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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Misc

Mapped: Top Trending Searches of 2021 in Every U.S. State

From presidential elections, to cryptocurrencies and billionaires, here are the trending searches in every U.S. state in 2021.

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Map of trending searches in every U.S. state in 2021

The Trending Searches in 2021

Google’s data editor Simon Rogers once said, “You’re never as honest as you are with your search engine. You get a sense of what people genuinely care about and genuinely want to know.”

This look at trending searches for every U.S. state is a window into the topics people were truly curious about in 2021. From political tensions to meme stocks, and from Elon Musk to a devastating tornado, we saw a wide range of trending searches throughout the year.

In the above animated video, Reddit user u/V1Analytics pulls together the top trending search terms from Google’s 2021 Year in Search summary (for the period before mid-November 2021) and Google’s Daily Search Trends page (from mid-November to December 20th) to illustrate the daily trends for each state.

It’s fascinating to see what Americans were looking up this year.

Trending Searches Offer a Glimpse of American Psyche

In the year when COVID-19 vaccines became widely available, many Americans turned to the world’s most popular search engine to figure out how to come back to a life of normalcy.

In 2021, the search entries spoke to people’s interest in alternative assets like cryptocurrencies and NFTs, as well as persistent economic insecurity, evidenced by questions about when they would get their stimulus checks.

Entertainers and billionaires trended throughout the year, and so did topics of significant cultural impact at those moments in time.

Here is a look at the trending searches of 2021 and when they were searched most:

TopicTrending MonthsCategory
BidenJanuaryPolitical Figure
CapitolJanuaryMonuments
Mega MillionsJanuaryCulture
GMEJanuaryGaming
DogecoinJanuary, April, MayCryptocurrency
The WeekndFebruaryEntertainment
ValheimFebruaryGaming
Power OutageJune, July, AugustSociety
Stimulus CheckMarchSociety
Lil Nas XMarchEntertainment
DMXAprilEntertainment
Prince PhilipAprilFamous Personalities
Jake PaulApril, AugustContent Creator
AMC StockMay, June, AugustEntertainment
Jeff BezosJulyBusinessman
Simone BilesJulyAthlete
AfghanistanAugust, SeptemberCountry
Hurricane IdaAugustClimate Change
Gabby PetitoSeptemberCrime
Squid GameOctoberTV Shows
Alec BaldwinOctoberActor
Travis ScottNovemberEntertainment
Kyle RittenhouseNovemberCrime
AdeleNovemberEntertainment
TornadoDecemberClimate Change
Elon MuskDecemberBusinessman

Notable Trending Searches in 2021

Here’s a look at a few of the notable searches that trended across the U.S. in 2021:

President Biden and Capitol

Unsurprisingly, the year started with news of the presidential election and the U.S. Capitol riot, as President Biden was set to take office.

In six states, however, the top trending search was still related to the Mega Millions jackpot, even as individuals stormed the Capitol Building.

Valheim

One of the most sought-after games of the year, Valheim, came on the market in February, 2021. By August, it had garnered over 8 million users. The developing company’s new Hearth and Home patch has skyrocketed the game’s appeal even more.

Stimulus Check

In March, the U.S. government unveiled their plan to distribute the third stimulus check to Americans.

People started looking for more information about when they would be getting their checks and if there had been any changes in the amount they would receive.

Dogecoin

Created in 2013 as a parody of Bitcoin, Dogecoin saw record trading levels in May 2021. This was in part due to Elon Musk supporting the cryptocurrency.

The Dogecoin market capitalization surged to a peak of $88 billion, worth more than three-quarters of the companies in the S&P 500.

AMC Stock

After suffering significant losses due to the pandemic-related shuttering of theaters across the country, AMC Entertainment became a fan favorite of Reddit-based retail traders who drove the share price up beyond what most analysts considered reasonable.

AMC’s stock price rose by 95% in a couple of days, reaching a record high of $63 per share. This was the latest phase of the meme stock frenzy.

Afghanistan

President Biden decided to completely withdraw U.S. troops from Afghanistan by September 11th, 2021, ending the longest war the country has ever fought.

As an immediate consequence of the withdrawal, the Taliban militia took over the country and the government. The event, which was broadcast in near real-time, caused widespread panic among the citizens as some attempted to flee the country.

What’s in Store for 2022

It’s going to be everyone’s best guess as to what the trending searches for 2022 will be. Based on the events that dominated the news throughout the year, a few predictions could be made.

Experts predict that we will be moving to an endemic stage of the pandemic, which is bound to profoundly impact how we live in 2022.

New trends, movies, TV shows, and even newer gadgets will surely catch everyone’s attention next year. It will be fascinating to see what’s on the minds of people in the coming 12 months.

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China

Animated Chart: China’s Aging Population (1950-2100)

See why China is facing a demographic crisis in this animated chart.

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China’s Aging Population Problem

The one-child policy defined China’s demographic transition for over three decades.

But to combat an aging population and declining birthrates, the government scrapped the policy for a new two-child policy in 2016. Despite this massive change, China still faces a growing demographic crisis.

The above animated population pyramid from James Eagle looks at the distribution of China’s population by age group since 1950, with projections up to the year 2100.

How the One-Child Policy Created a Gender Imbalance

Until 2016, the Chinese government strictly enforced the one-child policy since 1979 with hefty fines for any breach of rules. According to the government, the policy reduced 400 million births over the years.

However, it also led to sex-selective abortions due to a deep-rooted cultural preference for boys. As a result, China’s gender balance tilted, with a sex ratio of 111 males to 100 females in the population aging from 0 to 4 years old in 2020.

Often termed “the missing women of China”, this shortage of women is expected to worsen over time. According to the U.N.’s World Population Prospects, China is projected to have around 244 million fewer women than men in 2050.

Additionally, the country faces another impending consequence of the one-child policy—a rapidly aging population.

Why China’s Population is Aging

In 2020, China’s fertility rate—the number of children a woman is expected to have over her lifetime—stood at 1.3.

Generally, fertility rates drop as economies develop. However, China’s fertility rate is now lower than that of the U.S. (1.64 in 2020) and on par with countries like Japan and Italy, both of which are facing aging populations. Consequently, fewer newborns are entering the population, while many in the workforce approach retirement.

Most Chinese workers retire by age 60. Here’s how China’s retirement-age population is expected to shape up by the year 2100:

Year60+ Population% of Total Population
198074,899,3857.5%
2000129,460,64810.0%
2021258,371,81017.9%
2050485,489,06634.6%
2070454,270,45836.1%
2100402,780,97237.8%

In 2021, people aged 60 and over made up nearly one-fifth of the Chinese population. As the country’s population begins declining around 2030, over 30% of all Chinese people are expected to be in this age group.

China’s aging population threatens long-term economic growth as its workforce shrinks and low fertility rates result in fewer newborns that would later enter the working-age population. Fewer working people means lower overall consumption, a higher burden on elderly care, and slowing economic growth.

So, how will China respond to the oncoming crisis?

The Three-child Policy

According to the 2020 national census, Chinese mothers gave birth to 12 million children in 2020—the lowest number of births since 1949.

In response to these results, the government passed a new law allowing each couple to have up to three children. Despite the change, the high cost of raising a child may deter couples from having a third child.

It remains to be seen how the three-child policy helps combat China’s demographic crisis and which other policies the government chooses to deploy.

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