Strauss–Howe generational theory
The Strauss–Howe generational theory, created by authors William Strauss and Neil Howe, identifies a recurring generational cycle in American history. Strauss and Howe lay the groundwork for the theory in their 1991 book Generations, which retells the history of America as a series of generational biographies going back to 1584. In their 1997 book The Fourth Turning, the authors expand the theory to focus on a fourfold cycle of generational types and recurring mood eras in American history. Their consultancy, LifeCourse Associates, has expanded on the concept in a variety of publications since then.
The theory was developed to describe the history of the United States, including the 13 colonies and their Anglo antecedents, and this is where the most detailed research has been done. However, the authors have also examined generational trends elsewhere in the world and identified similar cycles in several developed countries. The books are best-sellers and the theory has been widely influential and acclaimed. Eric Hoover has called the authors pioneers in a burgeoning industry of consultants, speakers and researchers focused on generations.
Academic response to the theory has been mixed—some applauding Strauss and Howe for their "bold and imaginative thesis," and others criticizing the theory. Criticism has focused on the lack of rigorous empirical evidence for their claims, and a perception that aspects of the argument gloss over real differences within the population.
- 1 History
- 2 Works
- 3 Defining a generation
- 4 Generational archetypes and turnings
- 5 Timing of generations and turnings
- 6 America's current position in the cycle
- 7 Critical reception
- 8 References
- 9 Bibliography
William Strauss and Neil Howe’s partnership began in the late 1980s when they began writing the book Generations, which tells the history of America as a succession of generational biographies. Each had written on generational topics: Strauss on Baby Boomers and the Vietnam War draft, and Howe on the G.I. Generation and federal entitlement programs. Strauss co-wrote books about how the Vietnam War affected the Baby Boomers called Chance and Circumstance: The Draft the War and The Vietnam Generation (1978) and Reconciliation after Vietnam (1977) with Lawrence Baskir. Neil Howe studied what he believed to be America's entitlement attitude of the 1980s and co-authored On Borrowed Time: How America's entitlement ego puts America's future at risk of Bankruptcy in 1988 with Peter George Peterson. The authors’ interest in generations as a broader topic emerged after they met in Washington, D.C., and began discussing the connections between each of their previous work.
They wondered why Boomers and G.I.s had developed such different ways of looking at the world, and what it was about these generations’ growing up experiences that prompted their different outlooks. They also wondered whether any previous generations had acted along similar lines, and their research showed that there were indeed historical analogues to the current generations. The two ultimately identified a recurring pattern in Anglo-American history of four generational types, each with a distinct collective persona, and a corresponding cycle of four different types of era, each with a distinct mood. The groundwork for this theory was laid out in Generations in 1991. Strauss and Howe expanded on the theory and updated the terminology in The Fourth Turning in 1997.
Generations helped popularize the idea that people in a particular age group tend to share a distinct set of beliefs, attitudes, values and behaviors because they all grow up and come of age during a particular period in history. In the mid-1990s, the authors began receiving inquiries about how their generational insights could help solve strategic problems in organizations. Strauss and Howe were quickly established as pioneers in a growing field, and started speaking frequently about their work at events and conferences.
In 1999, Strauss and Howe founded LifeCourse Associates, a publishing, speaking, and consulting company built on their generational theory. As LifeCourse partners, they have offered keynote speeches, consulting services, and customized communications to corporate, nonprofit, government, and education clients. They have also written six books on how the Millennial Generation is transforming various sectors, including schools, colleges, entertainment, and the workplace.
On December 18, 2007, William Strauss died at the age of 60 from pancreatic cancer. Neil Howe has continued to expand LifeCourse Associates and to write books and articles on a variety of generational topics. Each year Mr. Howe gives about 60 speeches, often followed by customized workshops, at colleges, elementary schools, and corporations.
Strauss and Howe's first book, Generations (1991), tells the history of America as a succession of Anglo-American generational biographies from 1584 to the present, and identifies a recurring generational cycle in American history. The authors posit a pattern of four repeating phases, generational types and a recurring cycle of spiritual awakenings and secular crises, from the founding colonials through the present day.
Strauss and Howe followed in 1993 with their second book, 13th Gen: Abort, Retry, Ignore, Fail?, which examines the generation born between 1961 and 1981, "Gen-Xers" (alias "13ers", since they are literally the thirteenth generation since America became a nation). The book shows how 13ers' location in history—they were children during the Consciousness Revolution—explains their pragmatic attitude.
In 1997, the authors published The Fourth Turning: An American Prophecy, which expanded on the ideas presented in Generations and extended their cycles back into the early 15th century. The authors began the use of more colorful names for generational archetypes - e.g. "Civics" became "Heroes," "Adaptives" became "Artists" - and of the terms "Turning" and "Saeculum" for the generational cycles. The title is a reference to what their first book called a Crisis period, which they expected to recur soon after the turn of the millennium.
