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

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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Misc

All World Languages in One Visualization

See the world’s major languages broken down by country in this stunning visualization.

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All World Languages, By Native Speakers

View a high resolution version of today’s graphic by clicking here.

Languages provide a window into culture and history. They’re also a unique way to map the world – not through landmasses or geopolitical borders, but through mother tongues.

The Tower of Babel

Today’s infographic from Alberto Lucas Lopez condenses the 7,102 known living languages today into a stunning visualization, with individual colors representing each world region.

Only 23 languages are spoken by at least 50 million native speakers. What’s more, over half the planet speaks at least one of these 23 languages.

Chinese dominates as a macrolanguage, but it’s important to note that it consists of numerous languages. Mandarin, Yue (including Cantonese), Min, Wu, and Hakka cover over 200 individual dialects, which vary further by geographic location.

CountryNative Chinese speakers (millions)
🇨🇳 China1,152.0
🇹🇼 Taiwan21.8
🇭🇰 Hong Kong SAR6.5
🇲🇾 Malaysia5.1
🇸🇬 Singapore1.8
🇹🇭 Thailand1.2
🇻🇳 Vietnam0.9
🇵🇭 Philippines0.7
🇲🇲 Myanmar0.5
🇲🇴 Macau SAR0.5
Other6.0
Total1,197 million

Chinese is one of the most challenging languages for English speakers to pick up, in part due its completely unfamiliar scripts. You’d have to know at least 3,000 characters to be able to read a newspaper, a far cry from memorizing the A-Z alphabet.

Spanglish Takes Over

After Chinese, the languages of Spanish and English sit in second and third place in terms of global popularity. The rapid proliferation of these languages can be traced back to the history of Spanish conquistadors in the Americas, and British colonies around the world.

Animation: Map of Colonization (1492 – 2008):
Colonization Map

Today, Spanish has 399 million native speakers, but these are mostly concentrated in Latin America. English has 335 million native speakers under its belt, with a widespread reach all over the globe.

Two Worlds, One Family

While the visualization makes all the world languages seem disparate, this linguistic family tree shows how they grew from a common root. It also explains how languages can evolve and branch out over time.

Language Tree

Created by Minna Sundberg. Full version.

This linguistic tree also includes many languages that are not on the large visualization of 23 mother tongues. Some of them might be considered endangered or at risk today, such as Catalan or Welsh. However, with globalization, a few interesting linguistic trends are arising.

1. Language revival
Certain enclaves of marginalized languages are being preserved out of pride for the traditional and cultural histories attached.

While Catalan was once banned, its rebirth is a key marker of identity in Barcelona. More than 150 universities teach Catalan worldwide. In the case of Welsh, a mammoth university project plans to make sure it does not die out. Researchers are compiling ten million Welsh words to preserve the past, present, and future of the language.

2. Language forecast
At this point in time, English is the lingua franca – adopted as a common language among speakers with different mother tongues. However, this status might soon be fuzzier as demographic trends continue.

The rise of China is an obvious one to consider. As China continues to increase its economic might and influence, its languages will proliferate as well.

At the same time, 26 African countries are projected to double their current size, many of which speak French as a first language. One study by investment bank Natixis suggests that Africa’s growth may well bring French to the forefront – making it the most-spoken language by 2050.

Could French provide a certain je ne sais quoi that no other world language can quite replace?

This post was first published in 2018. We have since updated it, adding in new content for 2021.

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Demographics

Ranked: The World’s Fastest Growing Cities

Nearly 60% of the world’s population lives in cities and this trend is not slowing down—take a look at the world’s 20 fastest growing cities.

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fastest growing cities

Ranked: The World’s Fastest Growing Cities

By 2025, the world’s population will reach over 8.1 billion people.

Most of that population growth will be concentrated in cities across Africa and Asia. To help paint a detailed picture, this map uses data from the United Nations to rank the top 20 fastest growing cities in the world in terms of average annual growth rate from 2020 to 2025.

Full Speed Ahead

The majority of the world’s fastest growing cities are located in Africa—in fact, 17 of the 20 are located on the continent, with four of the 20 cities being located in Nigeria specifically.

Population growth is booming across the entire continent, as many countries retain high birth rates. According to the World Bank, the 2019 fertility rate (births per woman) in Sub-Saharan Africa was 4.6, compared to the global fertility rate of 2.4.

