Are Generational Designations Useful?

It has become fairly common to refer to generations of people using¬† a nickname, like “Millennials” or “Gen X”. Are these designations useful?

It doesn’t take much effort to find articles or websites that define a generational group based on some age range. For example, the “Boomer” generation, named after the Baby Boom that occurred in the 1950s, typical includes anyone born between 1946 and 1964.

The exact dates, and even entire generations, are hotly disputed. However, regardless of the exact definition, many people find it convenient to group people together in this way. Then some broad generalizations can be drawn over the group.

For instance, the group referred to as “Gen X” is often called by the alternate name, the latch-key generation. This refers to the fact that many kids in this generation were highly independent, largely as a result of both parents entering the work force. Every day, latch-key kids got themselves home from school, made a snack, did homework, and entertained themselves without any assistance from parents.

However, it isn’t true that every single member of the generation was like this. In fact, it is doubtful that even a majority of people who are classified as “Gen X”¬† had this experience. Similar examples exist for any one of the defined generations.

As such, is it actually useful to draw these generalizations? While the idea of these groups might hold some appeal to our order-seeking brains, are they actually illuminating in some way? Are there actual, helpful inferences to be drawn by these generational classifications? Or do individuals defy stereotyping?

Related questions: How do you show your age? In what ways do you not act your age? With which groups do you identify?