In 2000, the two authors published Millennials Rising: The Next Great Generation. This work investigated the personality of the generation currently coming of age, whose first cohorts were the high school graduating class of 2000. Strauss and Howe show how today's teens and young adults are recasting the image of youth from downbeat and alienated to upbeat and engaged. They write that Millennials are held to higher standards than adults apply to themselves; they're a lot less violent, vulgar, and sexually charged than the teen culture older people are producing for them. Over the next decade, they will transform what it means to be young. According to the authors, Millennials could emerge as the next great generation.
Defining a generation
Strauss and Howe define a social generation as the aggregate of all people born over a span of roughly twenty years or about the length of one phase of life: childhood, young adulthood, midlife, and old age. Generations are identified (from first birthyear to last) by looking for cohort groups of this length that share three criteria. First, members of a generation share what the authors call an age location in history: they encounter key historical events and social trends while occupying the same phase of life. In this view, members of a generation are shaped in lasting ways by the eras they encounter as children and young adults and they share certain common beliefs and behaviors. Aware of the experiences and traits that they share with their peers, members of a generation would also share a sense of common perceived membership in that generation.
Strauss and Howe say they based their definition of a generation on the work of various writers and social thinkers, from ancient writers such as Polybius and Ibn Khaldun to modern social theorists like José Ortega y Gasset, Karl Mannheim, John Stuart Mill, Émile Littré, Auguste Comte, and François Mentré.
Generational archetypes and turnings
While writing Generations, Strauss and Howe discovered a pattern in the historical generations they examined which revolved around generational events which they call turnings. In Generations, and in greater detail in The Fourth Turning, they identify the four-stage cycle of social or mood eras (i.e. turnings).
According to Strauss and Howe, the First Turning is a High. This is a post-Crisis era when institutions are strong and individualism is weak. Society is confident about where it wants to go collectively, though those outside the majoritarian center often feel stifled by the conformity.
According to the authors, America’s most recent First Turning was the post-World War II American High, beginning in 1946 and ending with the assassination of President John F. Kennedy on November 22, 1963.
According to the theory, the Second Turning is an Awakening. This is an era when institutions are attacked in the name of personal and spiritual autonomy. Just when society is reaching its high tide of public progress, people suddenly tire of social discipline and want to recapture a sense of personal authenticity. Young activists look back at the previous High as an era of cultural and spiritual poverty.
According to Strauss and Howe, the Third Turning is an Unraveling. The mood of this era is in many ways the opposite of a High: Institutions are weak and distrusted, while individualism is strong and flourishing. Highs come after Crises, when society wants to coalesce and build. Unravelings come after Awakenings, when society wants to atomize and enjoy. They declare that America’s most recent Unraveling was the Long Boom and Culture War, beginning in the mid-1980s and ending in the late 2000s.
According to the authors, the Fourth Turning is a Crisis. This is an era in which institutional life is destroyed and rebuilt in response to a perceived threat to the nation’s survival. Civic authority revives, cultural expression redirects towards community purpose, and people begin to locate themselves as members of a larger group. America’s most recent Fourth Turning began with the stock market crash of 1929 and climaxed with the end of World War II. The G.I. Generation (a Hero archetype, born 1901 to 1924) came of age during this era. Their confidence, optimism, and collective outlook epitomized the mood of the era. Today’s youth, the Millennial Generation (Hero archetype, born 1982 to 2004), show many traits similar to those of the G.I. youth, including rising civic engagement, improving behavior, and collective confidence.
Each turning lasts about 20–22 years. Four turnings comprise a full cycle of approximately 80 to 90 years, which the authors term a saeculum, after the Latin word meaning both “a long human life” and “a natural century.”
Generational change drives the cycle of turnings and determines its periodicity. As each generation ages into the next life phase (and a new social role) society’s mood and behavior fundamentally changes, giving rise to a new turning. Therefore, a symbiotic relationship exists between historical events and generational personas. Historical events shape generations in childhood and young adulthood; then, as parents and leaders in midlife and old age, generations in turn shape history.
Each of the four turnings has a distinct mood that recurs every saeculum. Strauss and Howe describe these turnings as the “seasons of history.” At one extreme is the Awakening, which is analogous to summer, and at the other extreme is the Crisis, which is analogous to winter. The turnings in between are transitional seasons, similar to fall and spring. Strauss and Howe have identified 26 turnings over 7 saecula in Anglo-American history, from the year 1435 through today.
At the heart of Strauss & Howe's ideas is a basic alternation between two different types of eras, Crises and Awakenings. Both of these are defining eras in which people observe that historic events are radically altering their social environment. Crises are periods marked by major secular upheaval, when society focuses on reorganizing the outer world of institutions and public behavior (the last American Crisis was the period spanning the Great Depression and World War II). Awakenings are periods marked by cultural or religious renewal, when society focuses on changing the inner world of values and private behavior (the last American Awakening was the “Consciousness Revolution” of the 1960s and 1970s). During Crises, great peril provokes a societal consensus, an ethic of personal sacrifice, and strong institutional order. During Awakenings, an ethic of individualism emerges, and the institutional order is attacked by new social ideals and spiritual agendas. According to the authors, about every eighty to ninety years—the length of a long human life—a national Crisis occurs in American society. Roughly halfway to the next Crisis, a cultural Awakening occurs (historically, these have often been called Great Awakenings).
