What is a Millennial? Making Sense of Generational Labels

It would be nice if there was an official generational naming committee. Unfortunately, no such thing exists, so anyone is free to name segments, cohorts or generations in any way that suits their purposes. This is called segmentation, and it is standard practice. It is confusing however, when it comes time to have a conversation about a particular demographic or mindset.

In our work with clients, we make an effort to define our terms. For the record, here is our lexicon and reasoning.

Gen Y/Echo Boomers:

A demographic group generally thought to span current tweens and twenty-somethings. Dates vary but generally range from birth years 1979-1994. This is a term you see in text books. It is often used interchangeably with Millennial, which isn’t wrong but can be confusing.


A mindset associated most strongly with older members of Gen Y  but also including some young adults over 30.

Pew defines this mindset via a 14 question quiz – How Millennial Are You?  A score of 73 or higher qualifies you as a Millennial. This data chart identifies the answers that classify you as a Millennial. Outlaw Consulting offers an excellent description of key Millennial ‘mindsets’.  The word Millennial was bestowed by Neil Howe and William Strauss based on their observation that the first wave would graduate high school in 2000. It is my preferred label as I believe we should market to the mindset, not the demographic.

Net Generation:

Term inspired by a $4 million research project  and described in Don Tapscott’s book, Grown Up Digital, it refers roughly to the same age range as Millennial, those in their late teens or twenties.

This term focuses on one of the defining characteristics and shapers of this generation. Personally I find it limiting. This generation is distinguished from others by more than its adeptness with technology today and this distinguisher will diminish with time. Indeed, the next generation will be even more digitally native than Gen Y.

What’s Next? Here come the 20/20’s

I would like to go on record as the person to officially dub the generation following Gen Y as the “20/20 Generation”. (You heard it here first!). Two reasons why this is appropriate:

1)  2020 is (roughly) the year that those born in 2002 will graduate from high school.

2) As the beneficiaries of the Millennial legacy, I believe this age group will share the same values as Millennials, but be more adept at  putting many of those values in practice.

Already we are seeing a rapid closing of the gap between Millennials and older generations on usage of technology. It will no longer be about the technology but what you do with it.   Millennials will get the credit for making a radical break in the ways their view and manage their lives, but the 20/20 generation will be the ones to actually see it through in the areas of career, the environment, social justice and more.