Generations Forged By Events of Their Time

Each of the four major generational groups in America – Traditionalists, Baby Boomers, Generation X and Millennials – have been forged by varied influences and have greatly different values and expectations.

GenerationsWorkTraditionalists, those born from 1900 to 1945, were shaped by the Great Depression, two world wars and the dawn of the space age. They lived through or were shaped by parents who survived the Great Depression. The Traditionalists experienced hard times while growing, were followed by times of prosperity.

Baby Boomers, born 1946 to 1964, were shaped by the civil rights movement, the Vietnam War, the sexual revolution and the Cold War. They include the post-war babies who grew up to be the radicals of the 70s and yuppies of the 80s. As children they were promised “the American dream” and they pursue that promise. As a result they are seen as being greedy, materialistic and ambitious.

Generation X, born 1965 to 1980, were forged by Watergate, the energy crisis, dual income and single parent families. They are the first generation of latchkey kids and have been influenced by the end of the Cold War, working mothers and an increased divorce rate. They are considered to be the first generation that will not do as well financially as their parents did.

Millennials, born 1981 to 2000, grew up in an era of AIDS, 9/11, terrorist attacks and school shootings. They were more sheltered than previous generations as parents strived to protect them from the evils of the world. They came of age in a period of economic expansion and were the first generation of children with schedules.

While Traditionalists considered education a dream, Baby Boomers looked on it as a birthright, Generation X saw it as a way to get there and the Millennials think of it as an incredible expense.

Traditionalists focused on family and community, the Boomers zeroed in on success, Generation X worried about time and the Millennials seem to be all about individuality. Traditionalists dealt with money by paying cash and emphasizing saving, while Baby Boomers believed in buy now, pay later. Generation X returned to cautious spending and savings emphasis, while Millennials simply earn to spend.

Traditionalists believe in hard work, respect for authority and put seniority and company first. Baby Boomers are driven to be workaholics with long hours and a solid work ethic. Generation X believes in working smarter, not longer and are more self-reliant while Millennials are into multitasking and have an entrepreneurial bent.

Traditionalists think of Hoover Dam when considering technology. Baby Boomers think of the microwave, while Generation X thinks of what they can hold in their hand – a cell phone or PDA. Millennials consider technology to be more intangible and communicate via the internet, picture phones and e-mail.

Traditionalists are more likely to communicate one-on-one or by writing a memo. Boomers grew up with touch-tone phones and a call me anytime attitude, while Generation X has cell phones and a cal me only at work attitude.

Traditionalists are likely to be discrete, Boomers diplomatic, Generation X blunt, direct and immediate and Millennials are polite and rely on voice mail and e-mail as primary tools, though they will communicate in person for very important messages.

What motivates the generations? For Traditionalists it is respect and security. Baby Boomers want to be valued and needed and see money as the ultimate reward. Generation X wants freedom, no rules and time off. Millennials are motivated by time off and want to work with other bright people.

Family and work are compartmentalized and kept separate by traditionalists, while Baby Boomers and Millennials work to live, not live to work. Millennials value their lifestyle over upward mobility and will reject work promotions that will upset their lifestyle.

Construction Boom Ahead


There’s a huge construction boom coming and baby boomers will be behind it. The big generational bulge of the 20th century hasn’t finished exerting its outsized influence yet, and commercial real estate will continue feeling its weight in the next quarter century.

“We’re an aging population, so in 25 years there’s going to be a heavy focus on medical-related facilities,” said Kenneth Riggs, president and CEO of Real Estate Research Corp. Riggs also predicts a shift back toward affordable, multi-generational households that will translate to increased multifamily residential properties, particularly in close proximity to mass transit.

In seven years boomers will turn 75, a magical number in one way, said Linneman, because that’s when people usually begin moving into senior housing. When this huge and demanding demographic is ready for the next stage of their lifestyle, rest assured: “It will explode,” he said. “Right now senior housing is a food group in real estate, but it’s like vegan or something, not that established. In 25 years it will be a major food group.”


Urbanization Will Sweep the Planet

megacityIf there’s one thing the experts are clear about, it’s that our world will be significantly more urbanized by 2039. There will be a rise in the number of mega-cities – urban areas with more than 10 million inhabitants.

Baby boomers will be part of that phenomenon. Many empty-nesters are attracted to the manageable charms of the city. But it’s the desire of Gen X, those born in 1966-1976, and Gen Y, those born in 1977-1994, cohorts to live, work and play in a compact area that’s largely fueling the trend. Multifamily residential stands to gain, but companies keen to attract young, educated talent are paying attention, too, and positioning themselves accordingly.

“Some businesses today consider location even more important than compensation in recruitment efforts,” said Rick Cleveland, a managing director at Cushman & Wakefield. “That’s driving a lot of the trend toward urban areas.”

That doesn’t mean that any old building on any city block will suffice for the worker of 2039. “The features that older-generation office spaces have, in terms of locations and amenities surrounding or in the facility, don’t work for the new-age tenant,” said Sicola, who points to companies in Manhattan that are abandoning midtown for the west edge of the island and buildings that can be retrofitted for open infrastructure.

“For baby boomers, it was ‘live to work,’ but Gen Xers are working to live. They like to take breaks, have fun. Incorporating that into the workplace is critical,” Cleveland said.