In describing this cycle of Crises and Awakenings, Strauss and Howe draw from the work of other historians and social scientists who have identified long cycles in American and European history. The Strauss–Howe cycle of Crises corresponds with long cycles of war identified by such scholars as Arnold J. Toynbee, Quincy Wright, and L.L. Ferrar Jr., and with geopolitical cycles identified by William R. Thompson and George Modelski. Strauss and Howe say their cycle of Awakenings corresponds with Anthony Wallace’s definitive work on revitalization movements, Strauss and Howe also say recurring Crises and Awakenings correspond with two-stroke cycles in politics (Walter Dean Burnham, Arthur Schlesinger Sr. and Jr.), foreign affairs (Frank L. Klingberg), and the economy (Nikolai Kondratieff) as well as with long-term oscillations in crime and substance abuse.
The two different types of eras and two formative age locations associated with them (childhood and young adulthood) produce four generational archetypes that repeat sequentially, in rhythm with the cycle of Crises and Awakenings. In Generations, Strauss and Howe refer to these four archetypes as Idealist, Reactive, Civic, and Adaptive. In The Fourth Turning (1997) they update this terminology to Prophet, Nomad, Hero, and Artist. The generations in each archetype not only share a similar age-location in history, they also share some basic attitudes towards family, risk, culture and values, and civic engagement. In essence, generations shaped by similar early-life experiences develop similar collective personas and follow similar life-trajectories. To date, Strauss and Howe have identified 25 generations in Anglo-American history, each with a corresponding archetype. The authors describe the archetypes as follows:
Prophet generations are born near the end of a Crisis, during a time of rejuvenated community life and consensus around a new societal order. Prophets grow up as the increasingly indulged children of this post-Crisis era, come of age as self-absorbed young crusaders of an Awakening, focus on morals and principles in midlife, and emerge as elders guiding another Crisis.
Nomad generations are born during an Awakening, a time of social ideals and spiritual agendas, when young adults are passionately attacking the established institutional order. Nomads grow up as under-protected children during this Awakening, come of age as alienated, post-Awakening adults, become pragmatic midlife leaders during a Crisis, and age into resilient post-Crisis elders.
Hero generations are born after an Awakening, during an Unraveling, a time of individual pragmatism, self-reliance, and laissez faire. Heroes grow up as increasingly protected post-Awakening children, come of age as team-oriented young optimists during a Crisis, emerge as energetic, overly-confident midlifers, and age into politically powerful elders attacked by another Awakening.
Artist generations are born after an Unraveling, during a Crisis, a time when great dangers cut down social and political complexity in favor of public consensus, aggressive institutions, and an ethic of personal sacrifice. Artists grow up overprotected by adults preoccupied with the Crisis, come of age as the socialized and conformist young adults of a post-Crisis world, break out as process-oriented midlife leaders during an Awakening, and age into thoughtful post-Awakening elders.
- An average life is 80 years, and consists of four periods of ~20 years
- Childhood → Young adult → Midlife → Elderhood
- A generation is an aggregate of people born every ~20 years
- Baby Boomers → Gen X → Millennials → Homeland Gen
- Each generation experiences "four turnings" every ~20y
- High → Awakening → Unraveling → Crisis
- A generation is considered "dominant" or "recessive" according to the turning experienced as young adults. But as a youth generation comes of age and defines its collective persona an opposing generational archetype is in its midlife peak of power.
