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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

Which U.S. Generation Wields the Most Economic Power?

Baby Boomers hold more economic power than Gen X, Millennials, and Gen Z together. See how it all breaks down.

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Which U.S. Generation Wields the Most Economic Power?

In our inaugural Generational Power Index (GPI) 2021, we’ve ranked generations on how much power and influence they hold in American society.

And when it comes to money and economic power, our research has concluded that Baby Boomers, those between the ages of 57-75, have more influence than Millennials, Gen X, and Gen Z combined.

GenerationEconomic Power Share
Baby Boomers43.4%
Gen X26.1%
Silent17.6%
Millennials9.7%
Gen Z3.3%

These findings may seem intuitive, but what exactly contributes to economic power? To find out, let’s take a closer look at the GPI’s underlying variables.

The Building Blocks of Economic Power

Our starting point was to define the age ranges of each generation:

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

Using these ranges as a framework, we then calculated our four underlying variables of economic power. Here’s what the distribution within each one looked like:

economic power category breakdown

The earnings variable represents the median weekly earnings of full-time workers in the U.S., and was the most evenly distributed of the four variables. Gen Z had the lowest median weekly earnings ($614), while Gen X had the highest ($1,103).

Boomers established a clear lead in the second variable, net worth, which represents each generation’s share of overall U.S. wealth. As it turns out, Boomers hold 53% of all wealth in the country—more than all other generations combined.

The third variable captures each generation’s share of billionaire wealth, and was dominated by Boomers and the Silent Gen. We calculated this variable by starting with the top 1,000 billionaires globally, then filtering for Americans only.

The final variable, business leaders, is based on two underlying metrics: the generational share of both S&P 500 CEOs and small business owners. This enabled us to capture data from two sides of the business spectrum to see who holds power there.

Download the Generational Power Report (.pdf)

The Generational Power Index

Shifting Dynamics in Economic Power

America’s wealth distribution is not stagnant, meaning the balance of economic power shifts with each passing year. Keeping this in mind, here are two of the most compelling trends that we discovered while analyzing data for the GPI report.

1. Younger Generations Show Sluggish Growth

The following chart illustrates each generation’s share of household wealth over time.

GPI Share of US household wealth

It makes sense that Baby Boomers would hold the most wealth of any generation. They have had more time to accumulate assets, and the population of Boomers is roughly three times higher than that of the Silent Generation.

What’s more interesting, however, is the stark difference in wealth trajectories between Boomers and younger generations.

While Boomers entered the workforce in a prosperous post-WWII era, Millennials and Gen Z have either started their careers in the aftermath of the 2008 Financial Crisis, or in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

To put it in perspective, when Baby Boomers were as old as today’s Millennials in 1989, they held 21.3% of U.S. wealth. That’s more than four times higher than what Millennials hold now.

2. Small Business: The 99.9%

America’s small businesses may not have the same scale as global corporations like Apple or Amazon, but they are an incredibly important part of the U.S. economy.

In fact, small businesses make up 99.9% of all U.S. companies, and employ one-third of the nation’s workforce.

Here is who runs small businesses, from a generational perspective:

GPI Share of Small Business Ownership

The 13% share held by Millennials may not sound too impressive, but it is one of the cohort’s strongest areas for economic power.

Looking forward, it seems entrepreneurship will grow into an area of strength for both Millennials and Gen Z, who are 188% more likely to want to create a side business compared to older generations.

Combine this with the fact that e-commerce adoption has been accelerating even faster than expected due to the pandemic, and it’s easy to see how younger, more tech-savvy generations could quickly expand their influence.

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Technology

The World’s Top 50 Influencers Across Social Media Platforms

Which influencers have the most total social media followers? We tally up follower counts across all major platforms, from Twitter to TikTok.

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Most-followed social media influencers across Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, YouTube, TikTok, Twitch

Visualizing the World’s Top 50 Influencers

In the modern digital world, social media reach is power.

The people with the most followers on Twitter, for example, have a massive platform to spread their messages, while those with large, engaged followings on Instagram are an advertiser’s dream sponsor partner.

Social media can also be an equalizer of power. It’s true that many celebrities boast large followings across platforms, but social media has also enabled previously unknown personalities to turn YouTube or TikTok fame into veritable star power and influence.

Who has the biggest reach across the entire social media universe? Instead of looking at who has the most followers on Instagram, Twitter, or other networks, we ranked the most-followed personalities across all major platforms combined.

Who Has the Most Overall Followers on Social Media?

We parsed through hundreds of the most-followed accounts on multiple platforms to narrow down the top influencers across social media as of April 2021.

Sources include trackers of the most followers on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, YouTube, Twitch, and TikTok, verified directly on site and with social media tracker Socialblade.

The results? A top 50 list of social media influencers consisting of athletes, musicians, politicians, and other personalities.

