Timeline: Key Events in U.S. History that Defined Generations
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Timeline: Key Events in U.S. History that Defined Generations

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The Generational Power Index
The Generational Power Index
Introducing our new index, which ranks U.S. generations on their economic, political, and cultural influence.

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GPI Timeline Biggest Historical Events by Generation

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Key Events in U.S. History that Defined Generations

Looking back at history is a necessity when trying to understand what the future may hold.

Using insights from our Generational Power Index 2021 report, along with survey data from Pew Research in 2016, we identified some key milestones for each cohort, to understand how these events helped shape each generation’s unique perspectives.

Quick Context on Generational Definitions

Before diving in, it’s important to clarify which generations we’ve included in our research, along with their age and birth year ranges.

GenerationAge range (years)Birth year range
The Silent Generation76 and over1928-1945
Baby Boomers57-751946-1964
Gen X41-561965-1980
Millennials25-401981-1996
Gen Z9-241997-2012
Gen Alpha8 and below2013-present

These generational categories aren’t universal, but we went with the most widely cited definitions from reputable U.S. sources including the Pew Research and the U.S. Federal Reserve. It’s also worth noting that these generational definitions are somewhat specific to North America. For this reason, the focus is on U.S. historic events.

Defining Events: Silent Generation

The oldest members of the Silent Generation were 11 years old at the start of World War II, and were teenagers by the time it ended. In other words, their formative years fell smack dab in the middle of one of the biggest international conflicts in modern history.

Because of this, it makes sense that World War II ranks as the second most impactful event in their lifetimes, trailing only the far more recent Sept. 11 terrorist attacks (2001).

Most Impactful Historic Events, Silent Gen (Survey Results)

RankSilent GenSurvey %
#1Sept. 1159%
#2WWII44%
#3JFK Assassination41%
#4Vietnam War37%
#5Moon landing29%
#6Obama election28%
#7The tech revolution27%
#8Civil rights movement18%
#9Korean War18%
#10Iraq/Afghanistan wars14%

In fact, the Silent Generation cited four different wars on their list, more than any other cohort. For context, Boomers identified three conflicts (including the Cold War), while Millennials only referenced one (Iraq/Afghanistan).

Of course, other not-so-violent events made the list as well. And interestingly, some of these impressionable moments occurred later on in life.

For example, the youngest members of The Silent Generation were already in their mid-t0-late forties when cellphones became common in the ‘90s—yet, 27% identified the tech revolution as one of the top 10 most impactful events that happened in their lifetime.

Clearly, life never stops throwing you curve balls—no matter how far along you might be.

Most Notable Historical Events: Baby Boomers

Many of the historical experiences cited by Baby Boomers were related to war and violent acts. For instance, Boomers identified two assassinations on their list—John F. Kennedy’s in 1963, and Martin Luther King’s in 1968.

Most Impactful Historic Events, Boomers (Survey Results)

RankBaby BoomersSurvey %
#1Sept. 1170%
#2JFK Assassination45%
#3Vietnam War41%
#4Obama election38%
#5Moon landing35%
#6The tech revolution26%
#7Civil rights movement18%
#8Fall of Berlin Wall/end of Cold War16%
#9MLK assassination15%
#10Iraq/Afghanistan wars11%

For this generation, the moon landing in 1969 made the cut, as did Barack Obama’s election win in 2008.

Baby Boomers only identified one event that was unique to their cohort (Martin Luther King’s death). It’s worth noting that responses varied between Americans of different racial backgrounds. Not surprisingly, Black Americans were far more likely to name MLK’s death as a top defining moment.

Most Notable Historical Events: Gen X

For Gen Xers, two unique events made their list: the Challenger disaster (1986) and the Gulf War (1991). Interestingly, neither of of these events stood out for other generations.

The Challenger disaster impact was widely felt because it involved civilians alongside astronauts, making the space shuttle’s explosion all the more notorious.