- Dominant: independent behavior + attitudes in defining an era
- Recessive: dependent role in defining an era
- Dominant Generations
- Prophet: Awakening as young adults. Awakening, defined: Institutions are attacked in the name of personal and spiritual autonomy
- Hero: Crisis as young adults. Crisis, defined: Institutional life is destroyed and rebuilt in response to a perceived threat to the nation's survival
- Recessive Generations
- Nomad: Unraveling as young adults. Unraveling, defined: Institutions are weak and distrusted, individualism is strong and flourishing
- Artist: High [when they become] young adults. High, defined: Institutions are strong and individualism is weak
Timing of generations and turnings
|Generation||Type||Birth years||Formative era|
|Late Medieval Saeculum|
|Arthurian Generation||Hero (Civic)||1433-1460 (27)||Unraveling: Retreat from France|
|Humanist Generation||Artist (Adaptive)||1461–1482 (21)||Crisis: War of the Roses|
|Reformation Saeculum (104)|
|Reformation Generation||Prophet (Idealist)||1483–1511 (28)||High: Tudor Renaissance|
|Reprisal Generation||Nomad (Reactive)||1512–1540 (28)||Awakening: Protestant Reformation|
|Elizabethan Generation||Hero (Civic)||1541–1565 (24)||Unraveling: Intolerance and Martyrdom|
|Parliamentary Generation||Artist (Adaptive)||1566–1587 (21)||Crisis: Armada Crisis|
|New World Saeculum (112)|
|Puritan Generation||Prophet (Idealist)||1588–1617 (29)||High: Merrie England|
|Cavalier Generation||Nomad (Reactive)||1618–1647 (29)||Awakening: Puritan Awakening|
|Glorious Generation||Hero (Civic)||1648–1673 (25)||Unraveling: Reaction and Restoration|
|Enlightenment Generation||Artist (Adaptive)||1674–1700 (26)||Crisis: King Philip's War/
|Revolutionary Saeculum (90)|
|Awakening Generation||Prophet (Idealist)||1701–1723 (22)||High: Augustan Age of Empire|
|Liberty Generation||Nomad (Reactive)||1724–1741 (17)||Awakening: Great Awakening|
|Republican Generation||Hero (Civic)||1742–1766 (24)||Unraveling: French and Indian War|
|Compromise Generation||Artist (Adaptive)||1767–1791 (24)||Crisis: American Revolution|
|Civil War Saeculum (67)|
|Transcendental Generation||Prophet (Idealist)||1792–1821 (29)||High: Era of Good Feeling|
|Gilded Generation||Nomad (Reactive)||1822–1842 (20)||Awakening: Transcendental Awakening|
|Progressive Generation||Artist (Adaptive)||1843–1859 (16)||Crisis: American Civil War|
|Great Power Saeculum (85)|
|Missionary Generation||Prophet (Idealist)||1860–1882 (22)||High: Reconstruction/Gilded Age|
|Lost Generation||Nomad (Reactive)||1883–1900 (17)||Awakening: Missionary Awakening|
|G.I. Generation||Hero (Civic)||1901–1924 (23)||Unraveling: World War I/Prohibition|
|Silent Generation||Artist (Adaptive)||1925–1942 (17)||Crisis: Great Depression/World War II|
|Millennial Saeculum (65+)|
|Baby Boom Generation||Prophet (Idealist)||1943–1960 (17)||High: Superpower America|
|Nomad (Reactive)||1961–1981 (20)||Awakening: Consciousness Revolution|
|Millennial Generation2||Hero (Civic)||1982–2004 (22)||Unraveling: Culture Wars, Postmodernism|
|Homeland Generation3,4||Artist (Adaptive)||2005–present||Crisis: Global Financial Crisis, Climate Change, War on Terror|
Note (0): According to the above chart, generational types have appeared in Anglo-American history in a fixed order for more than 500 years, with one hiccup in the Civil War Saeculum. The reasons for this is because according to the chart, the Civil War came about ten years too early; the adult generations allowed the worst aspects of their generational personalities to come through; and the Progressives grew up scarred rather than ennobled.
Note (1): Strauss and Howe use the name "13th Generation" instead of the more widely accepted "Generation X" in their book, which was published mere weeks before Douglas Coupland's Generation X: Tales for an Accelerated Culture was. The generation is so numbered because it is the thirteenth generation alive since American Independence (counting back until Benjamin Franklin's).
Note (2): Although there is as yet no universally accepted name for this generation, "Millennials" (a name Strauss and Howe coined) is becoming widely accepted. Other names used in reference to it include Generation Y (as it is the generation following Generation X) and "The Net Generation."
Note (3): New Silent Generation was a proposed holding name used by Howe and Strauss in their demographic history of America, Generations, to describe the generation whose birth years began somewhere in the early 2000s and the ending point will be around the early 2020s. Howe now refers to this generation (most likely currently being born) as the Homeland Generation.
Note (4): There is no consistent agreement among participants on the Fourth Turning message board that the War on Terror lies fully within a Crisis era. The absence of any attempt to constrict consumer spending through taxes or rationing and the tax cuts of the time suggest that any Crisis Era may have begun, if at all, later, as after Hurricane Katrina or the Financial Meltdown of 2008.
The basic length of both generations and turnings—about twenty years—derives from longstanding socially and biologically determined phases of life.[who?] This is the reason it has remained relatively constant over centuries. Some have argued that rapid increases in technology in recent decades are shortening the length of a generation. According to Strauss and Howe, however, this is not the case. As long as the transition to adulthood occurs around age 20, the transition to midlife around age 40, and the transition to old age around age 60, the basic length of both generations and turnings will remain the same.
In their book, The Fourth Turning, however, Strauss and Howe emphasize that the precise boundaries of generations and turnings are erratic. The generational rhythm is not like certain simple, inorganic cycles in physics or astronomy, where time and periodicity can be predicted to the second. Instead, it resembles the complex, organic cycles of biology, where basic intervals endure but precise timing is difficult to predict. Strauss and Howe compare the saecular rhythm to the four seasons, which inevitably occur in the same order, but with slightly varying timing. Just as winter may come sooner or later, and be more or less severe in any given year, the same is true of a Fourth Turning in any given saeculum.