CityCountryContinentAnnual Growth (2020-2025p)
Gwagwalada🇳🇬 NigeriaAfrica6.46%
Kabinda🇨🇩 Democratic Republic of CongoAfrica6.37%
Rupganj🇧🇩 BangladeshAsia6.36%
Lokoja🇳🇬 NigeriaAfrica5.93%
Uige🇦🇴 AngolaAfrica5.92%
Bujumbura🇧🇮 BurundiAfrica5.75%
Songea🇹🇿 TanzaniaAfrica5.74%
Xiongan🇨🇳 ChinaAsia5.69%
Potiskum🇳🇬 NigeriaAfrica5.65%
Bunia🇨🇩 Democratic Republic of CongoAfrica5.63%
Tete🇲🇿 MozambiqueAfrica5.56%
Cuito🇦🇴 AngolaAfrica5.48%
Hosur🇮🇳 IndiaAsia5.38%
Abomey-Calavi🇧🇯 BeninAfrica5.27%
Nnewi🇳🇬 NigeriaAfrica5.18%
Malanje🇦🇴 AngolaAfrica5.17%
Mbouda🇨🇲 CameroonAfrica5.16%
Quelimane🇲🇿 MozambiqueAfrica5.14%
Kampala🇺🇬 UgandaAfrica5.14%
Goma🇨🇩 Democratic Republic of CongoAfrica5.14%

Nigeria’s economy is largely based on petroleum which has resulted in the country becoming one of the strongest economies in Africa. This, coupled with a high birth rate and a resulting young population, has given the country a strong and rising workforce.

However, the population growth in Nigeria is both a blessing and a curse. The success of the economy, among other factors, has resulted in excessive rural-to-urban migration. This mass exodus from rural areas has led to less farming, which means the country now needs to import basic food staples at a high cost.

In Mozambique, Tete and Quelimane are growing 5.56% and 5.14% respectively. The country is expected to experience strong economic growth after facing contractions due to the pandemic. Forecasts predict that the Mozambiques’s economy will grow 4% by 2022.

Implications of Fast Growth

All of the top 20 fastest growing cities are located in either Africa or Asia, and they are far outpacing growth on other continents, such as Europe, for example.

Fastest Growing Cities: Europe vs. Global

Europe's Fastest Growing CitiesGrowth RateWorld's Fastest Growing CitiesGrowth Rate
🇷🇺 Balashikha, Russia2.01%🇳🇬 Gwagwalada6.46%
🇷🇺 Tyumen, Russia 1.88%🇨🇩 Kabinda6.37%
🇦🇱 Tiranë (Tirana), Albania1.63%🇧🇩 Rupganj6.36%
🇳🇴 Oslo, Norway 1.38%🇳🇬 Lokoja5.93%
🇷🇺 Sochi, Russia1.33%🇦🇴 Uige5.92%
🇬🇧 Coventry-Bedworth, UK1.32%🇧🇮 Bujumbura5.75%
🇸🇪 Stockholm, Sweden1.25%🇹🇿 Songea5.74%
🇨🇭 Lausanne, Switzerland1.23%🇨🇳 Xiongan5.69%
🇷🇺 Krasnodar, Russia1.22%🇳🇬 Potiskum5.65%
🇷🇺 Surgut, Russia1.17%🇨🇩 Bunia5.63%
🇷🇺 Podolsk, Russia1.16%🇲🇿 Tete5.56%
🇮🇪 Dublin, Ireland1.12%🇦🇴 Cuito5.48%
🇬🇧 London, UK1.12%🇮🇳 Hosur5.38%
🇳🇱 Utrecht, Netherlands1.11%🇧🇯 Abomey-Calavi5.27%
🇸🇪 Göteborg, Sweden1.07%🇳🇬 Nnewi5.18%
🇫🇷 Toulouse, France1.07%🇦🇴 Malanje5.17%
🇸🇪 Malmö, Sweden1.05%🇨🇲 Mbouda5.16%
🇫🇷 Montpellier, France1.04%🇲🇿 Quelimane5.14%
🇫🇷 Bordeaux, France0.99%🇺🇬 Kampala5.14%
🇨🇭 Genève, Switzerland0.99%🇨🇩 Goma5.14%

By 2050, Sub-Saharan Africa will be home to close to 2 billion people and roughly half will be under the age of 25. This represents an enormous labor force and opportunities for innovation and growth. In fact, in navigating the pandemic, Africa is already starting to capitalize on digital advances in both traditional and new sectors.

China has its eye on Africa, as evidenced through their multiple investments in infrastructure projects in the continent. Additionally, NATO countries have recently committed to investing similar amounts in Africa to counter China’s influence.

In spite of the economic potential, increased city sizes could be problematic for some of these countries. They will need to adapt to the issues associated with mass urbanization, like pollution, overcrowding, and high costs of living.

Changing Tides

Population booms can lead to massive economic growth, a larger (and younger) working population, and a growing domestic consumer market.

As the aforementioned cities continue their rapid expansion, and as people continue to flock to growing megacities in Africa and Asia, it could represent the beginning of an important economic shift that is worth keeping an eye on.

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