What Is a Millennial? Birth Year Guidelines Set for How to Identify Generations

It’s a favorite parlor game of people of a certain age: Find the young people and ask them, “Are you a millennial?”

It’s not always an easy question to answer—not insignificantly because older folks have loaded the term with so many negative stereotypes: Millenials are coddledmillennials are entitled, millennials are snowflakes. (All of that's generation-war propaganda, by the way.) But like most generational tags, the boundaries of millennial-dom are fungible based on who’s defining the term.

On Thursday, though, the Pew Research Center staked out clear in and out points for who is and isn’t a millennial.

“In order to keep the millennial generation analytically meaningful, and to begin looking at what might be unique about the next cohort, Pew Research Center will use 1996 as the last birth year for millennials for our future work,” Pew Research Center president Michael Dimock wrote. “Anyone born between 1981 and 1996 (ages 22-37 in 2018) will be considered a millennial, and anyone born from 1997 onward will be part of a new generation.”

In his piece, Dimock admits that “generational cutoff points aren’t an exact science,” especially when talking about younger cohorts. The U.S. Census Bureau has defined baby boomers as anyone born between 1946-1964, but the generations that followed have existed on a perpetually sliding scale. Pew defines Generation X, for example, as covering the years 1965-1980, while the Harvard Center pushes the end date to 1984.

Things get even more complicated for millennials—a group the olds have tried to define (and shun) seemingly for years: Nielsen Media Research pegs the group to the years 1977-1995, PricewaterhouseCoopers defined it as 1980-1995, Time magazine used 1980-2000, and the reality show Survivor set it as 1984-1997.

Pew settled on 1981-1996 based on a few key criteria: from their understanding of the “historical signficance” of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, to their role in sending Barack Obama to the White House in 2008, to their comfort and adaptability when it comes to technology. (The next generation has grown up in an “always on” environment, Dimock writes, the implications of which are still unclear.)

Another crucial data point is the economy. “Most millennials came of age and entered the workforce facing the height of an economic recession,” which led to a decline in earnings and a necessary putting off of important landmarks, Dimock continues. “The long-term effects of this 'slow start' for millennials will be a factor in American society for decades.” Younger people, meanwhile, are coming of age in an era of “brokenness,” as Kelsey D. Atherton observed on Twitter:

So now that we all understand where millennials start and stop, that’s the end of it right? We can all move on? Not quite.

“As has been the case in the past, this means that the differences within generations can be just as great as the differences across generations, and the youngest and oldest within a commonly defined cohort may feel more in common with bordering generations than the one to which they are assigned,” Dimock writes. “This is a reminder that generations themselves are inherently diverse and complex groups, not simple caricatures.”

Let the think pieces commence!