America's current position in the cycle
According to Strauss and Howe, there are many potential threats that could feed a growing sense of public urgency as the Fourth Turning progresses, including financial collapse, a protracted war on terror, a crisis of weapons proliferation, an environmental crisis, an energy shortage, or new civil wars abroad. The generational cycle cannot explain the role or timing of these individual threats. Nor can it account for the great events of history, like the bombing of Pearl Harbor, President Kennedy’s assassination, or 9/11. What the generational cycle can do, however, is explain how society is likely to respond to these events in different eras. It is the response, not the initial event, which defines an era.
The Strauss and Howe retelling of history through a generational lens has received mixed reviews. Many reviewers have praised the authors' books and theory for their ambition, erudition and accessibility. Former U.S Vice President Al Gore —who graduated from Harvard University with Mr. Strauss—called Generations: The History of America's Future, 1584 to 2069 the most stimulating book on American history he'd ever read. He even sent a copy to each member of Congress. The theory has been influential in the fields of generational studies, marketing, and business management literature. However, it has been criticized, by several historians, and a few political scientists and journalists, as being overly-deterministic, "non-falsifiable," and unsupported by rigorous evidence.
After the publication of their first book Generations, Martin Keller, professor of history at Brandeis University, said that the authors "had done their homework." He said that their theory could be seen as pop-sociology and that it would "come in for a lot more criticism as history. But it's almost always true that the broader you cast your net, the more holes it's going to have. And I admire [the authors'] boldness." Harvard sociologist David Riesman said the book showed an "impressive grasp of a great many theoretical and historical bits and pieces,". Publishers Weekly called Generations "as woolly as a newspaper horoscope."The Times Literary Supplement called it "fascinating".
The Fourth Turning
In his review for the Boston Globe, Historian David Kaiser called The Fourth Turning "a provocative and immensely entertaining outline of American history." "Strauss and Howe have taken a gamble," argued Kaiser. "If the United States calmly makes it to 2015, their work will end up in the ashcan of history, but if they are right, they will take their place among the great American prophets." Kaiser has since argued that Strauss and Howe's predictions have indeed come to pass according to his analysis of events like 9/11, the 2008 financial crisis, and the recent political gridlock. New York Times' book reviewer Michael Lind wrote that The Fourth Turning (1997) was vague and verged into the realm of pseudoscience. Lind claimed that the theory is essentially "non-falsifiable" and "mystifying," although he believed the authors did have some insights into modern American history.
In 1993, Andrew Leonard reviewed the book 13th Gen: Abort, Retry, Ignore, Fail?. He wrote “as the authors relentlessly attack the iniquitous 'child-abusive culture' of the 1960's and 70's and exult in heaping insult after insult on their own generation -- they caricature Baby Boomers as countercultural, long-haired, sex-obsessed hedonists -- their real agenda begins to surface. That agenda becomes clear in part of their wish list for how the 13th generation may influence the future: "13ers will reverse the frenzied and centrifugal cultural directions of their younger years. They will clean up entertainment, de-diversify the culture, reinvent core symbols of national unity, reaffirm rituals of family and neighborhood bonding, and re-erect barriers to cushion communities from unwanted upheaval." Again in 1993, writing for the Globe and Mail, Jim Cormier reviewed the same book: "self-described boomers Howe and Strauss add no profound layer of analysis to previous pop press observations. But in cobbling together a more extensive overview of the problems and concerns of the group they call the 13ers, they've created a valuable primer for other fogeys who are feeling seriously out of touch." Cormier believed that the authors "raised as many new questions as answers about the generation that doesn't want to be a generation. But at least they've made an honest, empathetic and good-humoured effort to bridge the bitter gap between the twentysomethings and fortysomethings."
In 1993, Charles Laurence at the London Daily Telegraph wrote that, in 13th Gen, Strauss and Howe offered this youth generation "a relatively neutral definition as the 13th American generation from the Founding Fathers,". According to Alexander Ferron's review in Eye Magazine, "13th Gen is best read as the work of two top-level historians. While its agenda is the 13th generation, it can also be seen as an incredibly well-written and exhaustive history of America from 1960 to 1981--examining the era through everything except the traditional historical subjects (war, politics, famine, etc).
Twenty years later, Jon D. Miller, at the Longitudinal Study of American Youth (funded by the National Science Foundation) wrote that Strauss and Howe's 1961 to 1981 definition of "Generation X" (although they called it the 13th generation) birth years has been used widely in both popular and academic literature.
David Brooks reviewed the follow-up book about the next generation titled Millennials Rising (2000). "Millennials" is a term coined by Strauss and Howe. Brooks, wrote: “This is not a good book, if by good you mean the kind of book in which the authors have rigorously sifted the evidence and carefully supported their assertions with data. But it is a very good bad book. It's stuffed with interesting nuggets. It's brightly written. And if you get away from the generational mumbo jumbo, it illuminates changes that really do seem to be taking place.” Further, Mr. Brooks wrote that the generations aren't treated equally: "Basically, it sounds as if America has two greatest generations at either end of the age scale and two crummiest in the middle".