Most Impactful Historic Events, Gen Xers (Survey Results)

RankGen XSurvey %
#1Sept. 1179%
#2Obama election40%
#3Fall of Berlin Wall/end of Cold War21%
#4The tech revolution20%
#5Iraq/Afghanistan wars18%
#6Gulf War15%
#7Challenger disaster14%
#8Gay marriage10%
#9Hurricane Katrina10%
#10Columbine shooting9%
#11Orlando shooting9%
#12Oklahoma City bombing9%

Hurricane Katrina (which occurred in 2005) is the only natural disaster to make it on any of these lists. The hurricane—which caused a significant share of New Orleans’ population to resettle—left a lasting impression on the nation.

Most Notable Historical Events: Millennials

Millennials remember the September 11 attacks the most of all generations, with 86% citing it as their most influential event. They also paid close attention to the aftermath of this occurrence, as marked by the inclusion of both the Iraq/Afghanistan wars and the death of Osama Bin Laden among their most notable events.

Most Impactful Historic Events, Millennials (Survey Results)

RankMillennialsSurvey %
#1Sept.1186%
#2Obama election47%
#3Iraq/Afghanistan wars24%
#4Gay marriage19%
#5The tech revolution18%
#6Orlando shooting17%
#7Hurricane Katrina11%
#8Columbine shooting10%
#9Bin Laden10%
#10Sandy Hook7%
#11Boston Marathon bombing7%
#12Great Recession7%

Sadly, a lot of Millennials recollect instances of gun violence more than any other generation, from Orlando and Columbine to Sandy Hook.

Last but not least, Millennials are the only generation to note the Global Financial Crisis of 2008, and the subsequent Great Recession, as a momentous event. This makes sense considering many of them began their careers in its aftermath.

Gen Z and Younger

The Pew Research survey data was collected in 2016, so opinions on more recent events have not been collected.

That said, it could be premature to say in the short term which events will leave a lasting impression on generations, young and old.

According to the above data, the election of Barack Obama was a lasting milestone in recent history. Will the election of Donald Trump leave a similar impact? How will COVID-19 be regarded in the future? Time will tell which events will define future generations.

Moments, Movements, and Everything in Between

One key takeaway worth emphasizing is just how varied these formative events can be. Some were experienced as a single moment, while others were a culmination of shifts over several years.

It’s also clear that timing and duration are not the only determining factors behind an event’s influence on American society. For example, the moon landing was a tangible moment with a date stamp, whereas the tech revolution has a much fuzzier start (before exploding in significance alongside the Dotcom boom and bust).

Also interesting is what is absent from the top results. For example, the Global Financial Crisis of 2008 is barely referenced.

In short, a variety of impactful events and more gradual revolutions have made their mark on American society. Some have influenced specific generations, while others have transcended generational boundaries and unified the American public.

Download the Generational Power Report (.pdf)

The Generational Power Index

For a full methodology of how we built the Generational Power Index, see pages 28-30 in the report PDF. This is the first year of the report, and any feedback is welcomed.

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Demographics

Visualizing the World’s Most Popular Religions

This graphic shows a breakdown of the world’s major religions, and how much of the global population follows each one.

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World's Religions

Visualizing the World’s Most Popular Religions

According to some estimates, there are over 4,000 religions, faiths groups, and denominations that exist around the world today. Researchers and academics generally categorize the world’s religions into five major groups: Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, and Judaism.

This graphic by Chit Chart visualizes the most popular religions around the world, using the latest available data from Index Mundi’s world demographics.

In addition to the five major religious groups, the graphic includes two more categories: one for a collective of Folk religions and another for people who are unaffiliated with a religion.

The Religions with the Most Followers

Although the number of people who follow a religion has decreased in recent decades, 82.8% of the global population still identifies with one of the world’s major religions.

Here’s a breakdown of the most popular religions, ranked by their following as a percentage of the world’s population:

RankReligion% of World’s Population
1Christian31.4%
2Muslim23.2%
3Unaffiliated16.4%
4Hindu15.0%
5Buddhist7.1%
6Folk Religions5.9%
7Jewish0.2%
8Other0.8%

Christianity has the largest following with approximately 31% of the global population. Muslims make up the second-largest religious group, accounting for 23.2% of the world’s population.