RankNameCategoryTotal FollowersBiggest Platform
#1Cristiano RonaldoSports517MInstagram
#2Justin BieberMusic455MInstagram
#3Ariana GrandeMusic429MInstagram
#4Selena GomezMusic425MInstagram
#5Taylor SwiftMusic361MInstagram
#6Dwayne JohnsonFilm & TV342MInstagram
#7Katy PerryMusic338MInstagram
#8Kylie JennerOther333MInstagram
#9RihannaMusic332MTwitter
#10Kim KardashianOther319MInstagram
#11Lionel MessiSports298MInstagram
#12NeymarSports283MInstagram
#13ShakiraMusic282MFacebook
#14Jennifer LopezMusic277MInstagram
#15BeyoncéMusic267MInstagram
#16Ellen DeGeneresFilm & TV260MInstagram
#17Miley CyrusMusic235MInstagram
#18Nicki MinajMusic232MInstagram
#19Barack ObamaPolitics221MTwitter
#20Will SmithFilm & TV217MFacebook
#21Kendall JennerOther212MInstagram
#22Demi LovatoMusic211MInstagram
#23Lady GagaMusic210MTwitter
#24Kevin HartFilm & TV201MInstagram
#25Virat KohliSports195MInstagram
#26EminemMusic194MFacebook
#27DrakeMusic192MInstagram
#28Khloé KardashianOther191MInstagram
#29Bruno MarsMusic191MFacebook
#30Chris BrownMusic187MInstagram
#31Vin DieselFilm & TV177MFacebook
#32Narendra ModiPolitics175MTwitter
#33Justin TimberlakeMusic175MTwitter
#34Billie EilishMusic171MInstagram
#35Charli D'AmelioOther169MTikTok
#36Kourtney KardashianOther165MInstagram
#37Cardi BMusic160MInstagram
#38LeBron JamesSports157MInstagram
#39AdeleMusic156MFacebook
#40Priyanka ChopraFilm & TV144MInstagram
#41Germán GarmendiaGaming143MYoutube
#42Wiz KhalifaMusic142MFacebook
#43Felix "PewDiePie" KjellbergGaming141MYoutube
#44Akshay KumarFilm & TV140MInstagram
#45Snoop DoggMusic138MInstagram
#46Deepika PadukoneFilm & TV138MInstagram
#47Britney SpearsMusic137MTwitter
#48Shawn MendesMusic136MInstagram
#49Whindersson Nunes BatistaOther135MInstagram
#50Salman KhanFilm & TV134MFacebook

Unsurprisingly, celebrities reign supreme on social media. As of April 2021, soccer superstar Cristiano Ronaldo was the most-followed person on social media with more than 500 million total followers.

But there are other illuminating highlights, such as the global reach of music. With large and diverse fanbases, artists account for half of the top 50 largest social media followings.

Also notable is the power of Instagram, which was the biggest platform for 67% of the top 50 social media influencers. This includes hard-to-categorize celebrities like the Kardashians and Jenners, which turned reality TV and social media fame into business and media empires.

Download the Generational Power Report (.pdf)

The Generational Power Index

The Most Followers on Twitter, TikTok, and YouTube

However, it’s not only celebrities that dominate social media.

Personalities that started on one social media platform and developed massive followings include TikTok’s most-followed star Charli D’Amelio and YouTubers Germán Garmendia, Felix “PewDiePie” Kjellberg, and Whindersson Nunes Batista.

Politicians were also prominent influencers. Former U.S. President Barack Obama has the most followers on Twitter, and India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi has more than 175 million followers across social media.

Former U.S. President Donald Trump would have also made the list with more than 140 million followers across social media before being banned from multiple platforms on January 8, 2021.

A Generational Look at Social Media Influence

While older generations have had to adapt to social media platforms, younger generations have grown up alongside them. As a measure of cultural importance, this gives Gen X, Millennials, and Gen Z a rare leg-up on older generations.

Millennials, in particular, hold the lion’s share of spots in this top 50 list:

Generation# of Influencers in GenerationTop Influencer in Generation
Gen Z4Kylie Jenner
Millennial33Cristiano Ronaldo
Gen X10Dwayne (The Rock) Johnson
Baby Boomer3Ellen DeGeneres

The average age of the top 50 influencers was just over 37.

In our Generational Power Index (GPI), which measures the share of power generations hold in various categories, digital platforms were a key area where Millennials derived their power and influence. Overall, Baby Boomers—and to a lesser extent, Gen X—still run the show in most areas of society today.

Social Media Influence, Going Forward

As most fans and advertisers know, not all social media accounts and followings are homogenous.

Many influencers with relatively small followings have more consistent engagement, and are often able to demand high advertising fees as a result.

Conversely, most social media platforms are reckoning with a severe glut of fake accounts or bots that inflate follower counts, impacting everything from celebrities and politicians to personalities and businesses.

Regardless, social media has become a mainstay platform (or soapbox) for today’s cultural influencers. Billions of people turn to social media for news, engagement, recommendations, and entertainment, and new platforms are always on the rise.

Editor’s Note: An earlier version of the data used for this story incorrectly counted Facebook likes instead of followers for some personalities. The content has since been corrected and updated.”

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