In 2001, reviewer Dina Gomez wrote in NEA Today that Strauss and Howe make their case “convincingly,” with “intriguing analysis of popular culture.” While conceding that the book "over-generalizes", Gomez also argues that it is “hard to resist the book’s hopeful vision for our children and future. Many of the theories they wrote about in their two previous books—Generations and The Fourth Turning—have indeed come to pass.”
In 1991, Jonathan Alter wrote in Newsweek that Generations was a “provocative, erudite and engaging analysis of the rhythms of American life”. However, he believed it was also “an elaborate historical horoscope that will never withstand scholarly scrutiny.” He continued, “these sequential 'peer personalities' are often silly, but the book provides reams of fresh evidence that American history is indeed cyclical, as Arthur Schlesinger Jr. and others have long argued.” He complained, “The generational boundaries are plainly arbitrary. The authors lump together everyone born from 1943 to 1961 (Baby Boomers), a group whose two extremes have little in common. And the predictions are facile and reckless.” He concluded: “However fun and informative, the truth about generational generalizations is that they're generally unsatisfactory.” Arthur E. Levine, a former president of the Teachers College of Columbia University said "Generational images are stereotypes. There are some differences that stand out, but there are more similarities between students of the past and the present. But if you wrote a book saying that, how interesting would that book be?"
In response to criticism that they stereotype or generalize all members of a generation the authors said, "We've never tried to say that any individual generation is going to be monochromatic. It'll obviously include all kinds of people. But as you look at generations as social units, we consider it to be at least as powerful and, in our view, far more powerful than other social groupings such as economic class, race, sex, religion and political parties."
Gerald Pershall wrote in 1991: "Generations is guaranteed to attract pop history and social-science buffs. Among professional historians, it faces a tougher sell. Period specialists will resist the idea that their period is akin to several others. Sweeping theories of history are long out of fashion in the halls of ivy, and the authors' lack of academic standing won't help their cause. Their generational quartet is "just too wooden" and "just too neat," says one Yale historian. "Prediction is for prophets," scoffs William McLoughlin, (a former professor of history at Brown) who said it is wrong to think that "if you put enough data together and have enough charts and graphs, you've made history into a science." The book is likely to get a much friendlier reception in sociology and political-science departments. Two of Harvard's grand old men, David Riesman and Richard Neustadt, for example, offer strong, if qualified, praise. Sociologist Riesman found in the work an "impressive grasp of a great many theoretical and historical bits and pieces." Political scientist Neustadt says Strauss and Howe "are asking damned important questions, and I honor them."
Responding to criticism, Strauss and Howe accepted that some historians might not like their theory, which they presented as a new paradigm for looking at American history, that filled a need for a unifying vision of American history:
People are looking for a new way to connect themselves to the larger story of America. That is the problem. We've felt adrift over the past 10 years, and we think that the way history has been presented over the past couple of decades has been more in terms of the little pieces and people are not as interested in the little pieces now. They're looking for a unifying vision. We haven't had unifying visions of the story of America for decades now, and we're trying to provide it in this book. The kinds of historians who are drawn to our book -- and I'm sure it will be very controversial among academics because we are presenting something that is so new -- but the kinds who are drawn to it are the ones who themselves have focused on the human life cycle rather than just the sequential series of events. Some good examples of that are Morton Keller up at Brandeis and David Hackett Fischer. These are people who have noticed the power in not just generations, but the shifts that have happened over time in the way Americans have treated children and older people and have tried to link that to the broader currents of history.—William Strauss, 
In 1993, Gregg Aanestad, wrote in his Doctoral dissertation that he “applauded” the ambition of Generations which was “lively” and “colorful”, but he thought that much of the evidence was cherry picked and did not take into account crucial factors such as generation size, the relative speeding up of generations, or the important role of chance outside events.
In 2006, Frank Giancola wrote an article in Human Resource Planning (an academic journal) that stated "the emphasis on generational differences is not generally borne out by empirical research, despite its popularity".
One criticism of Strauss and Howe's theory, and the field of "generational studies" in general, is that conclusions are over-broad and do not reflect the reality of every person in each generation regardless of their race, color, national origin, religion, sex, age, disability, or genetic information For example, Hoover cites the case of Millennials: "commentators have tended to slap the Millennial label on white, affluent teenagers who accomplish great things as they grow up in the suburbs, who confront anxiety when applying to super-selective colleges, and who multitask with ease as their helicopter parents hover reassuringly above them. The label tends not to appear in renderings of teenagers who happen to be minorities, or poor, or who have never won a spelling bee. Nor does the term often refer to students from big cities and small towns that are nothing like Fairfax County, Va. Or who lack technological know-how. Or who struggle to complete high school. Or who never even consider college. Or who commit crimes. Or who suffer from too little parental support. Or who drop out of college. Aren't they Millennials, too?"
In their 2000 book Millennials Rising Strauss and Howe brought attention to the Millennial children of immigrants in the United States, "who face daunting challenges." They wrote "one-third have no health insurance, live below the poverty line and live in overcrowded housing".