Roughly 16.4% of the global population is unaffiliated with a religion. This figure exceeds the percentage of people who identify with Hinduism (15%), Buddhism (7.1%), Folk Religions (5.9%), or Judaism (0.2%).

The World’s Religions from Oldest to Newest

Hinduism is considered the oldest religion in the world, originating in the Indus River Valley (modern-day Pakistan) circa 7000 BCE.

While Judaism came after Hinduism, it is thought to be the oldest of the three monotheistic Abrahamic faiths, making it older than Christianity and Islam.

It began circa 2000 BCE in the Southern Levant (modern-day Israel, Palestine, and Jordan). By contrast, Christianity was founded in the 1st century and began as a movement within Judaism.

Scholars typically date the creation of Islam to the 7th century, making it the youngest of the world’s major religions on this list. Islam was established in Mecca (modern-day Saudi-Arabia).

One religion that’s not included on this list is Sikhism. Founded in the late 15th century, it’s relatively new, especially compared to other religions like Hinduism or Judaism. Yet, despite being new, Sikhism has a large following—according to some estimates, there are over 25 million Sikhs worldwide.

What are Folk Religions?

A folk religion is defined as an ethnic or cultural practice that exists outside the theological doctrine of organized religions.

Lacking sacred texts, Folk religions are more concerned with spirituality than rituals or rites. Examples of Folk religions include Native American traditions, Chinese folk religions, and traditional African religions.

Since Folk religions are less institutionalized, they are especially challenging to measure and often excluded from surveys. With that said, an estimated 5.9% of the global population (approximately 430 million people) practice a Folk religion.

The Fastest-Growing Religions

While Islam is the newest of the big five religions, it’s currently the world’s fastest-growing one too. For context, here’s the estimated percent change among the seven religion categories, between 2015 and 2060:

RankReligious GroupEst. % change in population size (2015-2060)
1Muslims70%
2Christians34%
3Hindus27%
4Jews15%
5Folk religions5%
6Unaffiliated3%
7Buddhists-7%

Islam’s rapid growth means it may surpass Christianity as the world’s largest religion within the next half-century. What’s causing this growth?

According to Pew Research Center, the main reason is simply demographics—on average, Muslim women have 2.9 children, which the average of all non-Muslims is 2.2.

Muslims are also concentrated in Africa and the Middle East, the two regions predicted to have the highest population increases in the next few decades.

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Demographics

Mapped: A Decade of Population Growth and Decline in U.S. Counties

This map shows which counties in the U.S. have seen the most growth, and which places have seen their populations dwindle in the last 10 years.

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A Decade of Population Growth and Decline in U.S. Counties

There are a number of factors that determine how much a region’s population changes.

If an area sees a high number of migrants, along with a strong birth rate and low death rate, then its population is bound to increase over time. On the flip side, if more people are leaving the area than coming in, and the region’s birth rate is low, then its population will likely decline.

Which areas in the United States are seeing the most growth, and which places are seeing their populations dwindle?

This map, using data from the U.S. Census Bureau, shows a decade of population movement across U.S. counties, painting a detailed picture of U.S. population growth between 2010 and 2020.

Counties With The Biggest Population Growth from 2010-2020

To calculate population estimates for each county, the U.S. Census Bureau does the following calculations:

A county’s base population → plus births → minus deaths → plus migration = new population estimate

 
From 2010 to 2020, Maricopa County in Arizona saw the highest increase in its population estimate. Over a decade, the county gained 753,898 residents. Below are the counties that saw the biggest increases in population:

RankCountyPoint of ReferenceStatePop. Growth (2010–2020)
#1Maricopa CountyPhoenix, ScottsdaleArizona+753,898
#2Harris CountyHoustonTexas+630,711
#3Clark CountyLas VegasNevada+363,323
#4King CountySeattleWashington+335,884
#5Tarrant CountyFort Worth, ArlingtonTexas+305,180
#6Bexar CountySan AntonioTexas+303,982
#7Riverside CountyRiverside, Palm SpringsCalifornia+287,626
#8Collin CountyPlanoTexas+284,967
#9Travis CountyAustinTexas+270,111
#10Hillsborough CountyTampaFlorida+264,446

Phoenix and surrounding areas grew faster than any other major city in the country. The region’s sunny climate and amenities are popular with retirees, but another draw is housing affordability. Families from more expensive markets—California in particular—are moving to the city in droves. This is a trend that spilled over into the pandemic era as more people moved into remote and hybrid work situations.

