit

Current ages of the living generations
Lost 106+
G.I. 82-106
Silent 64-82
Boomer 46-64
Gen-X 25-46
Millennial ?-25
Homeland ?

Millennial Saeculum
High 1946-1964
Awakening 1964-1984
Unraveling 1984-?
Crisis ?-


Portions of this page are from The Fourth Turning, William Strauss and Neil Howe, copyright 1996-97 Broadway Books.
All other content is copyright 2002-2007 Generation Watch. All rights reserved.