In 1991, Professor and New York Times writer Jay Dolan critiqued Generations for not talking more about class, race and sex, to which Neil Howe replied that they "are probably generalizations not even as effective as a generation to say something about how people think and behave. One of the things to understand is that most historians never look at history in terms of generations. They prefer to tell history as a seamless row of 55-year-old leaders who always tend to think and behave the same way -- but they don't and they never have. If you look at the way America's 55-year-old leaders were acting in the 1960s -- you know, the ebullient and confidence of the JFKs and LBJs and Hubert Humphreys -- and compare them with today's leaders in Congress -- the indecision, the lack of sure-footedness -- I think you would have to agree that 55-year-olds do not always act the same way and you're dealing with powerful generational forces at work that explain why one generation of war veterans, war heroes, and another generation which came of age in very different circumstances tend to have very different instincts about acting in the world.”
- Strauss & Howe, 1991.
- Strauss & Howe, 1997.
- Strauss & Howe 1997, pp. 119–121.
- Hoover, 2009. Generations established its creators as pioneers in a burgeoning field. They soon became media darlings, best-selling authors, and busy speakers. Generations would popularize the idea that people in a particular age group share distinct personae and values by virtue of occupying the same "place" in time as they grow up.
- Jones,, Gary L. (Fall 1992). "Strauss, William and Neil Howe 'Generations: The History of America's Future, 1584–2069' (Book Review)". Perspectives on Political Science 21 (4): 218. ISSN 1045-7097. Retrieved 23 January 2012.
- Hoover, Eric (11 October 2009). "The Millennial Muddle: How stereotyping students became a thriving industry and a bundle of contradictions". The Chronicle of Higher Education (The Chronicle of Higher Education, Inc.). Retrieved 11 January 2011.
- Giancola, 2006.
- Strauss & Howe, 1991. p. 14.
- "William Strauss, Founding Partner". LifeCourse Associates. Retrieved 6 November 2012.
- Peter G. Peterson & Neil Howe, 1988. On Borrowed Time: How the Growth in Entitlement Spending Threatens America's Future. Google Books. Retrieved 6 November 2012.
- Millennials: A profile of the Next Great Generation (DVD). WMFE & PBS. ISBN 978-0-9712606-7-2.
- Strauss&Howe, 1997. p. 338.
- "LifeCourse Associates: History". Retrieved 6 October 2010.
- Ringle, Ken (22 December 2007). "Bill Strauss: He Was the Life of the Parody". The Washington Post. Retrieved 24 May 2010.
- "Neil Howe". International Speakers Bureau. Retrieved 6 November 2012.
- Strauss & Howe, 1993.
- Strauss & Howe, 2000.
- Strauss & Howe 1991, pp. 58–68.
- Strauss & Howe 1991, pp. 433–446.
- Strauss & Howe 1997, p. 101.
- Strauss & Howe 1997, pp. 145–152.
- Strauss & Howe 1997, p. 102.
- Strauss & Howe 1997, pp. 171–179.
- Strauss & Howe 1997, pp. 102–103.
- Strauss & Howe 1997, pp. 103–104.
- Strauss & Howe 1997, pp. 254–260.
- Strauss & Howe 2007, pp. 23–24.
- Strauss & Howe 1997, pp. 2–3.
- Strauss & Howe 1997, pp. 14–15.
- Strauss & Howe 1997, pp. 58p62.
- Galland, David (2009). "Into the Fourth Turning: A Casey Research Interview with Neil Howe, Co-author of The Fourth Turning". Casey Research Special Report. Retrieved 3 September 2010.
- Strauss & Howe 1997, pp. 40–41.
- Strauss & Howe 1991, pp. 123–137. Names, dates, and descriptions of the saecula and turnings are also available at the LifeCourse Associates Website. Retrieved 6 November 2012.
- Strauss & Howe 1991, pp. 69–72.
- Strauss & Howe 1991, p. 71.
- Strauss & Howe 1991, p. 93.
- Strauss & Howe 1997, pp. 36–41.
- Strauss & Howe 1997, p. 40.
- Strauss & Howe 1997, pp. 106–116.
- Strauss & Howe 1991, pp. 73–74.
- Strauss & Howe 1997, p. 70.
- Strauss & Howe 1991, pp. 357–365.
- For the first 24 generations, see Strauss & Howe 1991, pp. 123–137; for the 25th generation now being born, the Homeland Generation, see Strauss & Howe 2008, pp. 109–111. Generational names, birthdates, and descriptions are also available at http://www.lifecourse.com/about/method/timelines/generations.html. Retrieved 05-07-2012.
- Strauss & Howe 1997, p. 84.
- Strauss & Howe 1991, p. 300.
- "LifeCourse Associates: Generations in Anglo-American History". Retrieved 7 May 2012.
- Strauss & Howe 1997, pp. 53–62.
- Simon, 2010.
- Strauss & Howe 1997, pp. 51–52.
- Neil Howe (2009). The Winter of History: An Interview with Neil Howe on “The Fourth Turning”. LifeCourse Associates. ISBN 978-0-9712606-6-5. Retrieved November 6, 2012.