Texas counties saw a lot of growth as well, with five of the top 10 gainers located in the state of Texas. A big draw for Texas is its relatively affordable housing market. In 2021, average home prices in the state stood at $172,500$53,310 below the national average.

Counties With The Biggest Population Drops from 2010-2020

On the opposite end of the spectrum, here’s a look at the top 10 counties that saw the biggest declines in their populations over the decade:

RankCountyPoint of ReferenceStatePop. Growth (2010–2020)
#1Cook CountyChicagoIllinois-90,693
#2Wayne CountyDetroitMichigan-74,224
#3Cuyahoga CountyClevelandOhio-50,220
#4Genesee CountyFlintMichigan-20,165
#5Suffolk CountyLong IslandNew York-20,064
#6Caddo ParishShreveportLouisiana-18,173
#7Westmoreland CountyMurrysvillePennsylvania-17,942
#8Hinds CountyJacksonMississippi-17,751
#9Kanawha CountyCharlestonWest Virginia-16,672
#10Cambria CountyJohnstownPennsylvania-14,786

The largest drops happened in counties along the Great Lakes, including Cook County (which includes the city of Chicago) and Wayne County (which includes the city of Detroit).

For many of these counties, particularly those in America’s “Rust Belt”, population drops over this period were a continuation of decades-long trends. Wayne County is an extreme example of this trend. From 1970 to 2020, the area lost one-third of its population.

U.S. Population Growth in Percentage Terms (2010-2020)

While the map above is great at showing where the greatest number of Americans migrated, it downplays big changes in counties with smaller populations.

For example, McKenzie County in North Dakota, with a 2020 population of just 15,242, was the fastest-growing U.S. county over the past decade. The county’s 138% increase was driven primarily by the Bakken oil boom in the area. High-growth counties in Texas also grew as new sources of energy were extracted in rural areas.

The nation’s counties are evenly divided between population increase and decline, and clear patterns emerge.

population changes in u.s. counties (%)

Pandemic Population Changes

More recent population changes reflect longer-term trends. During the COVID-19 pandemic, many of the counties that saw the strongest population increases were located in high-growth states like Florida and Texas.

Below are the 20 counties that grew the most from 2020 to 2021.

RankCountyPoint of ReferenceStatePop. Growth (2020–2021)
#1Maricopa CountyPhoenixArizona+58,246
#2Collin CountyPlanoTexas+36,313
#3Riverside CountyRiverside, Palm SpringsCalifornia+35,631
#4Fort Bend CountySugar LandTexas+29,895
#5Williamson CountyGeorgetownTexas+27,760
#6Denton CountyDentonTexas+27,747
#7Polk CountyLakelandFlorida+24,287
#8Montgomery CountyThe WoodlandsTexas+23,948
#9Lee CountyFort MyersFlorida+23,297
#10Utah CountyProvoUtah+21,843
#11Pinal CountySan Tan ValleyArizona+19,974
#12Clark CountyLas VegasNevada+19,090
#13Pasco CountyNew Port RicheyFlorida+18,322
#14Wake CountyRaleighNorth Carolina+16,651
#15St. Johns CountySt. AugustineFlorida+15,550
#16Hillsborough CountyTampaFlorida+14,814
#17Bexar CountySan AntonioTexas+14,184
#18Ada CountyBoiseIdaho+13,947
#19Osceola CountyKissimmeeFlorida+12,427
#20St. Lucie CountyFort PierceFlorida+12,304

Many of these counties are located next to large cities, reflecting a shift to the suburbs and larger living spaces. However, as COVID-19 restrictions ease, and the pandemic housing boom tapers off due to rising interest rates, it remains to be seen whether the suburban shift will continue, or if people begin to migrate back to city centers.

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