- Strauss & Howe 1997, pp. 273–279; on the current Fourth Turning see Galland 2009.
- Brooks, David (5 November 2000). "What's the Matter With Kids Today? Not a Thing". The New York Times. Retrieved 21 October 2012.
- Parshall, Gerald (8 April 1991). "History's Cycle Ride". U.S. News & World Report. Retrieved 21 October 2012.
- Michael Lind (January 26, 1997). "Generation Gaps". New York Times Review of Books. Retrieved 1 November 2010. "The idea that history moves in cycles tends to be viewed with suspicion by scholars. Although historians as respected as Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr. and David Hackett Fischer have made cases for the existence of rhythms and waves in the stream of events, cyclical theories tend to end up in the Sargasso Sea of pseudoscience, circling endlessly (what else?). The Fourth Turning is no exception."
- Piccoli, Sean (3 April 1991). "13ers; The story of the new 'lost generation' (and America's hottest sound bite)". The Washington Times. p. E1.
- Bowman, James (April 5, 1991). "Another Grand Theory Comes of Age".
- Kaiser, David (January 12, 1997). "Turning and turning in a widening gyre". The Boston Sunday Globe. Retrieved 22 December 2012.
- Kaiser, David. "Confirmation". Retrieved 22 December 2012.
- Kaiser, David. "The President takes up the challenge of our time". blogspot. Retrieved 22 December 2012.
- Kaiser, David. "Is civilization in danger?". blogspot. Retrieved 22 December 2012.
- Leonard, Andrew (23 May 1993). "The Boomers' Babies". The New York Times. Retrieved 21 October 2012.
- Cormier, Jim (8 May 1993). "A young whine, with a sharp bite 13TH GEN: Abort, Retry, Ignore, Fail?". The Globe and Mail.
- Laurence, Charles (May 11, 1993). "The Bitter New Generation and Why They Are Criticizing Their Baby Boomer Parents". London Daily Telegraph.
- Ferron, Alexander (July 1, 1993). "13th Generational Malaise". Eye Magazine.
- "'Xplaining Generation X - An NSF-Sponsored Webcast". National Science Foundation. Retrieved November 6, 2012.
- Miller, Jon D. "The Generation X Report: Active, Balanced, and Happy: These Young Americans are not bowling alone". University of Michigan, Longitudinal Study of American Youth, funded by the National Science Foundation. Retrieved October 30, 2012.
- Horovitz, Bruce (5/4/2012). "After Gen X, Millennials, what should next generation be?". USA Today. Retrieved November 24, 2012.
- Gomez, Dina (May 2001). "The next great generation". NEA Today, V.19 No.4. Retrieved 22 December 2012.
- Alter, Jonathan (15 April 1991). "The Generation Game". Newsweek.
- Host: Brian Lamb (14 April 1991). "Generations: The History of America's Future". Booknotes. C-SPAN. http://www.booknotes.org/Watch/17548-1/William+Strauss.aspx. Retrieved 21 October 2012.
- Aanestad, Gregg (1993). The Bust Generation: A Cohort Analysis (Ph.D.). University of Hawaii.
- Giancola, Frank (2006). "The Generation Gap: More Myth than Reality". Human Resource Planning 29 (4): 32–37. "Research and expert opinion do not fully support the generational premise. For example, two Duke University sociologists have found that the three assumptions behind the premise are not always supported by a body of research (Hughes & O'Rand, 2005)...According to an independent review of the literature, there were no major published academic articles on the generation gap in the United States in the 1990s (Smith, 2000), and a search by this author of academic journals in the past five years did not locate articles supporting generational concepts."
- Giancola 2006. "Some experts believe that the model is limited in its application to minorities and recent immigrants to North America (Robbins 2003); others have questioned its relevance to women (Quadagno, et al., 1993). "
- Strauss & Howe, 2000. p. 84.
- Howe, Neil; Strauss, William (1991). Generations: The History of America's Future, 1584 to 2069. New York: William Morrow & Company. ISBN 978-0-688-11912-6.
- Howe, Neil; Strauss, William (1993). 13th Gen: Abort, Retry, Ignore, Fail?. Vintage Books. ISBN 9780679743651.
- Howe, Neil; Strauss, William (1997). The Fourth Turning: What the Cycles of History Tell Us About America’s Next Rendezvous with Destiny. New York: Broadway Books. ISBN 978-0-7679-0046-1.
- Howe, Neil; Strauss, William (2000). Millennials Rising: The Next Great Generation. Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. ISBN 9780375707193.
- Howe, Neil; Strauss, William (2007). Millennials & K-12 Schools: Educational Strategies for a New Generation. Great Falls: LifeCourse Associates. ISBN 978-0-9712606-5-8.
- Howe, Neil; Strauss, William (2007), "The Next Twenty Years: How Customer and Workforce Attitudes Will Evolve", Harvard Business Review: 41–52
- Howe, Neil; Strauss, William (2008). Millennials Go to College: Strategies for a New Generation on Campus (2nd ed.). Great Falls: LifeCourse Associates. ISBN 9780971260610.